The School Boards: What They Can Do, and What They May Do (1870)

Collected Essays III

[374] An electioneering manifesto would be out of place in the pages of this Review; but any suspicion that may arise in the mind of the reader that the following pages partake of that nature, will be dispelled, if he reflect that they cannot be published1 until after the day on which the ratepayers of the metropolis will have decided which candidates for seats upon the Metropolitan School Board they will take, and which they will leave.

As one of those candidates, I may be permitted to say, that I feel much in the frame of mind of the Irish bricklayer's labourer, who bet another [375] that he could not carry him to the top of the ladder in his hod. The challenged hodman won his wager, but as the stakes were handed over, the challenger wistfully remarked, "I'd great hopes of falling at the third round from the top." And, in view of the work and the worry which awaits the members of the School Boards, I must confess to an occasional ungrateful hope that the friends who are toiling upwards with me in their hod, may, when they reach "the third round from the top," let me fall back into peace and quietness.

But whether fortune befriend me in this rough method, or not, I should like to submit to those of whom I am potential, but of whom I may not be an actual, colleague, and to others who may be interested in this most important problem–how to get the Education Act to work efficiently–some considerations as to what are the duties of the members of the School Boards, and what are the limits of their power.

I suppose no one will be disposed to dispute the proposition, that the prime duty of every member of such a Board is to endeavour to administer the Act honestly; or in accordance, not only with its letter, but with its spirit. And if so, it would seem that the first step towards this very desirable end is, to obtain a clear notion of what that letter signifies, and what that spirit implies; or, in other words, what the clauses of the Act are intended to enjoin and to forbid. So that it is really not [376] admissible, except for factious and abusive purposes, to assume that any one who endeavours to get at this clear meaning is desirous only of raising quibbles and making difficulties.

Reading the Act with this desire to understand it, I find that its provisions may be classified, as might naturally be expected, under two heads: the one set relating to the subject-matter of education; the other to the establishment, maintenance, and administration of the schools in which that education is to be conducted.

Now it is a most important circumstance, that all the sections of the Act, except four, belong to the latter division; that is, they refer to mere matters of administration. The four sections in question are the seventh, the fourteenth, the sixteenth, and the ninety-seventh. Of these, the seventh, the fourteenth, and the ninety-seventh deal with the subject-matter of education, while the sixteenth defines the nature of the relations which are to exist between the "Education Department" (an euphemism for the future Minister of Education) and the School Boards. It is the sixteenth clause which is the most important, and, in some respects, the most remarkable of all. It runs thus:–

"If the School Board do, or permit, any act in contravention of, or fail to comply with, the regulations, according to which a school provided by them is required by this Act to be conducted, the Education Department may declare the School [377] Board to be, and such Board shall accordingly be deemed to be, a Board in default, and the Education Department may proceed accordingly; and every act, or omission, of any member of the School Board, or manager appointed by them, or any person under the control of the Board, shall be deemed to be permitted by the Board, unless the contrary be proved.

"If any dispute arises as to whether the School Board have done, or permitted, any act in contravention of, or have failed to comply with, the said regulations, the matter shall be referred to the Education Department, whose decision thereon shall be final."

It will be observed that this clause gives the Minister of Education absolute power over the doings of the School Boards. He is not only the administrator of the Act, but he is its interpreter. I had imagined that on the occurrence of a dispute, not as regards a question of pure administration, but as to the meaning of a clause of the Act, a case might be taken and referred to a court of justice. But I am led to believe that the Legislature has, in the present instance, deliberately taken this power out of the hands of the judges and lodged it in those of the Minister of Education, who, in accordance with our method of making Ministers, will necessarily be a political partisan, and who may be a strong theological sectary into the bargain. And I am informed by members of Parliament who watched the progress of the Act, that the responsibility for this unusual state of things rests, not with the Government, but with the Legislature, which exhibited a [378] singular disposition to accumulate power in the hands of the future Minister of Education, and to evade the more troublesome difficulties of the education question by leaving them to be settled between that Minister and the School Boards.

I express no opinion whether it is, or is not, desirable that such powers of controlling all the School Boards in the country should be possessed by a person who may be, like Mr. Forster, eminently likely to use these powers justly and wisely, but who also may be quite the reverse. I merely wish to draw attention to the fact that such powers are given to the Minister, whether he be fit or unfit. The extent of these powers becomes apparent when the other sections of the Act referred to are considered. The fourth clause of the seventh section says:–

"The school shall be conducted in accordance with the conditions required to be fulfilled by an elementary school in order to obtain an annual Parliamentary grant."

