LETTERS TO THE EDITOR.
THE EDUCATION QUESTION.
[TO THE EDITOR OF THE "SPECTATOR.")
you allow me to ask what it is yourself and so many of your correspondents really wish to see done in this matter of popular education, which is causing so much excitement now ? I am a strong Liberal myself, and I believe you are the same ; and yet I confess to being altogether puzzled by the attitude of the Spectator on the Education question, and its almost envenomed hostility towards that party which, on the whole, fairly repre- sented by the League, is endeavouring to make our system of education national. You cannot surely be satisfied with the present state of things ; but if so, let me tell you what that state is in my part of the country. The clergyman of the parish, or some small knot of self-selected gentlemen, get up a school, or find one established ready to their bands. They consent to Govern- ment inspection, and have immediately one-half of their ex- penses paid for them by the State. Of the remaining half, half perhaps, or nearly, is obtained by fees. The remainder, about one-quarter of the whole, represents the noble efforts of the voluntary supporters of the school. And by means of this ridiculously small outlay on their part, these gentlemen, or this one man, as the case may be, are enabled to dictate to a whole parish the character of the education to be given to the children, and to override the opinions and consciences, not only of those who, under a national system, would be ratepayers, but of the parents also, and can proselytise, subject only to an utterly ineffective conscience clause, to any extent they like. Such is the system, as I see it at work around me, and as, I believe, it is in all the rural districts of the country. Is it in any way defensible? Ought it to be borne without protest by any Liberal, especially when we know what are the opinions of nine out of every ten of the clergy and squires
of these days? Under this system, the children of the poor in country districts are simply being educated to believe in the grossest. puerilities of ecclesiastical superstition, instead of in the truths of God, as revealed to us by science, in nature, and even in the Bible itself, when rightly understood.
It is all very well, of course, to say that education ought to be religious. I partly agree with you in that, but better by far—such at least is my opinion—the purest materialism, the barest and most naked infidelity, than such doctrines as are taught under the holy sanction of religion in nine schools out of ten. But that one knows. that manhood has power to shake off the shackles imposed upon the mind in youth, the present teaching in our schools is of a character- to make a Liberal despair of the future of our race. And yet it is. this system which permits, nay, endows this kind of teaching—of which in itself I am sure the Spectator approves no more than I or any other right-thinking person does—which you and your corre- spondents nevertheless defend, a system which not only gives error the most formidable means of defending its positions, but which also sets over us and protects in their monopoly by State aid certain altogether irresponsible individuals, and quite ignores the just. rights and duties of the parishioners and the parents. Surely, Sir,. it is only true Liberalism, and not bigotry, to say that State. money should be given only to the public school governed by a•. properly elected School Board, and that if religion is to be taught at all, the people of the parish and the Government of the country are the bodies with whom—one or both—lies the prerogative of saying what religion is, or rather, what shall be taught in school to children as religion ; for of course no man or set of men can. really decide authoritatively what is Truth.
I could have enlarged more fully on this subject, but feared to intrude at too great length upon your apace and patience, and I trust you will therefore excuse a brevity which may seem to border- upon dogmatism. If you publish this, I shall be glad ; but if not,, at least I believe I am only acting the part of a true Liberal in protesting against the Spectator's tone upon this most important.