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Nonconformist parents have in consequence to choose between religious instruction which is not theirs and no religious instruction at all. And even in towns it is only applicable in theory. The denominational system assumes that Church children will go to Church schools, Roman Catholic children to Roman Catholic schools, Nonconformist children to Nonconformist schools. In this way all the children in the place would be taught the religion of their parents, and the provided school would take only those whose parents had no preference for any definite religion. Whether such a system as this ever presented itself to the imagination of any of the authors of the Act of 1870 it is impossible to say, but if it did it never took shape anywhere else. The denominational need was never supplied except in part, and the Board schools went on gathering in an increasing number of children belonging to various religions. The dual system broke down from the start.
The authors of the Act of 1902 had the choice of abolishing or tinkering this system. Unfortunately they chose to tinker it. Provided schools were given a more important place in the system, but in return for this the voluntary schools were bidden to look to the rates for maintenance except as regards structural repairs or additions. How this compromise has worked there is no need to say. The moral may be studied in the records of the Welsh county councils and in the incidents of Passive Resistance.
A proposal of compromise must come from someone, and hitherto neither side has liked to take the first step. Nonconformists declare that they have no evidence that Churchmen are willing to entertain such an offer. Churchmen declare that it is useless to make suggestions until there is some reason to suppose that they will receive fair consideration. The framers of the Bill here described have come forward under the pressure of a strong conviction that the prospect of the settlement they desire is likely to grow fainter as time goes on. They think that their proposals are reasonable and just, that they remove the grievances of which Nonconformists complain, and give Churchmen an opportunity of looking after children whom the growth, actual and prospective, of provided schools is rapidly taking out of their hands. If it can be shown that they are mistaken in any particular, they are willing to recast that part of their scheme. They put forward their proposals in the hope that Churchmen may be induced to make them their own, and that Nonconformists may be willing to join in pressing them upon the Government. They are fully aware that no settlement of this magnitude can possibly be brought to a conclusion by any private action. All they ask is that a plan, the general acceptance of which would end a most mischievous controversy, shall not be put aside without full consideration.
If we were to judge by their published statements, we might well despair of either side conceding anything. Churchmen point to the successful working of the Act in this or that county ; Nonconformists reckon up the occasions on which this or that champion has seen his goods taken in execution rather than pay the Education Rate. In such a case as this common sense teaches that the man who has most to lose by holding out is the man to come forward with proposals of compromise. Let us see how this rule works out when applied to the Education Act. The view that the clergy seem to take is that their strength is to sit still. The excitement and opposition aroused by the Act will die away by degrees. Even Passive Resisters will in time come to a wiser mind, and Mr. Lloyd-George and the Bishop of St. Asaph will feed lamblike in the same statutory pasture. Meanwhile the clergy retain their schools-in most cases
-and when the crisis is over all will go on as before. It is always well to take note of what your adversary thinks of your position, and it is evident that the Nonconformists are not of opinion that the clergy have anything to gain by delay. If they were we should long ago have seen them coming forward with proposals of their own. That they have not done so shows that they at least have no fear that time has anything good in store for the Church, and for that very reason no desire to end the controversy quickly.
Three alternative possibilities may be suggested in regard to the Education Act. The first is that a Liberal Cabinet comes into office after the dissolution. Even Mr. Chamberlain thinks this a probable contingency, though he couples with it the prediction that the Cabinet thus formed will not hold office very long. But even if this prediction is fulfilled to the letter, it contains very little comfort for the clergy. The Liberals may have but a short term of office, but, at all events, it will be long enough for the amendment of the Education Act. The most sanguine Churchman can hardly expect that, if after this Mr. Chamberlain becomes Prime Minister, he will care to restore the present strife. If the next Government amends the Act, the next Government but one may be trusted not to amend it back again. The second possibility is that the dissolution makes no change in the position of parties, and that, for some time longer at all events, the Act remains unaltered. Is this a prospect to be regarded with satisfaction by Churchmen? It means, for one thing, the continuance of the present conflict between the Welsh County Councils and the Government. If this conflict were to be carried on in the manner in which the Carmarthenshire County Council began it, the Government might easily have the best of it. The very clever Bill which is now before Parliament would make short work of opposition conducted on these lines. But the Carmarthenshire County Council has already found out its mistake. It has accepted the less violent but more effective policy favoured by Mr. Lloyd-George, and the Principality is now busy in seeing how far it can go towards starving Voluntary schools without losing the grantsin-aid which the Government is compelled to make to the County Councils so long as they do not openly break the law. It may be objected that Wales is not England, and that its example is not likely to be followed in England. That is true, no doubt, of many local councils, but it is by no means true of all, and, even if it were, the resources of Nonconformity would not be exhausted. Have we any reason, for instance, to think that the case of the Isle of Wight will stand alone ? There was no disobedience to the law here. The County Council simply called upon the managers of certain Voluntary schools to make necessary additions to their buildings. The managers tried in vain to raise money for this purpose, and under the Act of 1902 their. schools would thereupon have become provided schools. It would have been very much better if they had allowed the law to take its course, since the incident would then have shown how injuriously the Act is likely to affect Church schools. They preferred, however, to capitulate on terms which are almost indistinguishable from surrender. In these professedly Church schools undenominationalism is taught every day by the regular paid teachers, while on one day in the week the parson comes in as a volunteer and teaches those children whose parents desire his services. Education does not promise to become less costly, nor will the official demands in the matter of cubic space and sanitary requirements grow less stringent. Consequently, cases like that in the Isle of Wight may be expected to multiply, and each one of them will be another step towards the establishment and endowment of undenominationalism in elementary schools.
