LETTERS TO THE EDITOR.
THE EDUCATION QUESTION.
[TO THE EDITOR OF THE "SPECTATOR."]
Sta,—W hen I read such arguments as those of your correspondent "A Liberal" in the Spectator of Sept. 13, I ask myself whether they are founded on the ordinary experience of men in country parishes, and whether my own experience is exceptional. As far as I know or can hear, the Nonconformists are just as averse from having to pay school-rates as the Church people are, and just as ready and desirous to keep up the Church schools, even by help of their own subscriptions, in order to avoid the cost of Board schools. The ordi- nary ratepayer, whatever his religious communion may be, looks on education as one of those things which, if wanted, should properly be provided by the rich for the poor ; and if he is compelled by law to pay a rate for the purpose, he will insist that the rate shall be levied and administered like the poor-rate, which keeps the pauper from starving, and nothing more ! The Board of Guardians on which I sit is formed of intelligent and conscientious men, but they consider it to be their business to keep the expenditure, and also the rates, down to a minimum and if they were sitting as a School Board, I cannot doubt that they would still take the like
view of their duty to their constituents. And the result would not be an improvement in the quality of our education, deficient as I know it is already. I have not only no dislike to Board schools, but should greatly prefer to have schools managed by Boards of men of all denominations acting together, if only the education were as good ; but I am convinced that until the rate- payer's standard is higher, it would be worse.
Still, I do not question that something should be done to meet what Mr. Dale—if not "A Liberal "—convinces me must be a real and serious grievance to the Nonconformists. But I believe they would in most rural districts be far better satisfied to avoid than to obtain the heroic remedy of rate-supported schools, and would ; prefer some such compromise as you have proposed. The plan which I myself would suggest is,—that every School District should be required by law to form a School Board, and that to this Board, and not, as at present to the Privy Council, should, in the first instance, belong the office of deciding whether the e*ist- ing provision for public elementary education is "sufficient, efficient, and suitable ;" but that the Privy Council should have a controlling power in this respect such as it already has for other purposes under the 16th, 63rd, and 73rd sections of the existing Act. The way in which this change would work would be this : —The formation of the School Board would at once and of necessity bring the clergy and laity of the Established Church and the Nonconformists into official communication, and with all the same motives to co-operation as have been found effectual for the purpose in the towns. It would then be for the School Board to decide whether the existing denominational schools (if otherwise sufficient and efficient) were so conducted in the spirit of the Con- science Clause as to meet the requirements of the Nonconformists, or whether it was essential for securing such religious liberty that a Board School should be erected. If the Nonconformist force were the stronger, the Church people would make the greatest possible concessions, because the denominational school would lose its Parliamentary grant if the Board pronounced it to be "un- suitable" for a public elementary school, and it must then soon dwindle into a mere Sunday-school. If the Noncon- formists were a minority in the parish, as would often be the case, they would still be not only represented but organised in the School Board, and this would make their weight and influence in enforcing their demands for respect to their consciences in the- matter in question very different from what they are at present. The instinct of Englishmen when they come together, whether in the House of Commons or at a parish meeting, is not to rage and howl at each other, but to find a common ground of compromise and of united action. And if the odium theologicum did come in to hinder such co-operation, the minority (whether Church or Nonconformist) would be supported in all reasonable demands both by the possible interference of the Privy Council and by the interest. The minority—not a mere number of in- dividuals, but an elected and organised body—might, and if necessary would, appeal to the Privy Council to hold a public inquiry, as provided in the 73rd Section of the existing Act ; and the Privy Council might, as the result of the inquiry, declare that the denominational schools were not so conducted as to meet the of the law, and that a Board school must be pro- vided instead. Not only would the managers of the denomina- tional schools have the strongest motives of their own for not allowing this course to be taken, rather than make the needful concessions, but the ratepayers, who care little for either educa- tion or theology, but a good deal for an increase -in their rates, would put such a pressure upon both parties to settle their differences without such appeal and its consequences as could not easily be resisted. And, on the other hand, if the ratepayers in- every parish are really—as "A Liberal" seems to suppose— desirous to establish rate-supported sehools, and to be rid "of a knot of self-elected gentlemen," who "dictate to the whole parish,' and "over-ride the opinions and consciences" of these ratepayers, the power would be in their own hands.—I am, Sir, &c., EDWARD STRACHEY.