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ART. IV.–1. Reports of the Assistant Commissioners appointed to
inquire into the state of Popular Education in Continental Europe. Vol. IV.: France, by Mr. MATTHEW ARNOLD; and
Germany, by the Rev. MARK PATTISON. 1861. 2. Report of School Commission in America. By the Rev.
JAMES FRASER, M.A. 1867.
We are clearly in for education as the national subject of discussion, following, with a very obvious connexion, that of Reform. It is pressed upon us by all parties and sects of the community ; by those who want more of it, and those who want less; by those who acknowledge it as a fact of the day, and would either give it full swing, or would guide and direct it; by those who would use it purely as a religious or proselytizing agency, or those who tremble at the 'enfranchisement of the people;' by those who want a liberal cry, and those who politically subsist on a massive topic about which any amount of talk may
be espended, no matter how prolis, how dull. It is inherent in topics of this kind that too many general statements are taken for granted because those who have to speak and act work on the same matter over and over again, from their inability or unwillingness to acquire new information either in the way of correction or addition. The present education of this country is said to be very inferior; statistics are put forward of the number of uneducated urchins selling cigar lights, rolling head over heels, or being trained as thieves in our streets. The cry is echoed from speaker to speaker, and the conclusion everywhere arrived at is that something must be done. Then much credence is given to the imagined strides of education in Germany, France, and above all, America ; therefore, let England do as they do. But here again the question is surrounded with assumptions needlessly taken for granted. It is assumed that education prospers in these countries because it is compulsory, supported by rates, and is unhampered by religious impediments. Now in all assumptions of this kind, as well as in the facts on which they are grounded, there may be a certain amount of truth, but by no means enough to warrant the practical conclusions suggested. The question really before this country is, whether a radical change shall be effected in the whole machinery of popular education, or whether we shall develop the present system, altering and correcting its details. Any good argument for a radical change must prove three
things: first, that the present system is so ineffective as to merit obliteration; secondly, that some other system is sufficiently good in its results to serve as a model ; and thirdly, that the model thus selected is a tree which is capable of being transplanted, or whether its very life does not depend on the special circumstances of soil or climate which it enjoys, where only we can witness it.
A fair examination of the case will be far, in our opinion, from inducing any impartial educationist, either religious or political, to risk any wholesale disturbance of the present denominational system. That system among ourselves has raised the number of children attending school, so far as statistics can inform us, from 1 in 17, to 1 in 7.7, since 1818, this being a higher rate than France or Holland, and not so materially less than the 6.27 of Prussia.
There is every mark or sign of an improved standard in education, as contrasted with the condition of England forty or fifty years ago. Periodical literature of the cheapest kind has enormously increased; which proves the same of its readers. All practically acquainted with young people in the humbler situations of life, know that they both read and write far more, incalculably so, than they used ; indeed, objections are taken to the fact by non-educationalists, who think reading and writing to be useless or injurious distractions from manual labour and toil. The number of young persons who gain an advance in life as clerks or shopmen, or in various positions of female employment, by reason of their education, is very large indeed; and the whole system of commercial transactions—the penny post, the development of printing, the complication of trade accounts, the foreign and colonial connexions of England the rise, if we may so express it, of the great competitive idea for all kinds of employment-all answer the question as to the progress of education in a strong affirmative. The parochial clergy, also, can testify to the real advancement of education, without going for evidence outside their own parishes, into any general system or principles of the world, or how it goes on. They can remember the individual teachers (themselves having given no slight helping hand to the work), and the individuals taught; they have traced the career of many a child going forth from their schools into a world of scholars, taking their part in it; children whose parents they have heard say in their simple language, Times is altered now: no schools when I was young.' Assertions of educational neglect have been widely trumpeted forth, but when particulars have been given they have been generally answered to their discomfiture, as in the case of Her Majesty's neglected Berkshire ploughman Enterprising statis
ticians of London and Manchester have brooded over their 150,000 non-attendants at school, but have had their calculations very roughly handled; while the history of every country and city in the world shows that there will always exist a residuum of population incapable of being embraced within any civilizing influences of any kind.
The great argument, however, in favour of an extended trial to the system now operating among us, which vitiates any conclusion founded on the assumed superiority of foreign countries on either side the Atlantic, is in the humiliating national fact that we did not begin fair with other countries in the race of education, and have, moreover, been much weighted in our struggles. The education of every country has its history, and
. in England that history is a very recent one, as applied to the poorer classes. In Germany it dates from the Reformation, and having worked on a people naturally "booky,' it has become thoroughly associated with all their habits and principles of life. In France, the religious orders were educating far and wide during the last century, when none but a few dame schools were known in England; and in America there has been an exemption from that heavy weight of poverty clinging to an old mother country, which sends forth its more vigorous, its more enterprising, its more self-relying, its more unencumbered sons to its colonies and dependencies.