What these conditions are appears from the following clauses of the ninety-seventh section:–

"The conditions required to be fulfilled by an elementary school in order to obtain an annual Parliamentary grant shall be those contained in the minutes of the Education Department in force for the time being.... Provided that no such minute of the Education Department, not in force at the time of the passing of this Act, shall be deemed to be in force until it has lain for not less than one month on the table of both Houses of Parliament."

[379] Let us consider how this will work in practice. A school established by a School Board may receive support from three sources–from the rates, the school fees, and the Parliamentary grant. The latter may be as great as the two former taken together; and as it may be assumed, without much risk of error, that a constant pressure will be exerted by the ratepayers on the members who represent them to get as much out of the Government, and as little out of the rates, as possible, the School Boards will have a very strong motive for shaping the education they give, as nearly as may be, on the model which the Education Minister offers for their imitation, and for the copying of which he is prepared to pay.

The Revised Code did not compel any school master to leave off teaching anything; but, by the very simple process of refusing to pay for many kinds of teaching, it has practically put an end to them. Mr. Forster is said to be engaged in revising the Revised Code; a successor of his may re-revise it–and there will be no sort of check upon these revisions and counter revisions, except the possibility of a Parliamentary debate, when the revised, or added, minutes are laid upon the table. What chance is there that any such debate will take place on a matter of detail relating to elementary education–a subject with which members of the Legislature, having been, for the most part, sent to our public schools thirty years ago, [380] have not the least practical acquaintance, and for which they care, unless it derives a political value from its connection with sectarian politics?

I cannot but think, then, that the School Boards will have the appearance, but not the reality, of freedom of action, in regard to the subject-matter of what is commonly called "secular" education.

As respects what is commonly called "religious" education, the power of the Minister of Education is even more despotic. An interest, almost amounting to pathos, attaches itself, in my mind, to the frantic exertions which are at present going on in almost every school division, to elect certain candidates whose names have never before been heard of in connection with education, and who are either sectarian partisans, or nothing. In my own particular division, a body organised ad hoc is moving heaven and earth to get the seven seats filled by seven gentlemen, four of whom are good Churchmen, and three no less good Dissenters. But why should this seven times heated fiery furnace of theological zeal be so desirous to shed its genial warmth over the London School Board? Can it be that these zealous sectaries mean to evade the solemn pledge given in the Act?

"No religious catechism or religious formulary which is distinctive of any particular denomination shall be taught in the school."

[381] I confess I should have thought it my duty to reject any such suggestion, as dishonouring to a number of worthy persons, if it had not been for a leading article and some correspondence which appeared in the Guardian of November 9th, 1870.

The Guardian is, as everybody knows, one of the best of the "religious" newspapers; and, personally, I have every reason to speak highly of the fairness, and indeed kindness, with which the editor is good enough to deal with a writer who must, in many ways, be so objectionable to him as myself. I quote the following passages from a leading article on a letter of mine, therefore, with all respect, and with a genuine conviction that the course of conduct advocated by the writer must appear to him in a very different light from that under which I see it:–

"The first of these points is the interpretation which Professor Huxley put on the "Cowper-Temple clause.' It is, in fact, that which we foretold some time ago as likely to be forced upon it by those who think with him. The clause itself was one of those compromises which it is very difficult to define or to maintain logically. On the one side was the simple freedom to School Boards to establish what schools they pleased, which Mr. Forster originally gave, but against which the Nonconformists lifted up their voices, because they conceived it likely to give too much power to the Church. On the other side there was the proposition to make the schools secular–intelligible enough, but in the consideration of public opinion simply impossible–and there was the vague impracticable idea, which Mr. Gladstone thoroughly tore to pieces, of enacting that the [382] teaching of all school-masters in the new schools should be strictly 'undenominational.' The Cowper-Temple clause was, we repeat, proposed simply to tide over the difficulty. It was to satisfy the Nonconformists and the 'unsectarian,' as distinct from the secular party of the League, by forbidding all distinctive 'catechisms and formularies,' which might have the effect of openly assigning the schools to this or that religious body. It refused, at the same time, to attempt the impossible task of defining what was undenominational; and its author even contended, if we understood him correctly, that it would in no way, even indirectly, interfere with the substantial teaching of any master in any school. This assertion we always believed to be untenable; we could not see how, in the face of this clause, a distinctly denominational tone could be honestly given to schools nominally general. But beyond this mere suggestion of an attempt at a general tone of comprehensiveness in religious teaching it was not intended to go, and only because such was its limitation was it accepted by the Government and by the House.

