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district from five to twelve. They must see that no parent is under a penalty—which is restricted to 5*.—for not sending his child to school if he can show reasonable excuse; reasonable excuse being either education elsewhere, or sickness, or some unavoidable cause, or there not being a public elementary school within a mile. These bye-laws are not to come into operation unless they are approved by the Government, and unless they have been laid on the table of this and the other House of Parliament forty days, and have not been dissented from. Thus, with these checks, supplied by the necessary sanction of the Government, of this House, and of the public opinion of the district, every precaution is taken in the application of the principle." By a further provision of the Bill power was to be given to the School Boards at once to establish Industrial Schools, a power vested in none of the local bodies under the existing law. "I would further say," he concluded, "that whatever we do in the matter should be done quickly. We must not delay. Upon the speedy provision of elementary education depends our industrial prosperity. It is of no use trying to give technical teaching to our artizans without elementary education; uneducated labourers—and many of our labourers are utterly uneducated—are, for the most part, unskilled labourers, and if we leave our work-folk any longer unskilled, notwithstanding their strong sinews and determined energy, they will become overmatched in the competition of the world. Upon this speedy provision depends also, I fully believe, the good, the safe working of our constitutional system. I am one of those who would not wait until the people were educated before I would trust them with political power. If we had thus waited we might have waited long for education; but now that we have given them political power we must not wait any longer to give them education. There are questions demanding answers, problems which must be solved, which ignorant constituencies are ill-fitted to solve. Upon this speedy provision of education depends also our national power. Civilized communities throughout the world are massing themselves together, each mass being measured by its force; and if we are to hold our position among men of our own race or among the nations of the world, we must make up the smallness of our numbers by increasing the intellectual force of the individual." The measure thus introduced, and the speech that introduced it, were received with general congratulation by the House.
Sir John Pakington, amongst other speakers, characterized the speech as requiring no apology, and the measure as a great and comprehensive one. He took at the same time the opportunity of criticizing the constitution of the Education Department, and was greeted with Ministerial cheers when he expressed his regret that Mr. Forster did not speak as the responsible Minister of Public Instruction. Commenting on the matter in hand, he said that the two chief defects of the existing system were "the imperfect education given in the schools, and the short period of time for which children were allowed to be educated and trained, even in the best schools of the kingdom," and that in legislating these were the points that must chiefly be borne in mind. Debate was deferred to the second reading, but in the interval, as was to be expected, considerable opposition to the Bill began to rise in some quarters, founded on the provisions enabling School Boards to permit the teaching of particular religious views in the schools under their control; on the untrustworthiness of the municipal councils and vestries which it was proposed should elect the Boards; and on the permissive character of the compulsion sanctioned by the Bill. The first of these objections, embodying the "religious difficulty," which was the greatest with which the Bill had to deal, was strongly enforced by the supporters of the Birmingham League, who advocated "unsectarian education" by every line and means of argument. As their spokesman, Mr. Dixon, the member for Birmingham, and founder of the League, met the Bill on the second reading by moving an amendment to the effect that "no measure for the elementary education of the people could afford a permanent and satisfactory settlement which left the important question of religious instruction to be determined by the local authorities," Mr. Forster pointed out that the effect of the success of such an amendment as this at that stage of the Bill would be to throw out both the Bill and the Government, and that the questions it raised should be discussed in Committee. The amendment, he said, was only explicit as to what ought not to be done, but did not attempt to define what ought to be done, as it was only fair that it should, and argued, from the history of previous schemes, and from the nature of the amendment, that even the mover himself was bound on this occasion to vote against his own resolution. It was easier to advocate "unsectarian education " than it was to define it, though at the same time he thought it "not at all difficult to reach in practice," and supported it as strongly as any man. Even the numerous dissenting deputations, he showed, from whom he acknowledged to have received most valuable information, had been unable to agree on a plan to recommend, or to explain consistently how "unsectarian education" was to be interpreted. "Surely," he said, "the time will come when we shall find out how we can agree better on these matters; when men will find out that on the main qnestions of religion they agree, and that they can teach them in common to their children. Shall we cut off from the future all hope of such an agreement, and say that all those questions which regulate our conduct in life, and animate our hopes for the future after death; which form for us the standard of right and wrong; shall we say that all these are wholly to be excluded from our schools? It is not merely duty to the present and hope for the future; but it is the remembrance of the past that forbids us to exclude religion from the teaching of our schools. I confess I have still in my veins the blood of my Puritan forefathers, and I wonder to hear descendants of the Puritans now talk of religion as if it were the property of any class or condition of men. . . . The English people cling to the Bible, and no measure will be m"
unpopular than that which declares by Act of Parliament that the
"What more," he said, "can the Education League desire than they obtain in this Bill? With the exception of the principle of free schools, which I think does not meet with much acceptation, there is no principle adopted by the League which cannot be carried out in any locality where the majority of the population desire it; and surely my hon. friend does not wish to push his educational dogmas down the throats of the majority. But wherever the majority of the population believe in his dogmas they can carry them out. This is a Bill in framing which we have endeavoured to carry out two principles, the most perfect protection to the parent, and the securing of the most complete fairness and impartiality in the treatment of all religious denominations."
