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Art. IX.-Minutes of the Committee of Council on Education,
We intend, in the present Article, to produce a novelty—an argument on the Educational question, without statistics and without an original scheme of National Education. Candid readers will, we doubt not, duly appreciate our consideration; more especially in the former portion of our pledge. We shall abstain from statistics ; first, because we believe we can serve our present purpose without them ; secondly, because we know of no statistical foundation which is not far too sandy for our building; and thirdly, because, if trustworthy statistics were to be found, they could not be exhibited within the compass, and consistently with the interest, of a short Article: they must either be selected and therefore imperfect and inaccurate, or else so full as to be tedious, so very well worth studying, that no one would have the patience to study them.
We have no great faith in figures, as bearing on the argument for or against a National system of education. By far the soundest are those contained in the Privy Council Minutes. As far as they go, we shall rely on their results, as having been well and impartially sifted. But they are gathered from a comparatively small number of the schools in Great Britain, and each Inspector obviously knows by personal observation little or nothing of the school-constellations which lie beyond the limits of his system, not to say beyond the reach of his own orbit. On the other hand, we do not need them. The broad facts, which are really important, lie on the surface, and literally he who runs may read, if he can but realize the fact that the proper subjects of education are not abstract boys and girls, ranged tabularly by scores and hundreds on paper, but living, playing, fighting, crying, ragged, dirty, godless, boys and girls, swarming unpicturesquely and quite irregularly, in the streets and alleys through which his daily calling may bid him run or walk. Here is an example in point. We read, not long ago, an article-one of many—in the Leeds Mercury, in which the editor endeavoured, and as far as we could see with complete success, to prove that in Leeds there were actually under education as large a proportion of the whole population as the most ardent philanthropist could claim ;-nay, if memory do not deceive us, the proportion was a very little exceeded—there was rather more education in Leeds than philanthropy expected or desired! Statistics were triumphant. We walked, the same day, through some of the lower streets of Leeds. Schools were on every side of us, in full operation. But, unshamed by arithmetic, children, in every sense uneducated, jostled us at every corner, and all too painfully asserted for themselves that existence as a class, which figures had triumphantly disproved. So it is everywhere. We are surrounded by palpable evidences of the fact that, from whatever cause, vast numbers of our nation are growing up unnurtured and untrained.
We need more education : we also need better education. For this, as for the former postulate, it is enough for us to appeal to general consent; the consent of those qualified to judge-Aristotle's opoviuoc or right-thinking men. Even here in Scotland, there are few such who will deny, even apart from reference to figures, that the old parochial system has not kept pace with the times—that what was good for the dull and docile days of our fathers is altogether insufficient for the restless spirit of our own.
There may, perhaps, be found, lingering in old manor houses, or in grass-grown villages innocent of railways, some few admirers of the good old days of ignorance, who will admit all that we have assumed, and say, “So much the better, if only men would be content to let the venerable relics of pristine ignorance alone.” There were many, in ancient days, who blamed Prometheus for his rash gift of heavenly fire. But with these we have nothing to do. They will not read what we write. The title of our article will be enough to scare them away.
Our ground is thus cleared by the assuinption of these three postulates. There is not enough of education. There is too much of bad education. There is great need of good education. In other words, many children are untaught, many more are very badly taught, all ought to be well taught.
There is a temptation to stop and moralize-to consider how it comes to pass that the world should, on this subject, have slept so long, and should at last, in this our day, be so suddenly wide awake. Few years have gone by since a practical zeal in popular education was enough to stamp any man as eccentric, an enthusiast, a sort of monomaniac. Now, it is in many circles, male and female, the fashion of the day; and, like other good things in fashion, incurs some risks from its very popularity. How comes this?
Again, what will come of all this? The progress of knowledge is hurrying us along a path of transition at a pace too rapid for accurate forecasting of its results. This only is clear, that many of the old bonds of society are relaxed and relaxing: we are quitting our traditionary mooring ground; shall we find, in untried waters, another anchorage as safe?
But we must not be beguiled into metaphysical politics. We are writing for that large class of readers who are not intimately
conversant with the actual state of the practical question, and who have lately found themselves in a manner compelled to form a judgment, with a very misty conception of what has been already done. Such persons form, we believe, even now, the majority of those by whom the question must ultimately be considered. And we have so strong a reliance on the common sense of the British people, that we look forward with no small eagerness to the time when the real state of the case being generally known, the people shall themselves be competent to pass their judgment upon it. Controversy will be cut short, when it is taken out of the hands of mere theorists.
Meanwhile, we are yet far from this auspicious resting-place. Nor do we aspire on this occasion to act as guides towards it. A humbler part will content us for the present—the part of a wellpainted finger-post, pointing backward and forward, shewing where we are, whence we have come, which way we should go. Our aim is simply to describe, fully but briefly, the sort of work actually done in the last few years in the field of popular education—to view the contributions already made towards the rough materials of our future edifice.
Most persons are aware that, in the year 1846, important changes took place in the relations of Government to the cause of Popular Education. Up to that period, its functions had been confined to the administration of a very limited grant, applied chiefly in aid of the erection of school buildings, and to the institution of inquiries into the actual character of existing schools. Out of these inquiries, the present system has gradually arisen.
