The Organization of Industrial Education

Nature (March 1887)

[493] The following is the letter by Prof. Huxley to which reference is made in our leading article (p. 482):–

"When a statesman of Lord Hartington's authority concurs with and enforces the opinions I ventured to express some little time ago, I have every reason for private and personal satisfaction. But the circumstance has a public importance as evidence that our political chiefs and leaders are giving their serious attention to those social questions which lie far above the region of party strife, and are of infinitely greater moment than the topics which ordinarily absorb the attention of politicians.

"The organisation of industrial and commercial education is not the least of these great problems. That it has to be solved, under penalty of national ruin, proves to be no mere alarmist fancy, but the belief of an experienced man of affairs, whose imperturbable coolness and strong common-sense are proverbial.

"It is an interesting question for us all, therefore, How do we stand prepared for the task thus imperatively set us? My conviction is that we are in some respects better off than most people imagine, in others worse. I conceive that two things are needful: on the one hand, a machinery for providing instruction and gathering information, on the other hand, a machinery for catching capable men wherever they are to be found and turning them to account. Now, I apprehend that both these kinds of machinery are to be found, though in a fragmentary and disconnected condition, in several organisations which, though independent, supplement one another.

"The first of these is that of the School Boards, which provide elementary education, and sometimes, though too rarely, have at their disposal scholarships by which capable scholars can attain a higher training. The second is the organisation of the Department of Science and Art. The classes, now established all over the country in connexion with the Department, not only provide elementary instruction, accessible to all, but offer the means whereby the pick of the capable students may obtain in the schools at South Kensington as good a higher education in science and art as is to be had in the country. It is from this source that the supply of science and art teachers, who in turn raise the standard of elementary instruction, is derived. The third organisation is that of the technical classes connected with the City and Guilds Institute, or with the Society of Arts, or with provincial Universities and Colleges, which provide special technical instruction for those who have, or ought to have, already acquired the elements of scientific and artistic knowledge in the science and art classes.

"A fourth organisation for the advancement of the interests of industry and commerce, of the nature of that which I imagined it was the intention of the founders of the Imperial Institute to create, and such as is, I believe, now actually in course of creation in the City of London, will complete the drill-grounds of the army of industry, and, so far as I can judge, omit nothing of primary importance. But, leaving the last aside as still in the embryonic condition, these excellent organisations are all mere torsos, fine–but fragmentary.

"The ladder from the School Boards to the Universities, about which I dreamed dreams many years ago, has not yet acquired much more substantiality than the ladder of Jacob's vision.

"The Science and Art Department has done, and is doing, admirable work, which I regret to see more often made the subject of small and carping criticism than of the praise which is its due. I trust it may not be diverted from efficiently continuing that work by having duties for which it is unfit forced upon it. That which the Department needs, in my judgment, is nothing but the means of doing that which Commission after Commission, Royal and departmental, have declared to be its proper business.

"As Dean of the Normal School I may be permitted to declare that it is impossible for us to perform the functions allotted to us unless the recommendations made by impartial and independent authority are carried into effect.

"The school exists, and common-sense surely suggests either make it efficient or abolish it. The alternative of abolition is not likely to be adopted, as that step would be equivalent to striking the keystone out of the edifice of scientific instruction for the masses of the people which it has taken a quarter of a century to raise, and which is the essential foundation for any sound system of technical education. The alternative of efficiency means spending a few thousand pounds on additional buildings, but the guardians of the national purse do not seem to feel the force of the adage about 'spoiling a ship for a halfpenny-worth of tar.'

"The state of affairs in regard to that which ought to be the centre of our system of technical education is nearly the same. The Central Institute is undoubtedly a splendid monument of the munificence of the City. But munificence without method may arrive at results indistinguishably similar to those of stinginess. I have been blamed for saving that the Central Institute is 'starved.' Yet a man who has only half as much food as he needs is indubitably starved, even though his short rations consist of ortolans and are served up on gold plate. And I have excellent authority for saying that little more than one-half of the plan of operations of the Institute, drawn up by the Committee of which I was a member, has been carried out, or can be carried out, if the funds allotted for the maintenance of the Institute are not largely increased. At the same time, the Institute is doing all that could be rationally expected of it. Some of the guilds and many provincial towns are making admirable provision for elementary technical education. Such work, in my judgment, ought to be left to local administrators, whatever aid it may be thought desirable to give them. But the local schools should be brought into relation with the Central Institute, and this should be put upon such a footing as to subserve its proper purpose of training teachers and giving higher technical instruction.

"Economy does not lie in sparing money but in spending it wisely. And it is, to my mind, highly necessary that some man or body of men, whom their countrymen trust, should consider these various organisations as a whole and determine the manner in which they should be correlated and in which it is desirable that the resources, public and private, which are available should be distributed among them.

"Lord Hartington has many claims on the gratitude and respect of his countrymen. I venture to express the wish that he would add to them by taking up this great work of organising industrial education and bringing it to a happy issue."


C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University