Mr. Winterbotham, speaking in the interest of the Dissenters, began by admitting that he had desired delay in the education of the people rather than immediate legislation, because he thought after a year or more agitation the country would have been ripe for secular education. He bore willing testimony, he said, to the "genius and courage which had framed the Bill," and would forgive much for its great excellence, that it would bring an efficient school within the reach of every child in the land. But the Nonconformists complained, he said, "first, that by this Bill the School Board in each district is left to determine the kind of religious instruction to be given in the schools founded by them. We say this is shirking the difficulty, not settling it; that the point ought to be determined by Parliament, and not feebly left to be fought over every year in every parish in the land. We say that thus the Bill, as it stands, will be a curse rather than a blessing, an ill-omened messenger of strife and bitterness. We say it will revive the old
church rate controversy, only in a worse form. It will arise in towns where Dissent being strong church rates had been disused long before they were abolished. Moreover, the old rate was an old and dying grievance. This is a new and vigorous growth capable of infinite extension. . . . The denominational system of education wbich we dislike, and under which we are chafing more and more each year, and which you in vain try to palliate with a Conscience Clause, is to receive an indefinite expansion, all its evils being intensified ten-fold. . . . No wonder that this proposal has excited general and growing apprehension and opposition. ... It is not merely that we fear the proselytizing teaching of the Church school. This apprehension exists, and is, to a certain extent, well founded, and some think a Conscience Clause is a poor protection against it." He admitted that he himself believed it might be made effectual in that respect, but he was not content with that. To understand the attitude of Dissent towards the Church, the attitude of the Church towards Dissent must be considered. It was, "speaking generally, one of dislike and contempt, varying only in degree from simply ignoring it to petty social persecution. In many rural parishes, it is treated like the cattle plague, to be stamped out. This state of feeling is due to two causes. It is due, no doubt, primarily to the mere existence of an Established Church, intensified as its evils are by the parochial system. The law of the Church and of the land recognizes one man, and one man only, as the authorized religious teacher of the parish; all others are interlopers, trespassers, poachers on his spiritual preserve. And this is further increased by new-fangled Romish doctrines, with which we thought England had long since done, of priestly power and the necessity of episcopal ordination. The pride of office thus produced is contagious, and has spread among those who would repudiate the ecclesiastical theory on which it is based. Side by side with this there has grown up among the Dissenters an ever-increasing impatience of religious inequality, and an ever-deepening hatred of priestcraft and episcopal assumption in all their forms. The habits of independence, self-government, and free thought are growing ever stronger among us, and we cannot brook the assumption of superiority, which, whether in the form of tolerance or of intolerance, is all we generally receive from the clergy of the Established Church. Hence alienation, an absence of cooperation in social and philanthropic objects, a habit of watchful jealousy, a readiness—I confess it—to take offence, sometimes irritation, occasionally even open strife—these are the normal relations of Dissent to the Church in many parishes in the land. What should a statesman do in such a case? He should try to limit the operation of this unhappy sectarian strife, and not add fresh fuel. Multiply neutral subjects; accustom the people of all sects to meet and act together on the only possible footing—that of perfect equality; do not extend sectarian privileges to new spheres of national life and duty. Let one Established Church suffice; do
not set up an Established Church in every school. . . . The time has come for us when toleration and intolerance are alike intolerable. Let me offer one word of warning—not presumptuously —but let it go for what it is worth. There are many Dissenters— I confess myself one of them—who would see with regret the downfall of the English Church. It is not defensible on grounds of even-handed justice; it has been a cruel stepmother to us in times past. Yet it is venerable in its associations; with all its faults it is doing good work among the people. Do not drive us all to be its foes by showing us how hard it is to limit the operation of a principle of injustice once admitted. Take warning from history. No one will think me guilty of the absurdity of comparing the Established Church as a political institution with slavery. But their fate here and in America may not be unlike. Slavery might have continued to this hour, unjust and evil as it was, had it been content to remain as it was; but when it insisted on disputing with freedom the possession of new lands, and sought to extend its blight, it aroused a resistance which sealed its doom. In your Church, as in all that man has made or marred, there are tares growing with the wheat, and some would rashly pluck them out. Nay; let both grow together till the harvest. But if you insist on scattering the pernicious seed broadcast over this new-turned soil of national education, you leave us no alternative but to seek to destroy it altogether." The Nonconformists demanded "secular education." If a system of sectarian education were recognized and established in England, it would not be refused to the Roman Catholic Bishops in Ireland, and he, for one, "would never be a party to handing over the education of the people to the Catholic or any other clergy." "The noblest system of education ever devised," he said, " is the system sketched in Lord Derby's famous letter in 1831, and realized in the model schools and the vested National Schools of Ireland. It was just, it was statesmanlike. In Ireland, therefore, it has of course incurred the hostility of bigots of all sorts. But it has done a great work there, and in spite of the calumnies of foes, and the weakness and treachery of those who should have been its friends, it remains the noblest monument of statesmanship in Ireland. It is united secular education. It does not disparage or interfere with religious teaching; it leaves that to the pastors of the different Churches, to the home, and to the Sunday school. These can best bring it home to the hearts of the poor. Give us that system here. ... I have tried to express to the House what I believe are the feelings of the Protestant Dissenters on this subject. I say their feelings, because I admit at once that they have not yet had time to work out their feeling to its conclusion. I have some grounds for the conviction that they are coming, and will come, to the conclusion at which I have pointed, and which most of their leaders have already fully accepted —I mean the entire separation of religious teaching from the instruction given in public elementary schools."