They brought to light facts too stubborn to be resisted, and too important to be passed by; year by year, accumulating evidence rivetted the conviction that school-building and schoolsupporting were nearly useless, until far more sufficient guarantees were provided for the quality of the instruction communicated. Sceptics, if any such there be, are referred for ample proof to the earlier volumes of the Minutes of the Committee of Council on Education, from 1840 to 1845.*
Yet it might have been long before this growing conviction bore its practical fruit, but for the presence at the Council-office of a most earnest and untiring friend of the cause in the person of the late Secretary of the Committee. To Sir James Kay Shuttleworth, then J. P. Kay, Esq., the country stands mainly indebted for the conception and organization of the present system. And, whatever defects may be found or imagined in its
* See especially the Minutes for 1844, vol. ii. Watkins, and Mr. Gordon.
Reports of Mr. Cook, Mr.
machinery, and though many doubts and suspicions have from time to time assailed its author, it is a proud thought for him now in his retirement, that, if the Giant Idol, Ignorance, is to full, he may boast of having thrown the first effectual stone against her. (See Mr. Watkins' Report for 1847. Min., vol. ii. pp. 209, 210.)
It would be unjust, at this point, to pass without notice, the famous pamphlet of Dr. Hook. His statistics were, no doubt, assailed with even more than the usual success in such warfare, and most of his suggestions have been superseded by the system introduced by Government in the course of the same year, 1846. But it would be difficult to overrate the effect produced on the minds of thoughtful Englishmen by the adhesion of so staunch a high-churchman to the cause of unrestricted education. A cloud of replies, vindications, and explanations, followed in the train of Dr. Hook's Letter to the Bishop of St. David's; most of them contained more or less of valuable matter; all of them served at least to prepare the way for the development of the Government scheme.*
Since 1846, besides building grants, the aid of the Committee of Council has been afforded towards the apprenticeship of pupilteachers—the training of masters and mistresses--the augmentation of their salaries—and the purchase of school-books, fittings, and apparatus. It may perhaps give a livelier picture of the actual working of the scheme, in its bearing upon the improvement of the quality of education, and on the position of the schoolmasters, if we endeavour to follow the course of some one supposed recipient of aid, from the chrysalis state of the candidate for apprenticeship to the close of the first successful flight of the butterfly—the first year of prosperous management of a school.
Suppose us, then, first, in a quiet village school. There is a stranger there, eyed suspiciously from many quarters, with such looks as an inexperienced lamb might be supposed to cast, on its first introduction to the “collie," while yet uncertain of the nearness of his relationship to the wolf. The stranger is a Government Inspector of schools, one of the staff of skilled labourers, by whom the machine of education is worked. These gentlemen are appointed by the Queen on the nomination of the Lord President, but always with the concurrence of the proper representatives of the religious body to whose schools each Inspector is to be sent. Thus, for the Church of England, the assent of
* The most valuable, probably, of these pamphlets, was that entitled “ Some Remarks" on Dr. Hook's Letter ;- published anonymously, but known to be written by the Rev. C. Richson, the father (or foster-father) of the " Manchester Scheme" of the present day.
the Archbishop of the province is required; for the Established Church of Scotland, that of the General Assembly's Education Committee, and so on for each denomination.* Up to the present date, there have been appointed, for the Church of England, twelve, with two assistant Inspectors; for schools in England, not in connexion with the Established Church, three; for Scotland, * two; and for the Roman Catholics of Great Britain, one : in all eighteen, besides the two assistants, exclusively of those employed in visiting workhouse schools in England and Wales.
Their original duty was that of simple inquiry into all points connected with school accommodation and instruction. It will be found fully detailed in the Minutes for 1839-40, p. 32, or on p. 27 of the semi-official pamphlet of 1847; “ The School in its relation to the State, the Church, and the Congregation.”+ As the system advanced, however, the nature of the Inspectors' office was very materially modified. Every school receiving aid from Government in the shape of an annual grant depends, in great measure, on the Inspector's report, for each year's continuance of such aid. No money is ever paid till he has visited and reported; and if his report be unfavourable, it will in all probability be withheld. So that these officers now serve, not merely as the Council's eyes, by which they can look into every corner of the land, but in a certain indirect and figurative sense as its hands also, through which it dispenses its pecuniary bounty. We say indirectly; for, strictly speaking, the Inspector has still no power but that of observing and reporting what he sees. Only, his opinion-formerly a naked voice-is now armed with certain golden arguments, very potent in their persuasiveness.
The time has nearly passed away when this office was regarded with jealousy. All the older discussions,-by which we mean those of ten years' date, (opinions on this subject have but a short season of youth)—are strongly marked by deep-rooted suspicions of the purpose and tendency of the interference of the State. Churchmen of every shade, voluntaries of every hue, bristled up in self-defence; zeal and earnestness, as well as pride and prejudice, standing erect, “ like quills upon the fretful porcupine.” The waters were scarcely hushed after the storm raised by Sir James Graham's bill: the heavy ground-swell shook with no gentle violence the good ship “ Popular Education." But the ship rode bravely, and the angry waves have almost subsided. If, now and then, in the month of May, we hear the low growl of a strong sou’-wester, the shock is hardly felt. In other words, though there still linger, in more than one direction, extreme parties, who try hard by dint of energetic lungs
* See Minutes for 1846, p. 17.
+ See also Minutes for 1844, p. 22.