"But now we are told that it is to be construed as doing precisely that which it refused to do. A 'formulary,' it seems, is a collection of formulas, and formulas are simply propositions of whatever kind touching religious faith. All such propositions, if they cannot be accepted by all Christian denominations, are to be proscribed; and it is added significantly that the Jews also are a denomination, and so that any teaching distinctively Christian is perhaps to be excluded, lest it should interfere with their freedom and rights. Are we then to fall back on the simple reading of the letter of the Bible? No! this, it is granted, would be an 'unworthy pretence.' The teacher is to give 'grammatical, geographical, or historical explanations;' but he is to keep clear of 'theology proper,' because, as Professor Huxley takes great pains to prove, there is no theological teaching which is not opposed by some sect or other, from Roman Catholicism on the one hand to Unitarianism on the other. It was not, perhaps, hard to see that this difficulty would be started; and to those who, like Professor Huxley look at it theoretically, without much practical experience of schools, [383] it may appear serious or unanswerable. But there is very little in it practically; when it is faced determinately and handled firmly, it will soon shrink into its true dimensions. The class who are least frightened at it are the school teachers, simply because they know most about it. It is quite clear that the school managers must be cautioned against allowing their schools to be made places of proselytism: but when this is done, the case is simple enough. Leave the masters under this general understanding to teach freely; if there is ground of complaint, let it be made, but leave the onus probandi on the objectors. For extreme peculiarities of belief or unbelief there is the Conscience Clause; as to the mass of parents, they will be more anxious to have religion taught than afraid of its assuming this or that particular shade. They will trust the school managers and teachers till they have reason to distrust them, and experience has shown that they may trust them safely enough. Any attempt to throw the burden of making the teaching undenominational upon the managers must be sternly resisted: it is simply evading the intentions of the Act in an elaborate attempt to carry them out. We thank Professor Huxley for the warning. To be forewarned is to be forearmed."

A good deal of light seems to me to be thrown on the practical significance of the opinions expressed in the foregoing extract by the following interesting letter, which appeared in the same paper:–

"SIR,–I venture to send to you the substance of a correspondence with the Education Department upon the question of the lawfulness of religious teaching in rate schools under section 14 (2) of the Act. I asked whether the words 'which is distinctive,' &c., taken grammatically as limiting the prohibition of any religious formulary, might be construed as allowing (subject, however, to the other provisions of the Act) any religious formulary common to any two denominations anywhere in England to be taught in such schools; and if practic[384]ally the limit could not be so extended, but would have to be fixed according to the special circumstances of each district, then what degree of general acceptance in a district would exempt such a formulary from the prohibition? The answer to this was as follows:–'It was understood, when clause 14 of the Education Act was discussed in the House of Commons, that, according to a well-known rule of interpreting Acts of Parliament, "denomination" must be held to include "denominations." When any dispute is referred to the Education Department under the last paragraph of section 16, it will be dealt with according to the circumstances of the case.'

"Upon my asking further if I might hence infer that the lawfulness of teaching any religious formulary in a rate school would thus depend exclusively on local circumstances, and would accordingly be so decided by the Education Department in case of dispute, I was informed in explanation that 'their lordships'' letter was intended to convey to me that no general rule, beyond that stated in the first paragraph of their letter, could at present be laid down by them; and that their decision in each particular case must depend on the special circumstances accompanying it.

"I think it would appear from this that it may yet be in many cases both lawful and expedient to teach religious formularies in rate schools. H. I.

"Steyning, November 5, 1870."

Of course I do not mean to suggest that the editor of the Guardian is bound by the opinions of his correspondent; but I cannot help thinking that I do not misrepresent him, when I say that he also thinks "that it may yet be, in many cases, both lawful and expedient to teach religious formularies in rate schools under these circumstances."

