THE REPORT OF THE LORDS ON THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS' BILL.
1 T is five or six years since the edict went forth that the Public Schools should be reformed. But it would be a great mistake to suppose that up to that time they had remained stationary in the midst of a changing world. On the contrary, it would have been difficult to point to any time- honoured institutions which, with so little pressure from with- out, had improved so much. Dr. Arnold had lived and worked with but little impulse of public opinion to aid him, and his influence upon Rugby and indirectly upon the other great schools, and upon all succeeding generations of schoolboys, no man can estimate. If old boys are to be believed, public schools, whatever their shortcomings, have long since become at any rate pleasant places, and the injustice, bad food, and outrageous bullying of half a century ago have long been for- gotten. Indeed the unmixed satisfaction of old boys with their old school makes a reformer's task seem unnecessary and invidious. And public schoolboys are always popular. Even Blue-aoat boys are such favourites with the Londoners that their gown will generally get them a meal or a seat on an omnibus for nothing. Still, as time went on, and the Crimean administrative break- down and other Official scandals betrayed the astonishing ignorance which was compatible with having passed without discredit through a public school, people did begin to open their eyes, and consider whether boys ought not to be made, and not merely permitted, to learn something at school, an operation which, with an average of more than forty boys to
a master, as at Eton, certainly was not practicable. It did seem anomalous that to acquire the small amount of know- ledge requisite for an Army or Civil Service examination, a boy should have to be taken away from Eton and provided with tuition elsewhere. Public opinion was roused to working pitch ; Mr. Higgins made some telling onslaughts upon Eton in "Paterfamilias's " letters to the Times ; the Public Schools Commission was appointed. Long and patiently the Commis- sion laboured. By some of the authorities, as at Rugby, they were welcomed and met with every encouragement. At others, and especially at Eton, they were not so well received, and had more difficulty in ascertaining facts. It was not till last Session that a Bill, framed on their report, could be brought before Parliament, and when brought in it was referred to a Select Committee of the Lords containing some of the members of the Commission. The Committee heard much evidence and made considerable alterations in the Bill, so that it could not be reintroduced last Session, and even now, though it has at last passed the House of Lords, it is feared that next week the House of Commons will number it among the slaughtered innocents, though there is no reason why even now it should not pass.
Little is proposed to be done immediately by the Bill itself. Its general scope is to give ample powers in the first instance to the various governing bodies to make statutes embodying (if they think fit) the most sweeping changes. At the end of a year or more these powers are to pass to certain Special Commissioners, who are to do whatever they may find left undone. The statutes in both cases are subject to the approval of the Queen in Council. The nature and scope of the changes to be made are thus shadowed forth, but their detail and their applicability to particular schools are wisely left to the discretion of those who possess or will be able to obtain more special knowledge than Parliament can have. One of the alterations made by the Committee (the numbers being equal for and against it) was to strike out altogether from the Bill St. Paul's School. This was done on the technical ground that St. Paul's School is not a public school at all, but a trust and almost a possession of the Mercers' Company, respecting which it would be difficult to legislate without risking future litigation. Nothing would justify incurring this risk and setting the example of resistance short of an urgent need of reform, which at St. Paul's, it appears, by no means exists. Indeed it redounds greatly to the credit of a body of tradesmen like the Mercers' Company, that they have carried out their trust with a fidelity which contrasts favourably with the conduct of other more learned bodies, and for three centuries and a half have proved that the middle class can appreciate classical scholarship into a classi- cal education.