The third possibility is the most formidable, though not the most probable, of the three. It is that the Nonconformists will find out the mistake they have made in resisting the Act, and apply themselves to making full use of its provisions. The Church of England owes a great debt to the Nonconformists for the line they have taken in reference to the school rate. If they had welcomed the addition of a representative element to the management of every Voluntary school, and had made the most of the opportunity thus afforded them, undenominational religion would in a very short time have been established and endowed in more than half the Church schools in the kingdom. A clergyman must be a man of strong religious convictions or strong fighting instincts if he prefers war to peace. Yet in thousands of parishes this would have been the choice he would have had to make. The two representative managers would have pleaded that religious unity would be promoted by making the basis of the religious teaching the same for all the children in the school. In that case, of course, the teaching must be undenominational, but the clergyman would be free to give further instruction to those children whose parents wished them to receive it at any time which did not interfere with the routine work of the school. By this plan controversy would be avoided, and the whole teaching staff would be able to take part in the religious lessons. This is what would have happened if Nonconformists had helped to work the Act instead of resisting it. This is what would happen if at any future time they determined to change their policy. Even if they remain as hostile to the Act as they are now, the whole drift of lay opinion is towards undenominationalism. The only people who really dislike it are High Churchmen and Roman Catholics neither of them numerically formidable—and wherever an arrangement is proposed between a Church school and a County Council, the acceptance of rate-paid undenominational teaching for the whole school, while leaving the clergy free to give voluntary instruction out of school hours to those children whose parents expressly ask for it, is pretty sure to form part of it. With such a system as this, what estimate is a practical nation likely to form of the relative value of denominational and undenominational teaching? They see the one paid for by the State and given, as part of the school curriculum and by the regular staff, to all children not expressly withdrawn from it under the Conscience Clause. They see the other given, outside the school curriculum and by school teachers receiving no pay from the State, to those children whose parents ask for something more in the way of religion than is enough for the majority of children. What conclusion can they possibly draw except that the State regards undenominational teaching as something worth paying for, and denominational teaching as a harmless fancy to be tolerated as long as there are people foolish enough to cherish it ?
The position, therefore, which the clergy have to face is this : Where the Church is strong, where the buildings are new and adequate, where no addition is needed to the teaching staff, where the clergyman is a power in the parish and the parents for the most part wish their children to be taught religion under his direction, all will go well — as regards that particular school. But at what cost will this success be purchased ? All around him the fortunate incumbent will hear of schools being made over to the local Education Authority, and so ceasing, in fact if not in name, to be Church schools ; nor will he have any assurance that his own school will in the end escape the same fate. Its religious character will depend upon the policy of a County Council re-elected every three years, and of a Board of Education which reflects the Government of the day; upon the temper of the Nonconformists in his parish, which may take its colour from some distant leader ; upon legislative changes made by a House of Commons which is the creation of an undenominational electorate. On which of these shifting sandbanks does he found his hope of keeping alive a school in which he will teach the full Christian faith as he holds it ?
For these reasons--as well as for the still stronger one that on the present system they are denied access to schools containing a constantly increasing number of children who have just as much claim on them as the children of their own schools—this proposal is submitted to the clergy. If they will make it their own, in any appreciable number, it has, I believe, a good chance of gaining public acceptance. If they will have nothing to say to it, it will, at all events for the present, make no way. It will find, indeed, more acceptance among Nonconformists than is commonly supposed, since it has what, in the eyes of some of them, is the supreme merit of securing equality of treatment for all forms of religion. But, as it runs counter to the present tendency of public opinion, it is not likely that they will urge its adoption except as a means of putting an end to educational strife. Whether it will have this result depends, as I believe, on the reception the clergy give it. Theirs is the decision, and theirs will be the responsibility.