It is not uncharitable, therefore, to assume that, the express words of the Act of Parliament not- [385]withstanding, all the sectaries who are toiling so hard for seats in the London School Board have the lively hope of the gentleman from Steyning, that it may be "both lawful and expedient to teach religious formularies in rate schools;" and that they mean to do their utmost to bring this happy consummation about.2

Now the pathetic emotion to which I have referred, as accompanying my contemplations of the violent struggles of so many excellent persons, is caused by the circumstance that, so far as I can judge, their labour is in vain.

Supposing that the London School Board contains, as it probably will do, a majority of sectaries; and that they carry over the heads of a minority, a resolution that certain theological formulas, about which they all happen to agree,–say, for example, the doctrine of the Trinity,–shall be taught in the schools. Do they fondly imagine that the minority will not at once dispute their interpretation of the [386] Act, and appeal to the Education Department to settle that dispute? And if so, do they suppose that any Minister of Education, who wants to keep his place, will tighten boundaries which the Legislature has left loose; and will give a "final decision" which shall be offensive to every Unitarian and to every Jew in the House of Commons, besides creating a precedent which will afterwards be used to the injury of every Nonconformist? The editor of the Guardian tells his friends sternly to resist every attempt to throw the burden of making the teaching undenominational on the managers, and thanks me for the warning I have given him. I return the thanks, with interest, for his warning, as to the course the party he represents intends to pursue, and for enabling me thus to draw public attention to a perfectly constitutional and effectual mode of checkmating them.

And, in truth, it is wonderful to note the surprising entanglement into which our able editor gets himself in the struggle between his native honesty and judgment and the necessities of his party. "We could not see," says he, "in the face of this clause how a distinct denominational tone could be honestly given to schools nominally general." There speaks the honest and clear-headed man. "Any attempt to throw the burden of making the teaching undenominational must be sternly resisted." There speaks the advocate holding a brief for his party. "Verily," as Trinculo [387] says, "the monster hath two mouths:" the one, the forward mouth, tells us very justly that the teaching cannot "honestly" be "distinctly denominational;" but the other, the backward mouth, asserts that it must by no manner of means be "undenominational." Putting the two utterances together, I can only interpret them to mean that the teaching is to be "indistinctly denominational." If the editor of the Guardian had not shown signs of anger at my use of the term "theological fog," I should have been tempted to suppose it must have been what he had in his mind, under the name of "indistinct denominationalism." But this reading being plainly inadmissible, I can only imagine that he inculcates the teaching of formulas common to a number of denominations.

But the Education Department has already told the gentleman from Steyning that any such proceeding will be illegal. "According to a well-known rule of interpreting Acts of Parliament, 'denomination' would be held to include 'denominations.'" In other words, we must read the Act thus:–

"No religious catechism or religious formulary which is distinctive of any particular denominations shall be taught."

Thus we are really very much indebted to the editor of the Guardian and his correspondent. The one has shown us that the sectaries mean to try to get as much denominational teaching as they can agree upon among themselves, forced into the [388] elementary schools; while the other has obtained a formal declaration from the Educational Department that any such attempt will contravene the Act of Parliament, and that, therefore, the unsectarian, law-abiding members of the School Boards may safely reckon upon bringing down upon their opponents the heavy hand of the Minister of Education.3

So much for the powers of the School Boards. Limited as they seem to be, it by no means follows that such Boards, if they are composed of intelligent and practical men, really more in earnest about education than about sectarian squabbles, may not exert a very great amount of influence. And, from many circumstances, this is especially likely to be the case with the London School Board, which, if it conducts itself wisely, may become a true educational parliament, as subordinate in authority to the Minister of Education, theoretically, as the Legislature is to the Crown, and yet, like the Legislature, possessed of great practical authority. And I suppose that no Minister of Education would be other than glad to have the [389] aid of the deliberations of such a body, or fail to pay careful attention to its recommendations.

What, then, ought to be the nature and scope of the education which a School Board should endeavour to give to every child under its influence, and for which it should try to obtain the aid of the Parliamentary grants? In my judgment it should include at least the following kinds of instruction and of discipline:–

1. Physical training and drill, as part of the regular business of the school.

It is impossible to insist too much on the importance of this part of education for the children of the poor of great towns. All the conditions of their lives are unfavourable to their physical well-being. They are badly lodged, badly housed, badly fed, and live from one year's end to another in bad air, without chance of a change. They have no play-grounds; they amuse themselves with marbles and chuck-farthing, instead of cricket or hare-and-hounds; and if it were not for the wonderful instinct which leads all poor children of tender years to run under the feet of cab-horses whenever they can, I know not how they would learn to use their limbs with agility.