The Bill as amended makes no change in the governing bodies. This is an important alteration of the original scheme, which, in accordance with the recommendations of the Com- mission, proposed to add to the existing governing bodies "men eminent in literature and science," appointed by the Crown. Mr. Hope Scott suggested that this clause must have been copied from the qualifications to membership in the Athenmum Club, whose twelve hundred members are all supposed to be "eminent in literature or science," and inquired whether it would admit of an equally liberal inter- pretation. The intention probably was to provide for the encouragement of the new branches of study which were to be introduced, by securing advocates for them upon the governing bodies. There can be no doubt that the Committee rightly rejected such a proposal. As Dr. Temple pointed out, governors thus appointed would feel bound to justify their appointment, even if not naturally so disposed, by constantly interfering in the details of school study, which would be fatal to all unity of plan and discipline, and an intolerable restraint on the head master. Dr. Temple's opinion is particularly to be relied upon in any question relating to the new subjects of study, because so far from being opposed to the introduc- tion of science and modern languages into the school course, he has already of his own accord introduced them at Rugby with marked success. Up to a certain point in the school French and Natural Science are parts of the regular school course, and compulsory on all boys ; in the higher forms they are not so. This plan secures them sufficient attention with- out undue interruption of other work. Once well grounded in the elements of a science, and acquainted with the primary facts and laws of which no educated person ought to be ignorant, a boy can, with occasional assistance and encourage- ment, make further progress by himself, and can without any absorbing mental strain develop any aptitude for a science which he may possess. But classics and mathematics remain, and Dr. Temple insists that they ought to remain, the leading arteries of education, upon proficiency in which the chief honours and emoluments are and should continue to be con- ferred. Indeed it may be questioned whether regular competitive examinations (except of course in the elements) would not defeat their own object, and be actually injurious to the light prosecution even of the studies themselves. The knowledge of botany or geology gained by collecting and possessing plants and fossils would be sound and valuable, but how could it be made to tell in a competitive examination? The only way we can imagine of testing it would be to carry off the boys to unfamiliar country, turn them loose each with a hammer and a microscope for a week, and give the prize to the best observer and collector. On the impractibility of anything like this it is needless to comment. It is not easy to see any escape from the old plan of a paper examination, which would necessitate little more than the reading of text- books, and the learning of names of orders, species, formations, and deposits, and would be a very poor test of real proficiency. The answers sent by some leading men of science to the queries of the Commissioners show considerable difference of opinion. Professor Sharpey and Professor Tyndal are very moderate in their demands for increased instruction in science, and will probably be quite satisfied with Dr. Temple's plan. On the other hand, it is disappointing to find so eminent a man as Professor Huxley showing so much animus against our existing public schools, and apparently not duly estimating the claims of studies other than those which he has made his own. Neglect of science may be a reproach to English edu- cation, but neglect of Hebrew, of which we are at least as guilty, is no less so. The sum of human happiness is in- creased by a more correct rendering and better understanding of the Old Testament at least as much as by the discovery of a new planet, a new element, or a more rapid means of loco- motion. Few will agree with the following extract from Pro- fessor Huxley's written opinion :—
" It should be understood that scientific teaching will be a mere sham and delusion, and had better not be attempted at all unless a fair share of time and attention be given to it, and unless the rewards attainable by proficiency are fully equal to those within the reach of the boys who devote themselves more especially to other lines of work. If no scholarships at the Universities are open to boys, and if no fellowships at the Colleges are attainable by men who show a special aptitude for science, the introduction of scientific teaching into public schools will be a mere farce. Practically, the ability of the country will be, as at present,
heavily bribed away into other pursuits In the actual condition of the nation, when heavily endowed bodies exist whose whole energies are devoted to the ignoring of science, and the counteraction (so far as in them lies) of her teachings the case is altered ; and I am disposed to think that active interference in behalf of science by the State is not only justifiable, but necessary for the welfare of the community. In any case, it is the duty of the State to see that endowments the value of which is determined by the present social and political condition of the country, and not by that which existed at the time they were founded, shall not become sources of ignorance and impediments to that progress which they were founded to promote."
Professor Huxley distinguishes clearly enough between the claims of a particular study as furnishing mental discipline and its claims as furnishing information of paramount im- portance, in other words, between the use of learning how to learn and the value of the thing learnt. Science has doubt- less some claims under the first head, and much greater claims under the second, but the former are often exaggerated. Professor Huxley, strange to say, is strongly in favour of con- fining instruction in science for disciplinal purposes to ele- mentary physics (with incidental chymistry) and botany, with the addition of the outlines of human physiology, with, if practicable, in addition the outlines of geology, and appears to think that this very moderate dose would (as far as teach- ing goes) be enough to rescue our public schools from being or becoming "sources of ignorance" and "impediments to pro- gress." Now, physics are included in mathematics, which are learnt almost universally, and probably the rest of the programme could be easily mastered by an average fifth or sixth-form boy in a few months, if he had no other work to do. Truly it is a minute remedy for so great a disease. Great as is the value of the knowledge acquired by learning books such as Carpenter's Animal Physiology or the first half of Fownes's Chymistry, little mental discipline beyond an effort of memory is involved in the operation. Work of this kind is much better no doubt, even as a mere exercise, than learning by heart whole books of Virgil, as Eton boys do, or used to do, but as regards the kind and degree of mental effort required, it is mere trifling compared with the difficulty of a stiff bit of Latin or Greek composition, or any sort of problem in mathe- matics. Men who have taken high degrees at Oxford or Cambridge often take up science or modern languages, and that not superficially, but thoroughly and successfully, as a comparative relaxation after the hard reading to which they have been accustomed ; for a- mind trained on arduous studies turns with ease to less difficult ones. The number of scholars who have become eminent in science contrasted with the paucity of scientific men who have become scholars speaks for itself. In their anxiety to vindicate the intellectual dignity of their favourite subjects, scientific men sometimes forget that much of their time, during their earlier efforts, must neces- sarily have been spent in mere washing of bottles and boiling of water, and that at all times, for one success there must have been many failures, arising from the difficulty of over- coming mechanical obstacles such as must occur in analyzing, dissecting, dredging, or excavating, operations generally re- quiring patience and nimble fingers rather than severe mental or intellectual exertion. Eliminate the difficulties which the pioneers of science have overcome once for all, and the path of the student, who only follows, is smooth enough.
