THE EDUCATION DIFFICULTY: A SUGGESTED SOLUTION.
[To rum EDITOR OF THE "SPECTATOIL1
SIE,-111 a previous letter I suggested that the education difficulty might be solved by dividing the Education-rate proportionally to the time at present occupied in secular and religious teaching respectively, making the part devoted to the former object alone compulsory, and leaving both the payment of the rate for religious teaching, and the attendance of the child at the school while such teaching is going forward, entirely voluntary.
Does any advocate for religions education object that this is • virtually to abandon his position altogether, and to hand over the whole teaching of the children to the hands of secularists and agnostics ? I would ask such an objector to consider that the believers in the benefits of Christian training, of whom I am one, are only remitted to the same position which we occupied sixty years ago. All payment for religious education, or for any kind of education, was then voluntary ; the National schools and the British schools were entirely supported by voluntary con- tributions; and the attendance of the child at the half-hour of religious instruction, or at any portion of the school curriculum, was entirely voluntary on the part of the child itself, or rather of its parents. Since then, the State, for its own purposes,
• because it could not afford to let the masses of its citizens grow up in ignorance, has introduced the Education-rate collector and the school attendance officer. Let it keep these and apply them to its own legitimate purposes, the imparting of secular knowledge to the children. We who want to see them also brought up as believers in the Christian Revelation, and as menthert of one of the Christian Churches, are not worse off than we were in 1840 because we are not allowed to use these new-fangled instru- ments for the fulfilment of our desires. No! we are far better off, because we have a far lighter burden to carry. Then, the champion of the Educational Scheme of Bell or Lancaster who wished to see the children taught the Church Catechism or well drilled in lessons from the Bible, had to bear the whole weight of the cost of secular teaching likewise. Now, that is taken off his shoulders, and where in 1840 he would have had to pay .£120, now he need only pay .210.
Now for a few words as to the practical working old of the scheme. As I have said, if no response is made to the application of the collector for the voluntary religious education rate, coda quaestio. The parishioners must be taken to have signified their desire that education shall be purely secular, and though we may think them to be mistaken, they must have their way. This, however, I believe is not likely often to happen. Far more frequently there will be a partial response, to the extent perhaps of one-half or two-thirds. This raises a more difficult question ; but I think the right course would be for the State to say :—" If you care enough for religious education to supplement the deficiency of subscriptions, and make up the sum among your- selves to the required twelfth of the whole Education-rate, we will hand over the religious instruction of the children to such teachers as you may appoint."
In parishes or districts which are all of one colour religiously the course taken would be simple enough. In the Jewish districts instruction might be given by a Rabbi ; in Roman Catholic districts by a priest; in country parishes where Non- conformity was unknown by the Anglican clergyman; but even here, and in all cases, the religious teaching would have to be given, not in school-time properly so called, but half-an-hour before that time began ; and the names would not be called or the register marked till the door had closed on the departing clergyman. In this last imagined case of the purely Anglican parish, ought the restriction now imposed by the Cowper-Temple Clause on the use of the Church Catechism still to continue in force ? Under the new system I do not think that restriction ought to continue. Personally, I find in the Church Catechism, with all its admitted excellences, much that I cannot agree with. But the devout Churchman has a perfect right to say : "Why is my liberty judged by another man's conscience?" The Catechism is an old and venerable document; millions of English children have learned from it their duties towards God and man, and, we cannot doubt, have profited by the learning. In the case which I have supposed, where the parish is practically of one accord in wishing that it should be used, and where no one need pay a sixpence towards the remuneration of the teacher who uses it, I cannot see why it should be excluded from the school.
In a great number of cases, however, the parish or district will not be all of one way of thinking in religious matters. There will be Churchmen and Dissenters, possibly an admix- ture of Roman Catholics ; it may be, a few Agnostics, but they, I presume, would simply refuse payment of the voluntary rate and stand outside of the organisation altogether. The rest, whom I would call the Voluntary Subscribers, would have to meet together and settle among themselves the mode, or the various modes, in which the religious instruction should be given,—here by the clergyman and a Nonconformist minister in different rooms; here by the master to one set of children, and by one of his staff to another set; here, by common consent, with the use of the Church Catechism; here with the Bible only. There would be infinite elasticity in the machinery, and an infinite variety in the results of its working. But I cannot help thinking that the very fact of the voluntary nature of the payments, and of Churchmen and Dissenters meeting round a table to decide how the common fund should be administered, would in most cases tend towards religions peace, and lead the members of the various Chnrches to dwell more on their points of agreement than on their points of difference. I speak not altogether without experience. For fifteen years the High Church vicar of the parish in which I lived worked with me, a Quaker, as joint-managers of our little village school. The schoolmistress, chosen with his full concurrence, was a Non- conformist. We never had the faintest whisper of controversy on religious subjects or any other during our whole adminis- tration of the school.