Now there is no real difficulty about teaching drill and the simpler kinds of gymnastics. It is done admirably well, for example, in the North Surrey Union schools; and a year or two ago when I had an opportunity of inspecting these [390] schools, I was greatly struck with the effect of such training upon the poor little waifs and strays of humanity, mostly picked out of the gutter, who are being made into cleanly, healthy, and useful members of society in that excellent institution.

Whatever doubts people may entertain about the efficacy of natural selection, there can be none about artificial selection; and the breeder who should attempt to make, or keep up, a fine stock of pigs, or sheep, under the conditions to which the children of the poor are exposed, would be the laughing-stock even of the bucolic mind. Parliament has already done something in this direction by declining to be an accomplice in the asphyxiation of school children. It refuses to make any grant to a school in which the cubical contents of the school-room are inadequate to allow of proper respiration. I should like to see it make another step in the same direction, and either refuse to give a grant to a school in which physical training is not a part of the programme, or, at any rate, offer to pay upon such training. If something of the kind is not done, the English physique, which has been, and is still, on the whole, a grand one, will become as extinct as the dodo in the great towns.

And then the moral and intellectual effect of drill, as an introduction to, and aid of, all other sorts of training, must not be overlooked. If you want to break in a colt, surely the first thing to do is to [391] catch him and get him quietly to face his trainer; to know his voice and bear his hand; to learn that colts have something else to do with their heels than to kick them up whenever they feel so inclined; and to discover that the dreadful human figure has no desire to devour, or even to beat him, but that, in case of attention and obedience, he may hope for patting and even a sieve of oats.

But, your "street Arabs," and other neglected poor children, are rather worse and wilder than colts; for the reason that the horse-colt has only his animal instincts in him, and his mother, the mare, has been always tender over him, and never came home drunk and kicked him in her life; while the man-colt is inspired by that very real devil, perverted manhood, and his mother may have done all that and more. So, on the whole, it may probably be even more expedient to begin your attempt to get at the higher nature of the child, than at that of the colt, from the physical side.

2. Next in order to physical training I put the instruction of children, and especially of girls, in the elements of household work and of domestic economy; in the first place for their own sakes, and in the second for that of their future employers.

Every one who knows anything of the life of the English poor is aware of the misery and waste caused by their want of knowledge of domestic economy, and by their lack of habits of frugality [392] and method. I suppose it is no exaggeration to say that a poor Frenchwoman would make the money which the wife of a poor Englishman spends in food go twice as far, and at the same time turn out twice as palatable a dinner. Why Englishmen, who are so notoriously fond of good living, should be so helplessly incompetent in the art of cookery, is one of the great mysteries of nature; but from the varied abominations of the railway refreshment-rooms to the monotonous dinners of the poor, English feeding is either wasteful or nasty, or both.

And as to domestic service, the groans of the housewives of England ascend to heaven! In five cases out of six the girl who takes a "place" has to be trained by her mistress in the first rudiments of decency and order; and it is a mercy if she does not turn up her nose at anything like the mention of an honest and proper economy. Thousands of young girls are said to starve, or worse, yearly in London; and at the same time thousands of mistresses of households are ready to pay high wages for a decent housemaid, or cook, or a fair workwoman; and can by no means get what they want.

Surely, if the elementary schools are worth anything, they may put an end to a state of things which is demoralising the poor, while it is wasting the lives of those better off in small worries and annoyances.

[393] 3. But the boys and girls for whose education the School Boards have to provide, have not merely to discharge domestic duties, but each of them is a member of a social and political organisation of great complexity, and has, in future life, to fit himself into that organisation, or be crushed by it. To this end it is surely needful, not only that they should be made acquainted with the elementary laws of conduct, but that their affections should be trained, so as to love with all their hearts that conduct which tends to the attainment of the highest good for themselves and their fellow men, and to hate with all their hearts that opposite course of action which is fraught with evil.

So far as the laws of conduct are determined by the intellect, I apprehend that they belong to science, and to that part of science which is called morality. But the engagement of the affections in favour of that particular kind of conduct which we call good, seems to me to be something quite beyond mere science. And I cannot but think that it, together with the awe and reverence, which have no kinship with base fear, but arise whenever one tries to pierce below the surface of things, whether they be material or spiritual, constitutes all that has any unchangeable reality in religion.

