« ForrigeFortsæt »
PRIMARY EDUCATION IN THE
SIR JOSHUA FITCH.
Ir has been deemed desirable by those who have framed the regulations of this Summer Meeting to cause a brief survey to be taken of the principal influences which have affected intellectual progress in the century now coming to a close. To me has been assigned the humble and rather prosaic task of reviewing the history of our primary education during this period. But before doing so I must ask you to bear in mind the fact so often reiterated, that our country differs from most others in Europe and in America, in the manner in which it has approached and treated the subject of popular education. Our system if so it deserves to be called is the product of growth, not of manufacture. You cannot point to any statesman or thinker who has formulated its principles and has predicted the manner in which principles should be embodied in laws and ordinances. John Bull is in this and the like matters frankly empirical. He is impatient of theories, and has a chronic distrust of doctrinaires and philosophers. Carlyle put this fact in a rather brutal form when he said that the English as a race are logically very stupid, and wise chiefly by instinct. What we have achieved in the department of public
education has been gained by a process of gradual evolution, by experiment, by opportunities, by successes and failures, by compromises and concessions, and not by any predetermined plan or clear forecast of the future. There is a curious analogy between the life and growth of institutions and the history of a single human life. We start with more or less of a career before us corresponding to the predilections of our parents or ourselves. But new and unexpected conditions arise. What appeared to be openings full of promise prove to be closed; possibilities of honour and usefulness present themselves, which were never included in our programme; the 'divinity that shapes our ends' reveals itself in the form of environment, of new wants, of new possibilities, of new resources, and of constant occasions for adapting ourselves to new circumstances and needs. If we are wise we shall not rebel against these conditions; we would rather say with Wordsworth, when he looked back on the illusions of his youth and found they had vanished,
"Not for this
Faint I nor mourn nor murmur: other gifts
Have followed, for such loss I would believe
And so if by slow degrees institutions though they seem to be clumsy and unsymmetrical in form, prove to be convenient, and to suit well the peculiar genius, the traditions, the wants, and sentiments, and the religious convictions of the nation, we may be well content to use them, and to reconcile ourselves to their uncertain origin and to some at least of their inevitable defects and limitations.
Let us see how far these general statements are true in regard to primary education in England. I have enumerated roughly three or four of the main sources of the influence which has shaped our course, (1) Endowments, (2) Philanthropic and voluntary effort, (3) Legislation, and (4) Municipal and corporate action, and (5) Private adventure and enterprise.
It can hardly be said that primary instruction in England. owes much to the first of these sources of assistance. Universities and secondary education indeed owe much to pious founders. In the 16th and 17th centuries many educational foundations were established, as a result partly of the general revival of learning and partly of the Reformation. They were generally intended to place a liberal education, founded especially on the ancient classical languages, within the reach of all who had the ability and the time to pursue them. The ancient Grammar Schools did not indeed fulfil all the hopes of their founders, but many of our most illustrious statesmen and writers owed all their early education to these schools. Although the present generation has found it necessary to alter some details in the original statutes, the spirit of Erasmus, of Colet, and of Lyly has survived in them to this day, and in the new shape which modern legislation has provided, the Grammar Schools of the 16th and 17th century are among the most potent factors in modern education. But the founders of Grammar Schools never contemplated what we call elementary education, nor did they provide any instruction specially designed to meet the needs of the poor. That task was left to an entirely new class of testators and benefactors, who after the Restoration period, and especially in the time of Queen Anne, established all over England what are generally known as Charity Schools. The religious struggles which attended the passing of the Act of Uniformity, Charles II., and the Toleration Act of William III. stimulated the conservative churchmen of that day to devise some plans by which the labouring classes might become attached to the Established Church; and the creation of schools exclusively designed for the poor was regarded as one of the effective instruments for the attainment of that object. But the educational aims of these schools were very low. Reading and writing and needlework, with a little arithmetic, and diligent enforcement of the Catechism, and of church attendance satisfied the intellectual ideal
of the ecclesiastical and other personages who maintained these schools. The children were clothed in a conspicuous charity dress, they were picturesquely arranged in the gallery of the church, and many persons now living can remember the annual festival of the Charity School children of London in St Paul's Cathedral, and the gratification evinced by the trustees and supporters of these schools, as they saw the objects of their bounty arrayed in bright colours and listening to a sermon from some dignitary of the Church, who reminded them of their low estate, and accentuated that fact of the 'duty to my neighbour,' which teaches to 'order myself lowly and reverently to all my betters.' The conception of popular education which dominated these schools does not appear to you or to me a very high one; in fact they were rather designed to restrict than to encourage intellectual progress and activity. Their moral ideal is to be seen in the well-known couplet:
God bless the Squire and his relations,
And make us keep our proper stations.
But after all their aim was not an ungenerous aim. Relatively to the state of opinion in the nation, it was an honest aim, it represented a real desire to be of service to the poor in the only way then known. The Schools Inquiry Commissioners of 1865 found nearly 2000 such schools; some of these have become ordinary public elementary schools receiving a grant from Government, in nearly all of them the distinctive charity dress has been given up, and all of them have lost under the influences of modern legislation the sectarian narrowness which once distinguished them. Apprentice funds and other like privileges have been converted into scholarships. At any rate, endowments for primary schools have ceased to be made, as the need for them has practically disappeared, since gratuitous elementary education is now provided by the State. Such gifts as are accessible for the children of the poor are now very properly applied rather to the purpose of enabling them to
proceed to places of advanced education than to the provision or equipment of the elementary schools themselves.
The only provision other than that furnished by the Charity Schools which existed at the beginning of the present century was that furnished by private enterprise. A few so-called schools were held in private houses, and chiefly by incompetent and often disreputable people, who earned a scanty living from the weekly pence of the parents.
Dame schools, such as that of Shenstone's Village Schoolmistress, and boys' schools, such as were described in Crabbe's Borough and in Joseph Lancaster's early tracts, furnished almost the only means of instruction accessible to the children of the poor, and although in 1805 Lancaster made the first experiments which resulted in the formation of the British and Foreign School Society in 1809, and Andrew Bell's monitorial system was adopted by the Church of England and became the basis of the National Society in 1811, private enterprise of a somewhat ignoble character continued to flourish till a much later date. In 1869, with a view to obtain the data for the Education Bill of the following year, I was, at the instance of Mr Forster, appointed one of two Special Commissioners, Mr D. R. Fearon being the other, to report to Parliament on the educational provision then existing in four great towns, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, and Leeds. Our report showed that besides 'National' and 'British' schools, which by that time were receiving Government aid and inspection, there were still in the poorer parts of those great towns some hundreds of children whose only instruction was gained in private houses, or in the rooms attached to chapels, but rented by the masters and mistresses themselves. Here, for example, is my own description, extracted from the Parliamentary paper, of some personal experiences in Leeds and Birmingham :
I. In a small low room (12 ft. 6 in. by 12 ft.) in a back court I found 44 boys of ages varying from In the middle sat the master, to 14. 4 a kindly man, but a helpless cripple, whose lower limbs appeared to be