TOPICS OF THE DAY.
IS CONCILIATION POSSIBLE ON THE EDUCATION QUESTION ?
ACORRESPONDENT, whose letter we publish in to-day's issue, accuses us, to our own great surprise, of an "envenomed " hostility towards the policy of the Birmingham League. We probably have spoken with sufficient bitterness of the insanity of the very successful attempt which the League has made to strengthen the Conservative party rather than accept Liberal Members who do not hold their peculiar views, but as far as we know, we have never attacked their substan- tive policy on the Education question with bitterness at all. We were the first to recognise the statesmanship of their change from the half-and-half policy of opposition to rates for denominational schools, to opposition to all State aid, whether by rates or grants to these schools ; and though it is pretty well understood that the League does not intend to stand out for the whole of its programme, at the cost of the complete destruction of the Liberal party, we have never either felt or expressed any feeling towards the substantive policy of the League not perfectly consistent with respectful though decided antagonism. While unable to enter into the indignation felt against the 25th Clause, which embodies the very policy voluntarily pursued by some of the most earnest leaders of the League itself before the Education Act was passed, and while unaffectedly incapable of understanding how it can be wicked in the State to impose a duty to which, but for its im- position by the State, Nonconformists felt no sort of repul- sion, we have repeatedly expressed our wish that some compromise likely to remove this great stumblingblock to fastidious consciences could be suggested. For our own parts, we should be quite willing to try the experiment of a Volun- tary rate for so much of the fees of poor children at deno- minational schools as would, by the most extravagant estimate, be regarded as contributing to the religious, and not merely the secular teaching of those schools. The experi- ence of the working of the Voluntary Church-rate is quite suffi- ciently favourable to lead us to expect that the yield of such a rate,—the only difficulty of which would be its minuteness,
— would more than cover all the claims of poor children upon it. And even if the denominational schools were now and then compelled to accept poor pupils with a lower payment than that which they think adequate for their ex- penses, it would not be an unreasonable stipulation that they should do so, in return for the large annual grant. So far as the 25th Clause goes, though we do not in the least enter into the Dissenters' objection, and hold it to be of the nature of a superstition, we certainly should like to see such a policy of conciliation accepted as may be fairly pursued towards scrupulously conscientious, and even superstitiously conscien- tious men, and do not believe that it need be hampered by the difficulty on which Mr. Forster dwells so much,—that if there is any doubt as to the payment of the fees for the poor at the schools of their choice, compulsion would become impossible. The two points, however, on which Mr. Forster's policy seems to us to be quite unassailable, and on which we do not believe that any wise Government will be found to give way, are — the refusal to separate peremptorily religious from secular teaching. and the refusal to waste the great resources and energy now spontaneously placed at the disposal of the work of educa- tion, through any policy which would alienate the managers of Voluntary schools. The first mistake would, we believe, be a mistake for all time,—and a mistake of increasing importan as time goes on ; the second would be a mistake likely enough to lead to a pressure on the rates and a discouragement of benevolent zeal, that might in many places turn education from one of the most popular into one of the most unpopular of the cries of the day. With regard to the first point, it seems to us plain matter of common-sense that the ideal of primary education should be to get men who will exercise over the children of the poorest class influences as noble and salutary as those which men like Arnold, or Bradley, or Percival, or Abbott, or many others whom we could name, have exercised over the children of the middle classes. To separate arbitrarily religious from secular teaching, is to render this ideal simply impossible. We shall never have teachers throwing, as the men we have named have thrown, their whole moral life into the work of teaching, if they are prohibited from applying their efforts to the culture of the whole moral life of their pupils. Yet how infinitely more needful is this in the case of children a large proportion of whom are utterly neglected by their parents,—perhaps even the children of abandoned parents, — than it is even in the case of the children of our middle classes. On the second great principle of Mr. Forster's Act, it is needless to enlarge. No one knows better than the leaders of the League how great is the ignorant impatience of rating in the rural districts,—or how hopeless it would be, if ever the friends of denominational education are discouraged and snubbed, to supply their place in philanthropic zeal and earnest effort. The virtual destruction of the denominational schools would retard the work of education by scores of years ; while if the duty of supplying their place were thrown on. parochial rates, we should be having the villagers of half our rural villages following the Bishop of Gloucester's horse-pond, suggestion—only with the schoolmaster and the rate collector, instead of with the agents of the Agricultural Union.
But though these two great principles must be carefully adhered to, there would still be room, we believe, for doing something to meet the objections of men as reasonable as the Rev. R. W. Dale, whose paper in the last Contemporary Review, widely as we differ from many of its statements, seems to us a model of temperate discussion. It is, no doubt, true that the Church schools which receive annual grants are sometimes used, against the whole spirit of the Act, for- the purposes of pure proselytism, and this not always exclu- sively during the hours of denominational instruction. It is also true that in many of them the course of secular teaching is by no means of the kind which we ought to desire for our- public elementary schools, and that the rare visits of Her- Majesty's Inspectors are not adequate checks on this imper- fect kind of instruction. Now for these deficiencies in the present system remedies might surely be provided without• so damping the educational zeal and efforts of the various. religious denominations as to render them indifferent to the continuance of their work. If compulsion is to be uni- versal, as Mr. Forster himself wishes to make it, it can only be enforced by bodies chosen for the purpose ; and we do not see why such bodies should not be given power to make- general rules as to the mode and character of the instruction to be given in all the public elementary schools within their district,. —rules which might be provisional on the approval of the Educa- tion Department, but which, when so approved, would become obligatory on all schools where the grant was to be earned at all. It is quite certain that an elected School Board would know a good deal more of the educational deficiencies of the district for which it was elected, than the best Inspectors can learn in one or two annual visits. They would know- how, if at all, the proselytism complained of is conducted. They would know whether the lesson-books used. were unfit for use, either from ignorance or from a partisan spirit. In- fact, they would know what had to be guarded against, and they best could draw up rules which would guard against it. Nor do we think that such rules, if not valid till they had received the assent of the Education Department, could give the kind of offence which would alienate the managers of well- conducted denominational schools. Such managers would no doubt object very much to be put directly under School Boards, for such a subordination would be quite inconsistent not only with their self-esteem, but with many of their objects. But the same objection would not apply to regulations which had re- ceived the sanction of a Department necessarily anxious to en- courage and stimulate voluntary aid. We believe that a system,
— perhaps a transition system, but still one of useful and gra- dual transition,—between voluntary management and elective management might in this way be really attained, and that it would meet many of the objections of Mr. Dale, whose only rooted unfairness, as far as we can judge, is the bitter pre- judice with which he construes, and generally misconstrues, the whole statesmanship of Mr. Forster. At all events for a policy of conciliation tending in this direction we, at least, should be hearty advocates. The policy of the Education League seems to us shortsighted, and, on the main principles we have named, it has been practically rejected by the country. But no journal can be more sincerely anxious than we are, to meet the genuine, even if sometimes unreasonable, scruples of conscientious Nonconformists.