And just as I think it would be a mistake to confound the science, morality, with the affection, [394] religion; so do I conceive it to be a most lamentable and mischievous error, that the science, theology, is so confounded in the minds of many–indeed, I might say, of the majority of men.

I do not express any opinion as to whether theology is a true science, or whether it does not come under the apostolic definition of "science falsely so called;" though I may be permitted to express the belief that if the Apostle to whom that much misapplied phrase is due could make the acquaintance of much of modern theology, he would not hesitate a moment in declaring that it is exactly what he meant the words to denote.

But it is at any rate conceivable, that the nature of the Deity, and his relations to the universe, and more especially to mankind, are capable of being ascertained, either inductively or deductively, or by both processes. And, if they have been ascertained, then a body of science has been formed which is very properly called theology.

Further, there can be no doubt that affection for the Being thus defined and described by theologic science would be properly termed religion; but it would not be the whole of religion. The affection for the ethical ideal defined by moral science would claim equal if not superior rights. For suppose theology established the existence of an evil deity–and some theologies, even Christian ones, have come very near this,–[395] is the religious affection to be transferred from the ethical ideal to any such omnipotent demon? I trow not. Better a thousand times that the human race should perish under his thunderbolts than it should say, "Evil, be thou my good."

There is nothing new, that 1 know of, in this statement of the relations of religion with the science of morality on the one hand and that of theology on the other. But I believe it to be altogether true, and very needful, at this time, to be clearly and emphatically recognised as such, by those who have to deal with the education question.

We are divided into two parties–the advocates of so-called "religious" teaching on the one hand, and those of so-called "secular" teaching on the other. And both parties seem to me to be not only hopelessly wrong, but in such a position that if either succeeded completely, it would discover, before many years were over, that it had made a great mistake and done serious evil to the cause of education.

For, leaving aside the more far-seeing minority on each side, what the "religious" party is crying for is mere theology, under the name of religion; while the "secularists" have unwisely and wrongfully admitted the assumption of their opponents, and demand the abolition of all "religious" teaching, when they only want to be free of theology–Burning your ship to get rid of the cockroaches!

[396] But my belief is, that no human being, and no society composed of human beings, ever did, or ever will, come to much, unless their conduct was governed and guided by the love of some ethical ideal. Undoubtedly, your gutter child may be converted by mere intellectual drill into "the subtlest of all the beasts of the field;" but we know what has become of the original of that description, and there is no need to increase the number of those who imitate him successfully without being aided by the rates. And if I were compelled to choose for one of my own children, between a school in which real religious instruction is given, and one without it, I should prefer the former, even though the child might have to take a good deal of theology with it. Nine-tenths of a dose of bark is mere half-rotten wood; but one swallows it for the sake of the particles of quinine, the beneficial effect of which may be weakened, but is not destroyed, by the wooden dilution, unless in a few cases of exceptionally tender stomachs.

Hence, when the great mass of the English people declare that they want to have the children in the elementary schools taught the Bible, and when it is plain from the terms of the Act, the debates in and out of Parliament, and especially the emphatic declarations of the Vice-President of the Council, that it was intended that such Bible-reading should be permitted, unless good cause [397] for prohibiting it could be shown, I do not see what reason there is for opposing that wish. Certainly, I, individually, could with no shadow of consistency oppose the teaching of the children of other people to do that which my own children are taught to do. And, even if the reading the Bible were not, as I think it is, consonant with political reason and justice, and with a desire to act in the spirit of the education measure, I am disposed to think it might still be well to read that book in the elementary schools.

I have always been strongly in favour of secular education, in the sense of education without theology; but I must confess I have been no less 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 use of the Bible. The Pagan moralists lack life and colour, and even the noble Stoic, Marcus Antonius, is too high and refined for an ordinary child. Take the Bible as a whole; make the severest deductions which fair criticism can dictate for shortcomings and positive errors; eliminate, as a sensible lay-teacher would do, if left to himself, all that it is not desirable for children to occupy themselves with; and there still remains in this old literature a vast residuum of moral beauty and grandeur. And then consider the great historical fact that, for three centuries, [398] this book has been woven into the life of all that is best and noblest in English history; that it has become the national epic of Britain, and is as familiar to noble and simple, from John-o'-Groat's House to Land's End, as Dante and Tasso once were to the Italians; that it is written in the noblest and purest English, and abounds in exquisite beauties of mere literary form; and, finally, that it forbids the veriest hind who never left his village to be ignorant of the existence of other countries and other civilisations, and of a great past, stretching back to the furthest limits of the oldest nations in the world. By the study of what other book could children be so much humanised and 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 the curses of all time, according to its effort to do good and hate evil, even as they also are earning their payment for their work?

