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NATIONAL EDUCATION AND
MR M. E. SADLER.
"The English are a people so naturally inclined to freedom that they can hardly be induced to embrace any discipline that may abridge it." HENDERSON, Death-bed Declaration, 1646.
"Liberty, which is the very genius of our civil constitution, and runs through every branch of it, extends its influence to the ecclesiastical part of it. A religious establishment, without a toleration of such as think they cannot in conscience conform to it, is itself a general tyranny: because it claims absolute authority over the conscience; and would soon beget particular kinds of tyranny of the worst sort, tyranny over the mind, and various superstitions; after the way should be paved for them, as it soon must, by ignorance. On the other hand, a constitution of civil government without any religious establishment is a chimerical project, of which there is no example; and which, leaving the generality without guide or instruction, must leave religion to be sunk and forgotten amongst them; and at the same time give full scope to superstition and the gloom of enthusiasm; which last especially ought surely to be diverted, and checked as far as it can be done without force. Now a reasonable establishment provides instruction for the ignorant, withdraws them not in the way of force but of guidance, from running after those kinds of conceits. It doubtless has a tendency likewise to keep up a sense of real religion and real Christianity in a nation: and is moreover necessary for the encouragement of learning." Bishop BUTLER, Sermon preached before the House of Lords, June 11, 1747.
"Is it not universally considered as an advantage to England that it contains so great a variety of original characters? If it may have been necessary to establish something by law concerning education, that necessity grows less every day and encourages us to relax the bonds of authority rather than bind them faster."
Dr JOSEPH PRIESTLEY, Remarks on a Code of Education, 1765.
It has often been urged by persons anxious for our social welfare that national education ought to be so planned, directed and enforced, as to establish and maintain throughout the whole body of the people one high national purpose, and to blend all individual wills in one common aim, so that by the gentle but unceasing pressure of a common education any fresh growth of conflicting ideals, whether of private interest or of public welfare, should be restrained. Thus (they think), as the younger generation came to manhood and womanhood, the old and impenetrable tangle of prejudices would be slowly but surely swept aside by the freely flowing, irresistible current of an unobstructed national will. "Every society, every Polity," said Carlyle in 1831', "has a spiritual principle, is the embodiment, tentative and more or less complete, of an Idea: all its tendencies of endeavour are prescribed by an Idea and flow naturally from it, as movements from the living source of motion." Remove therefore, the argument runs, the intellectual and moral obstructions which hinder the free passage of this national aim. Impregnate your whole education with it. In this manner and in this sense apply Fichte's maxim that the citizen must be gradually interpenetrated by the State. You may not be able to do much with older people, though even there something is possible; but if you will only work on the children, the battle is won. Or, as it was bluntly put in a recent
1 Carlyle, Characteristics, 1831, p. 12.
2 Characteristics of the Present Age, 1806. Lecture XIV.
leading article, "The power which controls the schools in this generation, will control public opinion in the next."
This view of the nature and possibilities of national education is of no recent growth. It would indeed be strange if it were so. Supposing there to exist such a reservoir of moral and other influences, what is more likely than that longing eyes should have been turned towards it and that plans should have been skilfully devised for its effective use? And obviously it is not one school of opinion only which would like to find the jet of such influence firmly in its hand. But into the history and earlier fortunes of the theory I do not propose to enter in this lecture. It must suffice to say, omitting all detailed reference to what has happened or been proposed elsewhere, that all through the history of English education since the Reformation this idea may I call it the proselytising theory of national education?-has constantly made its appearance, now in one camp, now in another: that more than once it has inspired attempts at legislation that it has been put forward-generally as a noveltyunder the authority of some august, and many worthy, names; that it has been the avowed object of several organised movements, and the suppressed premise, or unconscious principle, of many more: that it has been laboured for with great devotion by men poles asunder in their conceptions of the Universe and of human society, though inspired alike by an intense longing for the true welfare of their fellow-men; that, whenever English opinion has begun to flush again with revolutionary heat, there has always rung out in clear and unmistakeable tones, whether from the party of defence from the party of attack, at least one earnest cry for some penetrating system of National Education which may "form and train up the people of the country to obedient, free, useful and organisable subjects, citizens and patriots, living to the benefit of the State and prepared to die in its defence'." But I will not occupy
1 Constitution of Church and State, S. T. Coleridge, 1830, p. 65.
your time with a chain of extracts, as I am anxious, not so much to dwell on the details of the history of the idea, as to ask the question why is it that, in spite of the authority of its sponsors, in spite of the unflinching courage and unfaltering principle of many men who gave themselves to its advocacy, in spite of the sore need of many destitute districts squatted in by the unkempt and leaderless levies of the Industrial Revolution, in spite of the nation's extreme and admitted peril, moral and political alike, this plan of setting up a unifying, formative and intellectually systematised education has in no shape or form managed to get itself realised in this country, although throughout the whole period during which the matter has been in debate the plan has hardly ever lacked able, lucid and disinterested advocates? What has been the disintegrating influence which, time and again, has broken the force of the idea even when it has seemed to come almost within hazard of success?
But before attempting to suggest an answer to this question, I will ask leave to consider what a truly regulative system of national education (assuming such a thing to be possible) would practically imply; what would be the necessary range of its operations, if the formation of the mind and habits of the millions of citizens is to be the test of its success; and if its aim is to produce, in life and pretice, conformity to a preconceived ideal? In the first place, national education will clearly have to concern itself not with boys only, but with girls as well, and that is a point which, though nowadays universally admitted, was evidently not fully taken into account by some of those who conceived a school as if it should be a sort of combination of dyehouse, pottery and drill-hall, to be managed, and very strictly managed, as a legal monopoly, in its own predeter mined interest, by the State. It is easy to say that schools
should prepare children for life. A much more difficult matter is to say how that is to be done. But the thorniest problem of all is to decide what the life is to be. And on hardly any question are there signs of more uncertainty of opinion than as to the kind of life for which girls should ordinarily be trained. It is generally prudent to wait a generation before pronouncing an opinion on the success of any particular kind of instruction. Courses of study are inflicted by one generation, not on itself but on its successors, and it is only fair to wait till the victims have come to their turn to speak. They have a disagreeable way of siding with their grand-parents. In Pride and Prejudice, you will remember, Miss Austen pokes a good deal of gently savage fun at Miss Mary Bennet and her literary extracts, but fifty years later the tables were turned and we were invited to smile at Miss Celia Brooke. Who shall be rash enough to say
what is now in the air?
Nor, again, is national education a matter of primary schools alone, though Adam Smith did this country the bad turn of making at least two generations of English statesmen think that the State ought to keep its hand, as well apparently as its thoughts and its money, from any other grade of teaching except the elementary; and this too limited idea, which has helped to stunt our higher technological training and much of our modern secondary education, is preserved for us in the names of so large a number of our parish schools, as well as in the Argument of the last Book of the Excursion'. Clearly, if
1 'Earnest wish expressed for a system of National Education established universally by Government. Glorious effects of this foretold,'
'Binding herself by Statute to secure
For all the children whom her soil maintains
The mind with moral and religious truth.'
This passage has been a good deal spoiled for our generation by Matthew Arnold's chaff, in his essay on Wordsworth, about the bald heads in the dusty air and the jaded afternoon daylight, at the Congress on Social Science.