LETTERS TO THE EDITOR.
A QUESTION FOR THE EDUCATION LEAGUE.
[TO THE EDITOR OF THE"SPECTATOR."]
SIR,—Mr. Joseph Chamberlain has written to you at some length to denounce the payment of fees to denominational schools, whether by School Boards or by Poor Law Guardians, as being opposed to " the principles of religious equality," and as involving " a new religious tax of the most obnoxious kind." He further threatens, in effect, that if the 25th Clause of the Education Act be not repealed, the Ministry must prepare for a revolt of the Nonconformists.
I wish to tell a short but interesting story, which I think has some bearing upon this question, and which is not generally known. Some four or five years ago, a number of earnest friends of education in Birmingham determined to make an effort to dispel the terrible ignorance prevailing around them, and for this purpose they formed the "Birmingham Education Society." The object of this society was "the advancement of education in Birmingham, by paying all or part of the school fees for the education of children whose parents or guardians could not pay such fees for themselves." Having taken upon itself the practical task of promoting education, the Society wisely steered clear of the "religious question," and having made a list of various Church, Roman Catholic, and Nonconformist schools, laid down the rule that "the parents or guardians of any child sent to school under an order from the Society may send the child to any school on the list."
But further, the Society's operations brought it into communi- cation with the Board of Guardians, for many children of persons in receipt of out-door relief were found to be absent from school.
Upon this subject the first report of the Society has the following remarkable paragraph :—
" The Guardians have only permissive povter at present to pay the school fees of these children, but your Committee deem it very desirable that such payments should be made compulsory, as the rates cannot be expended in a better manner than in educating pauper children."
I think, Sir, that the Birmingham Education Society showed much practical wisdom, and a due regard to the rights of conscience, when it recognised that the religion of the children was more the business of the parents than of the subscribers to the Society's funds ; and when it declared that " the rates could not be expended in a better manner" than in paying fees to the various existing schools on behalf of poor children.
Bat, Sir, the President of that Society was Mr. George Dixon ; a vice-president was the Rev. R. Dale ; the secretary was Mr.
Jesse Collings ; and Mr. George Dawson, Mr. Vince, and Mr. Joseph Chamberlain were on the committee, together with many other prominent members of the Education League These gentlemen hoped in 1868 that the payment of fees to denominational schools by Boards of Guardians might be made compulsory, and set the noble example of encouraging such pay- ments by voluntary contributions in the same direction. In 1873 they are prepared to break up the Liberal party rather than suffer their conscience to be violated by the granting of their prayer of four years since. What is the meaning of this? Have they been flurried by any discovery as to the growth of the Church ?—I am,