On the whole, then, I am in favour of reading the Bible, with such grammatical, geographical, and historical explanations by a lay-teacher as may be needful, with rigid exclusion of any further theological teaching than that contained in the Bible itself. And in stating what this is, the teacher would do well not to go beyond the precise words of the Bible; for if he does, he will, in the first place, undertake a task beyond his [399] strength, seeing that all the Jewish and Christian sects have been at work upon that subject for more than two thousand years, and have not yet arrived, and are not in the least likely to arrive, at an agreement; and, in the second place, he will certainly begin to teach something distinctively denominational, and thereby come into violent collision with the Act of Parliament.

4. The intellectual training to be given in the elementary schools must of course, in the first place, consist in learning to use the means of acquiring knowledge, or reading, writing, and arithmetic; and it will be a great matter to teach reading so completely that the act shall have become easy and pleasant. If reading remains "hard," that accomplishment will not be much resorted to for instruction, and still less for amusement–which last is one of its most valuable uses to hardworked people. But along with a due proficiency in the use of the means of learning, a certain amount of knowledge, of intellectual discipline, and of artistic training should be conveyed in the elementary schools; and in this direction–for reasons which I am afraid to repeat, having urged them so often–I can conceive no subject-matter of education so appropriate and so important as the rudiments of physical science, with drawing, modelling, and singing. Not only would such teaching afford the best possible preparation for the technical schools [400] about which so much is now said, but the organisation for carrying it into effect already exists. The Science and Art Department, the operations of which have already attained considerable magnitude, not only offers to examine and pay the results of such examination in elementary science and art, but it provides what is still more important, viz. a means of giving children of high natural ability, who are just as abundant among the poor as among the rich, a helping hand. A good old proverb tells us that "One should not take a razor to cut a block:" the razor is soon spoiled, and the block is not so well cut as it would be with a hatchet. But it is worse economy to prevent a possible Watt from being anything but a stoker, or to give a possible Faraday no chance of doing anything but to bind books. Indeed, the loss in such cases of mistaken vocation has no measure; it is absolutely infinite and irreparable. And among the arguments in favour of the interference of the State in education, none seems to be stronger than this–that it is the interest of every one that ability should be neither wasted, nor misapplied, by any one: and, therefore, that every one's representative, the State, is necessarily fulfilling the wishes of its constituents when it is helping the capacities to reach their proper places.

It may be said that the scheme of education here sketched is too large to be effected in the [401] time during which the children will remain at school; and, secondly, that even if this objection did not exist, it would cost too much.

I attach no importance whatever to the first objection until the experiment has been fairly tried. Considering how much catechism, lists of the kings of Israel, geography of Palestine, and the like, children are made to swallow now, I cannot believe there will be any difficulty in inducing them to go through the physical training, which is more than half play; or the instruction in household work, or in those duties to one another and to themselves, which have a daily and hourly practical interest. That children take kindly to elementary science and art no one can doubt who has tried the experiment properly. And if Bible-reading is not accompanied by constraint and solemnity, as if it were a sacramental operation, I do not believe there is anything in which children take more pleasure. At least I know that some of the pleasantest recollections of my childhood are connected with the voluntary study of an ancient Bible which belonged to my grandmother. There were splendid pictures in it, to be sure; but I recollect little or nothing about them save a portrait of the high priest in his vestments. What come vividly back on my mind are remembrances of my delight in the histories of Joseph and of David; and of my keen appreciation of the chivalrous kindness of Abraham in his dealing [402] with Lot. Like a sudden flash there returns back upon me, my utter scorn of the pettifogging meanness of Jacob, and my sympathetic grief over the heartbreaking lamentation of the cheated Esau, "Hast thou not a blessing for me also, O my father?" And I see, as in a cloud, pictures of the grand phantasmagoria of the Book of Revelation.