The agricultural labourers of England have always been, and are, very, very poor; the manufacturing interests have been liable to depressing periods, sure to check education whenever they occur; in fact, England, from its dense population, its varied classes and interests, as well as from the hereditary character of its people, puts forward many special difficulties to any united and comprehensive plan of education. Voluntary combinations rather than imperial edicts are the mode by which we naturally act in this, as in other questions; and with all our love of freedom, it must yet be acknowledged that imperialism can do its work faster than liberalism, at least when construction is the work in question. In France, the Code Napoleon had instituted schools; and in America, the free, unfettered wishes of the people had done the same, when England had hardly thought of it. But now we have thought of it, have applied ourselves to the work, doing it in our own way, founding it on our national instincts, or rather not founding it at all in any grand systematic way, but letting it grow in a genial soil by its own vigour, and after its own likeness.
Having thus stated the cause of education in this country as at present existing; and having done so with a perfect recognition of many developments and improvements we hope to see
effected in it, both from the teachings of home experience, a better understanding between the central government and school promoters, and also from our observation of foreign systems, we now go in search of any particular foreign method which in its main and characteristic features we could desire to adopt, in place of what is already going on among us. We shall best, however, accomplish this object, not by considering the educational systems of Germany, France, and America, separately or in succession, as wholes, but by dividing the subject itself into certain main features, such as are often spoken of as desirable engraftings, and calling attention to the working of them, as each shows itself in these several countries. The features of education we would thus consider, are those understood by the terms compulsory, rating, and common—the latter embracing the religious question, to which we shall chiefly devote ourselves. It will be seen that our tone towards foreign education is far from adverse, but will incline to the opinion that the countries named have not yet arrived at any system with which they themselves are wholly satisfied; that they are undergoing considerable changes, as times and public feeling work their ends; and above all
, that those changes, as a general rule, are much in the direction of that voluntary denominational system, backed by aid from the central government, which many at home cry out against as insufficient, in their demands for the education of the people.
First then, we come to the question of compulsory education. As regards France, this is soon disposed of in the following words, from Mr. Matthew Arnold's report :
'Having established schools with due safeguards, does the French system compel the children of France to enter them? It does not. In France education is not compulsory: A few advocates for making it so I met with ; but in the opinion of most of those with whom I conversed, the difficulties are insuperable. Perhaps for a Government to be able to force its people to school, that people must either be generally well off, as in America, or placid and docile, as in Germany, or ardently desirous of knowledge, as in Greece. But the masses in France, like the masses in England, are by no means well off, are stirring and self-willed, are not the least in the world bookish. The gradual rise in their wealth and comfort is the only obligation which can be safely relied on to draw such people to school. What Government can do is to provide sufficient and proper schools to receive them as they arrive.?
French history, indeed, records one notable instance of attempted compulsory education, and that was after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, when a royal command was issued by Louis XIV., 'to take the children of heretics from 'their families at five years old, in order to bring them up by compulsion in Catholic schools. But these Catholic schools did ‘not yet exist. As Mr. Arnold characteristically observes :
• The village children of France remained free from forcible 'initiation into the mysteries of the Catholic, Apostolic, and · Roman religion. They remained also without knowing how to
read and write.' May there not be a warning in this, that compulsory education, to avoid the charge of religious intolerance or persecution, must be purely secular? And is not secularism itself in these days a form of religion very anxious to enlist its converts and swell its ranks?
Germany is the stronghold of compulsory education, ever pointed to as an example of what that system may do. It is right, however, in the first place, that the advocates of compulsory education who quote Germany, should know the origin of that system. Like the instance just quoted, it was in the desire to propagate religious knowledge that it sprung up. Mr. Pattison says: "The primary school in its origin was a catechismal 'instruction-a repetition, conducted by a candidate, the sacris'tan, or other subordinate Church officer, of the more solemn Sunday catechization of the pastor. It was strictly a Pro'testant institution, born of the spirit of the sixteenth century.'
The law in theory, as regards school attendance, is very stringent, and savours of the arbitrary period from which it is derived, as well as of the omnipresent notion of authority that is so characteristic of Germany. Compulsory school attendance 'is the corner-stone of the system of primary education through'
out Germany. It is all but universal, though the mode of ' enforcing it may be variable.'
In Prussia it is stated to be the duty of the pastor and schoolmaster to use moral influence to make the children come punctually and regularly : 'but this moral persuasion can be enforced, if need be, by an appeal to the police.' A fine is inflicted on the parents for each day's absence of the child, and the process does not end here. In case of non-payment, he is
sent to gaol for a period corresponding to the amount of the 'fine. In some towns a messenger is attached to the school, ' and at the end of the first hour the master marks off the absent 'names, and despatches the messenger round to the houses to inquire the cause of absence.'
Yet, in spite of this, Mr. Pattison says: 'I have seen schools in which the absence book disclosed a most lax state of attendance-where the absences had increased to such a head, that the master had ceased to register them.' Poverty, want of clothes, special circumstances of labour, and general unwillingness, are as incapable of being put on one side, in their effect on school attendance, in Prussia as in England, and the higher practical average attained is attributable to a greater freedom from such obstacles, rather than the power of law to overcome