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VOL. III. No. XV.-JANUARY 1, 1881.
THE EDUCATION QUESTION: A REPLY.
THE article of Professor Pearson on this question, which appeared in the last number of the Victorian Review, was one to fill the educational reformer with hope. To approach this question two years ago was like endeavouring to anchor a vessel in a bottomless sea. Nowhere did there appear to be accessible holding-ground. By some the Education Act seemed to be regarded as a fetish to be worshipped, and all objectors to it as heretics, who, had the spirit of the age permitted it, ought to have been stoned or burnt. By others it was cherished as a convenient political shibboleth. They could win votes by making it their watch-word, or gibbet a political opponent by proving him deficient in his sibilants. To touch "the Act" was sacrilege. To whisper disapproval was flat blasphemy. Very few seemed to be able to conceive that one might desire to improve what one admired, and to secure its stability by removing its blemishes. A reasonable man's only comfort at such a time was in the reflection of Condorcet that "the natural order of things tends to bring public opinion more and more into conformity with truth."
This very singular condition of public sentiment would seem to be now passing away. It is not denied that the Education Act, like other products of human infirmity, may possibly be susceptible of improvement, and that its critics, whatever their social misfortune
VOL. III.-No. 15.
or political blindness, may possibly have something to say for themselves, and at any rate should rather be regarded as opponents to be reasoned with, than as heretics to be stoned.
In his fair and lucid paper, Professor Pearson (as indeed one might have expected from his learning and ability) approaches the question from this more moderate and reasonable point of view. Recognising the fact that it has no necessary connection with party politics, and that those who take the same side upon it are to be found in opposite political camps, he desires to withdraw its consideration from the noisy and heated arena of political conflict, and in the lull of the recess to pursue it in a calm and conciliatory spirit. In this desire I most heartily sympathise, and will do my best in the present paper to contribute towards its attainment.
Professor Pearson begins his article by making certain admissions, and ends it by counselling certain concessions. On his admissions I desire to say a few introductory words. I am very glad to learn that in Professor Pearson's opinion "neither liberals, nor any large class of the community" differ from me in my belief "that the whole fabric of society is sustained by religious faith;" and that the professor is ready to admit the truth of the proposition "that no system of education can be complete which ignores religious instruction."
In the 14th chapter of the Canadian Education Act we find the following inference drawn from this admission:-" As Christianity is recognised by common consent throughout this province as an essential element of education, it ought to pervade all the regulations for elementary instruction." Agreeing with the principle that "religion is an essential element of education," and affirming the fact that this principle is generally admitted in Victoria, Professor Pearson still withholds his assent from the inference that "it ought to pervade all the regulations for elementary instruction." On this point I shall have something to say further on. I here only note the fact of his admission that religion is the necessary basis of a sound system of education, and that this is the general opinion in Victoria.
His second admission is made more grudgingly, and is balanced by a countervailing consideration of great practical importance. Quoting my opinion that "the only effective text-book of such instruction is the Bible," he adds, "this may be his opinion, and that of most Protestants, but I do not think it is shared by the Roman Catholic Church." I quite admit that, put thus broadly, the Roman Catholic
Church might object to the statement. But as I do not propose that the whole Bible shall be read in any school, nor indeed at all in distinctly Roman Catholic schools, my opinion on this point is chiefly interesting to Protestants. And by not only "most Protestants," as Professor Pearson admits, but by all Protestants, or so nearly all that the exceptions are not worth taking into account, it is allowed that the only possible religious text-book is the Bible. If I here produce only the opinions on that point of sceptical or secularist Protestants, it is because those of all others are known to be in favour of using the Bible in primary schools. Among sceptical Protestants the name of Professor Huxley commands universal respect, and on this matter I have quoted his opinion elsewhere. Briefly, it is as follows:-"I must confess that I have been seriously perplexed to know by what practical measures the religious feeling, which is the essential basis of conduct, was to be kept up, in the present utterly chaotic state of opinion on these matters, without the Bible." These words are followed by a most eloquent eulogy of the Word of God, both as to its form and substance, which concludes as follows:-"By the study of what other book could children be so humanised, and be made to feel that each figure in that vast historical procession fills, like themselves, but a momentary space in the interval between two eternities, and earns the blessings or curses of all time, according to its efforts to do good and hate evil?" These words will be felt to be weighty and impressive, not only because of the ability and opinions of the distinguished man who uttered them, but even more by reason of the essential truth which they express. If we turn now from sceptical Protestants, to those, who, holding divers opinions of the authority of the Bible, are agreed in the desire to exclude it from the regular course of lessons in the primary school, it will be admitted, I imagine, that their position and sentiments are not unfairly represented by the Birmingham School Board. What, then, let us ask, has been the course of action pursued by that representative body on this question? At first they made use of the power conceded to them in the Act of 1870 to exclude religious instruction altogether from the Birmingham Board Schools. In May, 1879, however, they seem to have become convinced that simple secularism was producing a bad effect upon the children. Moral instruction was already given in the schools. It was given, said Mr. Dixon, their chairman, "by the discipline of the school, in their reading books, and especially by their prize scheme for kindness to animals." These efforts, however, were felt
