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All experience proves that education, though the most universal of all wants, is least of all to be left to ordinary impulses. In every country the noblest minds have felt it to be a duty to make large provision for the educational necessities of coming generations: and in such minds no country has been richer than our own. We possess and have possessed for ages educational endowments, exceeding in the aggregate half a million sterling. Our educational societies are almost innumerable. Yet the mass of our population must rank amongst the least educated in Europe.
There is unhappily no longer occasion to adduce multitudinous figures in proof of the assertion. It is borne out, well nigh daily, by the most appalling facts. A great-hearted writer has said with somewhat of quaint expression, but with deep earnestness :
“Are these millions taught? Are these millions guided? We have a church, the venerable embodyment of an idea which may well call itself divine: which our fathers for long ages, feeling it to be divine, have been embodying as we see: it is a church well furnished with equipments and appurtenances; educated in universities; rich in money; set in high places that it may be conspicuous to all, honoured of all. We have an aristocracy of landed wealth and commercial wealth, in whose hands lie the law-making and the lawadministering; an aristocracy rich, powerful; long secure in its place; an aristocracy with more faculty put free into its hands than was ever before, in any country or time, put into the hands of any class of men. This church answers: Yes, the people are taught. This aristocracy, astonishment in every feature, answers : Yes, surely the people are guided! Do we not pass what Acts of Parliament are needful; (as many as thirty-nine for the shooting of the partridges alone)? Are there not treadmills, gibbets, even hospitals, poor
rates, new poor-laws ? So answers Church; so answers Aristocracy ... Fact, in the mean time, takes his lucifer-box, sets fire to wheat-stacks; sheds an all too dismal light on several things. Fact searches for his third-rate potatoe six and thirty weeks each year, and does not find it. Fact passionately joins Messiah Thom of Canterbury, and has himself shot for a new fifty monarchy brought in by Bedlam. Fact holds his fustian-jacket Femgericht in Glasgow city. Fact carts his petition over London streets, begging that you would simply have the goodness to grant him universal suffrage, and the ‘five points,' by way of remedy.—T are not symptoms of teaching and guiding."*
Experience has shown the insufficiency of the efforts of merely voluntary societies to overtake the want of education, precisely in the way which might have been anticipated from reasoning a priori. Those efforts have been found to be subject to great fluctuation; to be least powerful where most wanted;t to be unable to cope
* Chartism, by Thomas Carlyle. Lond. 1840.
† Several years ago a writer in a well-known periodical connected with the established church - the British Critic— thus expressed himself : “ The education which they [charity schools] impart, must always be in a state of greater or less fluctuation; they can never embrace the most remote, and on that account, the most destitute objects; and whatever can be done by charity-schools in town parishes a moderate size, or in country parishes where the proprietors reside, and the farmers are opulent, they will never suffice to educate all the poor in a dense population, or be universally maintained in the less favoured districts of a large empire.'s B. C. No. 24.
A familiar illustration of one of these defects has been instanced by a recent and well-informed writer, (Westminster Review, No. 66, June, 1840,) in comparing the collection after a sermon for a charity-school, in a parish at the west end of London, with a similar collection in such a parish as Spitalfields. Ten pounds would be easily obtained in the former for every pound in the latter case.
with special difficulties existing in particular localities, -such, for example, as arise from the nature of the prevalent employment-and, under many circumstances,
, to give rise to very gross misapprehensions respecting education, both in its objects and in its means;
For although of late attention has been, for the most part, fixed less upon the deficient quality than upon the deficient quantity of education, enquiry abundantly proves that it is far more important to improve the schools that exist, even than to provide new ones.* And happily improvement is sure to bring extension in its train.
If then it be true that the benevolent efforts of merely voluntary societies are insufficient, because in general they are least strongly put forth precisely in those localities where the want is greatest; because they are uncertain and fluctuating as to their duration, because they are unable to cope with special difficulties, obviously requiring legislative interference-as in the case of factory children ;-and because they have too often fostered very narrow views as to the nature and extent of the education which is desirable;—then it would
* If any one lack proof of this statement, and have not the means of personal investigation, I would refer him to the evidence taken before committees of the House of Commons during the last three sessions; to a Report made to the Statistical Society of London on the state of education in Westminster; to similar Reports respecting Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, and Bristol, made to local societies in those towns; and to the Reports of the two leading educational societies themselves.
But wbat indeed, (looking, for a moment, at the society schools only), could be expected from plans which often place from 200 to 500 children under one person—himself, perhaps, prepared for bis work by a three months' training-and leave those children to learn nothing but what he can teach indirectly, through a number of children-monitors ? And this is a system which at this moment hundreds of our own clergy not only sanction, but enthusiastically admire.
Duty of the State.
seem that the very causes of the insufficiency themselves suggest the remedy. The want is, not that the voluntary societies should be superseded, but that they should be strengthened ;—that obstructions should be removed from their path ;—that increased means should be afforded them, and care taken that these means shall be applied where most required; and that improvements of every kind shall be assisted and stimulated. What powers, save those of government, are equal to this task?
Even upon that unworthy and degrading theory of government which would make the chief rulers of a country little better than a sort of superior police, the wisdom and necessity of interposition in this matter might be abundantly proved. But I, for one, will never be content to rest the question upon any such basis. Men live in society, live under law, live with toil, and privations, and suffering, for a higher purpose than merely to eat and drink, and sleep in quiet. There is in every man a humanity to be called forth, and built up, for an eternity; and on this humanity the institutions under which he lives are working hourly for evil or for good. In a country wherein the cares of daily subsistence are so absorbing as they are in Britain, the ministers of religion may utter unceasingly their awful message, but unless the ground be prepared for them by a really national elementary education, it will be well nigh in vain. Truly the masses need “guidance," more than they need repression.
The imperative nature of this duty as devolving upon the government has (as I have observed already) been recognized by persons entertaining the most varied opinions with reference to the manner in which the duty should be discharged. “Whatever," said the Bishop of London in his place in Parliament, on a recent occasion, “Whatever of necessity affects the
moral condition, the usefulness, the well-being of the people at large, and, in its results, the very existence of social order, must fall within the State's directing and controlling power...... Education must needs be a State
When the educational provisions of the Factories' Act, and of the new Poor Law are remembered, together with the fact that two of the great parties in this country, as represented by the National School Society, and the British and Foreign School Society, have for several years had constant recourse to State assistance for their respective schools, it might seem wholly superfluous to spend time upon these preliminary arguments. But a little further reflection will show that this is by no means the case. The interposition of government cannot, by possibility, rest where it is; it must either go farther, or must altogether cease. And the whole question is revived in its very elements, by pretensions which are in every way deserving the
most serious attention. Claims of That the clergy of the English church should be the the church.
recognized teachers of religion in all schools established by the State, or supported by rates under Act of Parliament—were schools to be so established or supported -is a claim with which the public mind has long been familiar. And when the question of a State provision for general education was first brought in a tangible shape before the legislature, by the foremost and ablest of its advocates, Lord Brougham,—now more than twenty years ago—this claim seemed to him to have so much weight that he deliberately embodied it in the bill which he laid before Parliament. But to this clause, which was strenuously and firmly resisted as an
Speech in the House of Lords, July 5, 1839.