A Social Dilemma
Education and the Birth-rate. By Grace G. Leybourne and Kenneth White. (Jonathan Cape. los. 6d.) This is a very solid book of nearly four hundred pages with additional and elaborate statistical tables. The first chapter is an accurate study of the main facts in the development of educa- tion in this country, and ends by setting out in general terms the thesis that with many parents the desire to confer upon the children the benefits of the best available education is "a primary motive influencing their decision to keep their families small." The next chapters are devoted to a closer and more thorough study of the conditions obtaining at the present day. Of these the second is devoted to the State system of education, the third to the independent schods, the fourth to the universities, ancient and modem, and the fifth to the study of the costs of entry into the professions. At the end of each the same deduction is made that the parents who want their children to have a chance will not bring many into the world. The last chapter endeavours to estimate carefully the probable declines in school population both in schools maintained or aided by the State and in those which are independent: on the most optimistic estimates the prospect is far from reassuring. Various policies which might be followed are touched on and partially considered. There follow statistical tables showing membership of professional associations in relation to population at intervals from 1856 to 1937, the total university cost at all universities other than Oxford and Cambridge, the statistical facts as to the distribution of boys and girls in public and recognised secondary schools, two estimates of future popu- lations in educational institutions in England and Wales up to the year 1965, a statement of the tuition fees charged in L.E.A. secondary schools, and an analysis of the number of children in families represented in certain types of schools. These tables, representing very considerable research, are a very valuable feature of the book.
We have in this work a statement of a grave social problem, but no solution. It reminds one of Matthew Arnold's picture of the River Oxus. So long as the authors deal with the economic costs of education in any field from post-primary to university, their work proceeds "brimming and bright and large ": when it comes to the practical question of what ought to be done, "then sands begin," and an unfriendly critic might call it "a foiled circuitous wanderer." For the authors recognise that there are other causes than education operating to reduce the birth- rate, and they are therefore naturally not confident that a reduc- tion in cost of education would be effective in increasing families. At the end of all their labours they find themselves in the presence of a vicious circle. "Until it is possible," they say, "to bring about a reorientation of values so that social climbing loses its fascination, and until our social structure is so modified that education does not have to be regarded as deter- mining our children's future—as the main key to pleasant or unpleasant, secure or insecure, employment—little hope can be held out for ultimate success in eradicating altogether the adverse effects which paying for education may have upon our national birth-rate."
It is a pity that the authors so exclusively represent the general desire for education as utilitarian and snobbish, and display our national system as an arena for the unceasing competition of social climbers. All human motives are mixed, but if there is .nothing more spiritual than this at the basis of our education, then it is a dead failure. Most parents wish to give to their children the best education that they can afford, and most of these think in terms of human happiness and well-doing as much as in terms of materialistic well-being. The book, however, in more than one passage does bring out the obstacles to the lengthening and widening of education which are created by the unwillingness of employers to forgo the advantages of cheap boy and girl labour, and the equal unwillingness, and indeed the inability as things are, of many parents to forgo the contributions brought home by the elder children to increase the family income.
The acute problem of the public boarding schools naturally receives full treatment, though the authors move here with a step less sure than that which marks their progress in the rest of the field which they survey. There is no evidence to show, nor can such evidence be produced from any source, that the birth-rate of the "public school class" was lower in 1934 or 1924 than it was in 1914. The "public school class" is numerically a vary- ing quantity, increasing rapidly when money is abundant and decreasing as rapidly in bad times. The causes of the schools' struggle for existence which has increasingly characterised the last five years are mainly two—the effects of the economic slump and the death of some 30,000 men of the public school class in the last war with virtually no issue, whose children, if they had been born, would for the most part have been passing through the schools in the last ten years. Things would now be getting better
if the present war had not arrived to change the whole position. The authors are right in saying that an extension of State assistance seems inevitable : they are not so right in saying that the leading schools will exert every effort to avoid any such necessity. On the contrary, there are certainly many head- masters who, if they could be offered a way by which their schools could become an integral part of the national system benefiting all classes, while preserving their freedom, would co- operate with enthusiasm. The State helps the universities with- out crippling their liberty : the same problem should not 1- e insoluble in the case of the boarding schools.
Few criticisms can be justly made of the accuracy of s work, which is indispensable to any student who would master the facts of the present situation. But the statement that "only if a boy attends a public school does he have a high chance of winning a scholarship to Oxford or Cambridge" is certainly inaccurate, unless the term public school receives an unwarrantable extension. Here and there educational jargon creeps in, and terms like " Hadowism " and "Hadowistic " occur, which would have made Sir Henry Hadow groan. But these are small blots