TO RETRIEVE THE IRISH NATIONAL SYSTEM OF EDUCATION.
IT is to be hoped that the mischief inflicted by bigotry and official temporizing on the National System of Education in Ireland may be repaired. It is not impossible, although it will require honesty and good sense on all sides. We can heartily join in deprecating any "attempts to persuade ministers of the Established Church, who have hitherto lent their cordial aid for carrying out the system, to withdraw their further connexion with it" on the score of what has passed. It is indeed natural, that clergymen of the Esta- blished Church in Ireland, whether their adhesion to the system be of old standing or recent, should feel exasperation and want of confidence ; since the effect of recent occurrences, no doubt, is to expose the system to hostile manoeuvres—to leave the ground open for the enemy, unguarded by those who had hitherto con- ducted the administration with the striking success which it has attained. Whatever may have been the first original idea of " a united secular and separate religious instruction," it would be the grossest stretch of ignorance or insincerity to overlook the boasts which have been made recently of the unseetarian religions character imparted to the instruction generally; and many clergy- men of the Established Church not only share in the indignation which is felt at slights passed upon a distinguished member of their body, but many also will be disposed to hesitate at coun- tenancing a system thus departing from the aspect given to it for many years. There is another class of clerg,ymen whose resentment would be yet more excusable,—those who have recently been con- verted from opposition to support of the system, and who now see its administrators shifting their ground. It is easy to reprove persons for permitting their feelings to overcome their judgment; but judgment itself may hesitate to support a system whose ad- ministrators thus trifle with its principles, its most serious in- terests, and its past successes. Granting, however, all that can be said against the responsible
administrators whose weakness has given rise to the recent schism, we cannot but perceive that the system itself, in its essentials, is far too valuable to be thrown away in a fit of resentment. That an unsectarian spirit of religion should have been imparted to it, we regard as a positive good ; but we are not blind to the practical truth, that the religious instruction conveyed with the general in- struction was not the essential part of the system—was not that which realized its surprising success—not that even -which was the most important in a religions sense. Irish youth to the extent of half a million yearly are now trained to sound knowledge and common sense ; and it was as natural as the resentment of the clergymen, that violent Orange prejudice and heated Ultramon- tanism should be exasperated to the last degree at seeing the young Irish gradually drawn from the respective standards of sect. But by what process was it that the youth were thus drawn away from the extremes so dangerous to Ireland ? It was not by substituting one religious instruction for another. It was by supplying them with plain information on worldly subjects ; by giving them tests for trying the statements of wild sectarians; and by thus gradually stte ening their minds. The really essential and solid part of the ational System of Education in Ireland has consisted in its teaching how to read and write, its grammar, its elementary science, arithmetic, geography, history,—the raw materials of sound knowledge. By such means the Irish youth has been placed on a level with the educated classes, and has thus been able to form his own judgment of the extravagant statements which used in former times to be the education of the hereditary Orangeman or the born Ultramontanist. However deplorable, therefore, the re- cent concessions to sectarian intrigue may have been, the essential of the system—its secular worldly instruction—is untouched. The dictate of impatience, after what has happened, would be to give up the combined system,—to let the Protestants take their children, and the Catholics take theirs, and ultimately perhaps to leave the system to the voluntary principle. A time may come for so doing ; but meanwhile, if the system were thus divided, Protestants would cease to take any interest in the edu- cation of Catholics, Catholics in that of Protestants; and once more the system would be handed to the active zeal of those who desire to restore Williamite schools on the one hand and schools subjected to the hedge-priest on the other. A few years back, such a course would have been to relinquish all the progress that has been made. It is possible that, by favour of the education already effected, and of the vast improvement in the economical condition of the Irish people, education might be left to their voluntary support without this fatal backsliding. But the guarantees against that backsliding will be far stronger some years hence, when the generations that have been under training will be themselves the Irish people. It is desirable, therefore, to continue the system at least for a little longer, and instead of giving it up to the two extremes, a far safer plan would be, to take it more completely under State control. Not, indeed, that we should contemplate a more compulsory system than that which has hitherto been maintained. But the one thing necessary is, to keep up schools throughout Ireland open to the voluntary entrance of Irish childhood. Do that for five or ten years longer, and Ireland will be safe.
What has happened cannot be recalled. Wounds have been in- flicted that cannot be healed ; supporters have been alienated that may not be enticed back. But let us recognize these irretrievable injuries for what they are worth. They belong to the order of " bad jobs" ; and we must regret without wasting efforts to remedy them. In this respect, let bygones be bygones. Those who desire to preserve a chance for winning the aboriginal population of Ire- land to common sense will not suffer themselves to be distracted from the endeavour to preserve the essential part of the system in- tact. There have been mistakes on all sides : do not let us make the mistakes of our opponents the excuse for neglecting our own duty. Instead of attempting to undo what has-been done, or to revenge it, let us gird ourselves to the work of maintaining what still stands. In this sense, the clergymen of the Established Church, the officials whose mistakes have had such deplorable re- sults and those who have not scrupled to denounce the conduct of the Officials, may be united in the effort to preserve the secular part of Irish education, whatever arrangement may be rendered necessary in regard to the religious instruction.