I enumerate, as they issue, the childish impressions which come crowding out of the pigeon-holes in my brain, in which they have lain almost undisturbed for forty years. I prize them as an evidence that a child of five or six years old, left to his own devices, may be deeply interested in the Bible, and draw sound moral sustenance from it. And I rejoice that I was left to deal with the Bible alone; for if I had had some theological "explainer" at my side, he might have tried, as such do, to lessen my indignation against Jacob, and thereby have warped my moral sense for ever; while the great apocalyptic spectacle of the ultimate triumph of right and justice might have been turned to the base purposes of a pious lampooner of the Papacy.

And as to the second objection–costliness–the reply is, first, that the rate and the Parliamentary grant together ought to be enough, considering that science and art teaching is already provided for; and, secondly, that if they are not, it may be well for the educational parliament to [403] consider what has become of those endowments which were originally intended to be devoted, more or less largely, to the education of the poor.

When the monasteries were spoiled, some of their endowments were applied to the foundation of cathedrals; and in all such cases it was ordered that a certain portion of the endowment should be applied to the purposes of education. How much is so applied? Is that which may be so applied given to help the poor, who cannot pay for education, or does it virtually subsidise the comparatively rich, who can? How are Christ's Hospital and Alleyn's foundation securing their right purposes, or how far are they perverted into contrivances for affording relief to the classes who can afford to pay for education? How–But this paper is already too long, and, if I begin, I may find it hard to stop asking questions of this kind, which after all are worthy only of the lowest of Radicals.

1 Notwithstanding Mr. Huxley's intentions, the Editor took upon himself, in what seemed to him to be the public interest, to send an extract from this article to the newspapers–before the day of the election of the School Board.–Editor of the Contemporary Review.

2 A passage in an article on the "Working of the Education Act," in the Saturday Review for Nov. 19, 1870, completely justifies this anticipation of the line of action which the sectaries mean to take. After commending the Liverpool compromise, the writer goes on to say:–

"If this plan is fairly adopted in Liverpool, the fourteenth clause of the Act will in effect be restored to its original form, and the majority of the ratepayers in each district be permitted to decide to what denomination the school shall belong."

In a previous paragraph the writer speaks of a possible "mistrust" of one another by the members of the Board, and seems to anticipate "accusations of dishonesty." If any of the members of the Board adopt his views, I think it highly probable that he may turn out to be a true prophet.

3 Since this paragraph was written, Mr. Forster, in speaking at the Birkbeck Institution, has removed all doubt as to what his "final decision" will be in the case of such disputes being referred to him:–"I have the fullest confidence that in the reading and explaining of the Bible, what the children will be taught will be the great truths of Christian life and conduct, which all of us desire they should know, and that no effort will be made to cram into their poor little minds, theological dogmas which their tender age prevents them from understanding."

"Huxley on Mountin' Kids"

Hornet 1871

"Having anatomically gauged the capabilities of the knowledge-box to spell 'pap' fluently, and at the age of seven embark in surgery, music, and the study of natural phenomena, including, of course, itself."

Preface and Table of Contents to Volume III, Science & Education, of Huxley's Collected Essays.

Next article: Technical Education [1877], pages 404-426.

Previous article: The Connection of the Biological Sciences with Medicine [1881], pages 347-373.



1.   THH Publications
2.   Victorian Commentary
3.   20th Century Commentary

1.   Letter Index
2.   Illustration Index

Gratitude and Permissions

C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University

§ 1. THH: His Mark
§ 2. Voyage of the Rattlesnake
§ 3. A Sort of Firm
§ 4. Darwin's Bulldog
§ 5. Hidden Bond: Evolution
§ 6. Frankensteinosaurus
§ 7. Bobbing Angels: Human Evolution
§ 8. Matter of Life: Protoplasm
§ 9. Medusa
§ 10. Liberal Education
§ 11. Scientific Education
§ 12. Unity in Diversity
§ 13. Agnosticism
§ 14. New Reformation
§ 15. Verbal Delusions: The Bible
§ 16. Miltonic Hypothesis: Genesis
§ 17. Extremely Wonderful Events: Resurrection and Demons
§ 18. Emancipation: Gender and Race
§ 19. Aryans et al.: Ethnology
§ 20. The Good of Mankind
§ 21.  Jungle Versus Garden