The attention of the Committee was much taken up with the question of the local foundations at Harrow and at Rugby. The inhabitants of both these places are, as might be expected, dissatisfied with the proposal to do away with the local privileges they possess with respect to the schools, and to substitute for them open scholarships, and are not content to accept as compensation the proposal to establish an inferior school at which a cheap and goad commercial education would be given. This complaint appears to proceed, especially at Rugby, from a genuine desire on the part of the tradesmen to secure a good classical education and good companionship for their sons, and not merely, as suggested, from the brick-and- mortar interest fearing lest an abolition of local privileges should drive away residents and lower rents and profits. At Harrow the foundation has of late years not worked well. Few tradesmen have sent their sons to the school, and the authori- ties of the school have certainly not encouraged them to do so. Even the home boarders have some apparently unnecessary restrictions pressing upon them. But at Rugby the founda- tion has on the whole helped the right people, and done much solid good. There was abundant evidence that persons in poor circumstances, many of them widows, had by coming to live at Rugby obtained through the foundation a good education for their sons, which they could not otherwise have afforded them, and the boys thus educated had in several instances become highly distinguished afterwards. Both at Harrow and at Rugby there is a distinct bequest for the benefit of the inhabitants. Why, then, should these local privileges be abolished ? In the first place, it is objected that parents who cannot afford to pay anything for the education of their sons, seek to bring them so young, or so wholly unprepared, that they are in general incapable of profiting by the advantages of the school. For it is no longer the custom to send very young boys to school, and in consequence the instruction given in the lower forms is less elementary than formerly. At Harrow some knowledge even of Greek is required on admission. Dr. Temple considers that the educa- tion comprising Latin, French, and mathematics, which he pro- poses to give in his new lower school, would in reality be more valuable to this class of boys ; and to meet the case of a really talented boy in this school, he proposes to appropriate to it a few scholarships (his plan would only give about one vacancy a year, which is too little), the gainers of which would pass to the other school. Thus there would be a ladder reaching from the lower to the upper school, while the latter would be relieved of undue incubus. A somewhat similar plan is proposed at Harrow. Then Dr. Temple says that scholarships open to all the world are an absolute necessity to Rugby, now that they exist at Eton and Winchester, since the status of the whole school depends upon its attracting to it its proper share of talented boys. There is no money to found them with except by taking the proceeds of the foundation, so the old foundationers must cease. As to the intention of the founder, careful study of the wills of several old school founders has convinced him that the main objects of all the founders were the spread of learning and the glory of Mother Church, the local privileges conferred being the means rather than the objects of the bequests, in days when it was not easy to attract scholars from a distance.
Probably Dr. Temple is right, but the question is a difficult one. Open scholarships at twelve years old. are in some cases prizes of inestimable value. Rut the stimulus they afford is too great to be wholesome. At that age success in a competitive examination must depend upon precocity and susceptibility of
cram, as much-as upon talent and energy. It is impossible to regard without apprehension the prospect of over-instruction of little boys that it may encourage, and the uniform and stereotyped course which that instruction will follow. One of the witnesses, as an instance of the position in which prepara- tory schoolmasters are, and still more will be, under the open system placed, mentioned the circumstance that one of them had come to him to ask his advice in a case of conscience. This man, having only just started, was anxious of course to make a reputation, and looked to see what place his boys on leaving him would take in Harrow School. He found that by pushing them extremely in their verses they were enabled to take high places at once. But after two or three years' experience he came to this conclusion,—that if he educated the boys thoroughly well, giving them a good grounding and leaving verses to take their proper places, the result was that at the end of the year or so they took better places and got on better in the school than if they had started higher, on account of their proficiency in Alcaics and Sapphics. Of course if he took the latter course he would get less credit, and if scholarships were established upon entering, his boys would have less chance of getting them.
It is an advantage that the Lords rather than the Commons have had the framing of the Bill. It would have been dfficult to get so good a Committee for the purpose from the Com- mons. Lord Lyttelton, for one, is perhaps better fitted on every point for dealing with the subject than any one that could be named. There were of course differences of opinion amongst the Committee, but some of these have been re- moved by modifications of the original Bill, and others con- cern the governing bodies or Special Commissioners, rather than the Legislature. It is to be hoped that, in spite of the lateness of the second reading, the House of Commons may still think fit to pass one useful measure this Session.