to be insufficient. And therefore Mr. Dixon proposed that the moral teaching of the schools should be "extended and systematised; that special times should be set apart for the giving of it, and that moral instruction should be the subject of special lessons." But here, of course, he was met by a serious difficulty. If morals became a special subject of instruction, it would be necessary to provide a text-book. And as no suitable manual might possibly exist, he proposed that "they should have one specially made for the board,” a thing which, in his opinion, it would not be difficult to do. He seems still, however, to have been haunted by the feeling that morals without a religious basis would scarcely prove satisfactory at this time of day; and so added the grotesque statement which was so unmercifully ridiculed by the Archbishop of York, that, "if, in the teaching of morality, some of the teachers should find it an assistance to them to mention the name of the Creator, and to dwell a little on immortality, he, for his part, should not ask that blame should be thrown on such teachers." God and immortality! Either they were realities, or they were not. If not, they should never be alluded to, except to be denied. But, if they were, what could be more preposterous than to speak in such a manner about the absolutely most important verities known to the mind of man? What but failure could result from an attempt undertaken in such a spirit? We find, accordingly, that at a meeting of the same school board, held in the latter part of the same year, it was decided that the Bible should be read in the school without note or comment. The new text-book was not forthcoming. They had to fall back on the Bible. And one may well believe that when they have discovered the futility of trusting to a textbook without explanation, they will withdraw their last grudging restriction, and after the example of the London School Board, direct the teacher to make this best of all text-books the basis of undenominational religious teaching. Commenting on the causes and results of this last action of the Birmingham board, the Saturday Review observes:
There are a great number of fathers and mothers in Birmingham who would give no very clear account of their religious beliefs, who know nothing of the various theories of inspiration, who have never troubled themselves about the places which the Church and the Scriptures respectively occupy in their system, and who, nevertheless, wish their children to know something of the contents of the Bible, and are honestly, if unintelligently, of opinion that they will be all the better for knowing it. They do not wish to see the book which the great majority of English men and women still regard as sacred in some sense or another proscribed in the board schools, and in the board schools alone.
It is this state of public feeling, together with the experience of the failure of a purely secular system, which has forced on the recent alteration at Birmingham. And that it will be as beneficial as it was inevitable, no one any longer affects to doubt. Says the Saturday Review:
The children who will henceforth read it (the Bible) may not gain from its pages any complete religious system, but they will be taken in some measure out of the dwarfing atmosphere in which so much that passes for education in elementary schools is almost necessarily carried on, and placed in a world which is, at least, human and interesting. If the Bible is nothing else, it is at any rate the one instrument of mental culture which, for many years to come, must, as regards the English poor, be absolutely incapable of being replaced.
This would appear to be, in England, a growing conviction on the part of those engaged in the practical work of education. Mr. Sampson Lloyd has published an interesting report of the rules adopted for religious instruction by the various school boards in England. From this it appears that—
In 1879, there was a marked decline in the number of purely secular schools Notwithstanding the much larger number of schools accounted for in these returns, the actual number of purely secular schools is less. In 1876, the number returned was only sixty-eight; in 1879, it is no more than fifty-four. A considerable portion of the schools now reported as secular, has come into existence since 1876; so that many parishes which began with purely secular schools, have evidently become so dissatisfied with the result, that they have changed their character.
Secular education has not borne the test of experience. Not only in Birmingham, but throughout the country, the few schools which tried to do without the Bible, are discovering the necessity for its introduction. Nor is the reason far to seek. If, as Professor Huxley admits, "Religion be the essential basis of conduct," then, in order to create conduct, which is two-thirds of life, some form of religious teaching must be adopted. Now, what form is possible under existing circumstances? When Paganism was abandoned, Christianity was in the world to take its place. But, if Christianity be abandoned, where is the religion which we can adopt in its stead? The Agnostics have not yet produced one. And if the Comtists have made more progress, their religion of humanity, while failing to touch the popular convictions, has excited, even among philosophical speculators, little else than ridicule. Christianity is the only religion in the field. How then can there be any other textbook of religious instruction, but the sacred book of Christianitythe Bible.
It was, apparently, with such a feeling in his mind, that the