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SHOULD IT BE?
BY THOMAS BAZLEY, ESQ., M.P.
(Submitted to the "Society for the Promotion of Social Science," at
Liverpool, October, 1858.)
Upon the necessity and importance of promoting an increase in the means of education in the United Kingdom, no difference of opinion can exist.
Various systems of education have been established and pursued in this countryUniversities, colleges, and public and private schools, offer great and valuable advantages to those classes whose time and circumstances permit them to avail themselves of the educational benefits which may be obtained in those institutions, and which afford scientific, literary, religious, and secular teaching, according to the principles upon which they have been founded and are conducted. The existing scholastic establishments are, however, chiefly adapted to the wants of the affluent amongst us, and to others whose limited means enable them to participate in the benefits of cheap or gratuitous education of a high grade; but great multitudes of children of the indigent class are left unprovided with teaching or training; and in the midst of the refining, elevating, and highlycivilising tendencies in the upper and middle ranks of society, the unfortunate offspring of the poor, being surrounded with vicious and vagrant temptations, possess little of parental sympathy, care, or training Thus, as future heads of families and responsible members of the community, neglected children remain not only unprepared to perform the duties which devolve upon them as citizens, but, from the lack of adequate teaching, they may in reality become the pariahs of society; and instead of adding to the efficient, moral, and mental strength of the nation, they constitute the weakness of their country, and probably increase the paupers in our poorhouses, and the prisoners in our gaols. Even the union workhouses and prisons contain schools which have been there introduced for the removal of ignorance, and the prevention of that mental degradation usually attending the associations in those places; but the humble and honest workman who pays his poor-rates and other taxes, and who, in truth, is compelled to assist in giving pecuniary support towards the education of abandoned and dissolute children, is left unable to provide for his own children that boon of knowledge which he helps the less provident to procure. From prisons and poor-houses do not proceed virtuous, worthy, and large tax-paying members of society, and yet the state has expressly provided costly teaching for their inmates, whilst the poor but independent labourer, struggling with difficulties, seeks to avert the degradation that would secure education for his children from those sources. That poverty and vice should be the conditions which the state especially recognises for granting any partial plan of national education, is revolting. The legislature seems almost to have tempted the poor man from independence and duty, by telling him that when he has become necessitous, a rogue and a vagabond, his children shall be taught at the expense of the nation; and the great principle is disregarded, that good teaching should be rather the preventative than the curative of error and evil. Unquestionably the bation has a direct and deep interest in the intelligence, morality, and good conduct of those of whom it consists. In this age of progress and improvement, the ignorant and unskilled can neither maintain themselves as truly beneficial members of society, nor can they contribute their share of the public burdens, and therefore in the mere mercenary point of view, they are unproductive citizens; but as facts and the statistics of crime prove that the untaught and neglected classes mostly supply the offenders against laws and morality, the reasons are irresistible why ignorance should be banished from our country. To illustrate the partiality of our public educational provisions, a fact may be mentioned, fraught with the deepest sympathy for the neglected, and admonitory of the vital necessity for a change in the present imperfect systems under which education amongst the very poor is rather retarded than promoted. Nct long ago, in the city of Manchester, a boy was found guilty, which, indeed, he pleaded, of feloniously stealing a few lead pipes; and on the court being about to pronounce judgment, he exclaimed, “ Please send me to prison for five years," when he was told that he could not be heard; but be importuned and said, "I have no parents, I can neither read nor write, I know no trade, and if you send me to gaol for a short time I shall come out only to commit another theft, because I stole the pipes to be sent here; but if I can be kept in prison for five years, I shall learn a trade, and be taught useful knowledge, and to be an honest man."
Looking, however, at the prostrate mental condition of the transgressors of our laws, it is evident that respect and obedience to those legal enactments cannot be obtained from the classes who are too frequently ignorant of them, and whose inability even to read what they are called upon to obey, leaves only the alternative of punishment as the reward of ignorance. Beyond prisons and workhouses, the legislature has provided partial national education, by enacting that no child under thirteen years of age shall labour in cotton, woollen, silk, flax, or printing factory, without presenting a certificate weekly to his employer of having received three hours instruction daily; and here an invidious distinction is raised between those classes of children and the other working or non-working infants of our country; but in the provisions in the education clauses of the Factories' Act, no restrictive conditions are enacted touching the nature or quality of the education to be given, nor as to the inculcation of any religious principles whatever. Imperfect, partial, and devoid of prudential provisions as the factory system of education is, it has certainly been productive of beneficial results to the rising generation in manufacturing districts, and if the young in every other pursuit were equally well taught, the evils of ignorance would be less injurious than they have been proved to be. Without venturing to meet the evils of neglect in the education of the young in the whole United Kingdom by a comprehensive and liberal system of national education, our legislature has invaded all sound principles in providing partial teaching, and in delegating to the privy council the unusual authority to distribute public funds for educational objects unsanctioned by the immediate direction of parliament. Under the minutes of council strange inconsistencies are perpetrated. Religious errors are supported at the cost of the state, under the guise of education. In one excellent dissenting school in the city of Manchester, not only are the religious dogmas of the sect daily taught, but attendance at the Sunday school of the body is enforced upon the pupil teachers, whose parents desire for them only sound secular teaching, blended with the palpable truths of Christianity; and because no other school exists in the same vicinity, this violence is done to the consciences of the pupil teachers, and this particular school obtains nearly £300 per annum from the privy council. In many cases the Scriptures are merely introduced into schools as money qualifications for the council's grants. Where the schoolmaster is required to be a religious instructor, in schools obtaining governmental aid, the duty is often performed in the most ineftectual manner, and not unfrequently he is rather seeking to qualify himself for preaching and talking, than to discharge the solid duty of enabling the children contided to his care to become useful, intelligent, and honourable members of society. Yet, with all the imperfections of the system countenanced by the minutes of the privy council, and with the direct support given to erroneous and opposing theories of religion, no doubt valuable advantages are obtained and rendered practically beneficial in the performance of the duties of life by many children from the educational aid so afforded. The Irish system is also imperfect, but still much benefit has been derived from it. Of the voluntary Sunday school plans of teaching pursued by the various religious denominations, according to their creeds and convictions, it may suffice to remark, that parents send their children to Sunday schools, not, as the conductors of those schools often fondly hope, to be indoctrinated in the dogmas of their sects, and to · obtain religious teaching, but the children are sent to
obtain such general knowledge and acquirements as may be useful to them in working their way through life.
To remark upon the high and multifarious systems of education bestowed in our universities, grammar and private schools, is uncalled for, because these exist to teach the ignorant rich, and not to enlighten the ignorant poor.
Well did the “ Times" recently write upon this vital subject, and upon the governmental plan of education—"If it can be called