6 JUNE 1931, Page 5

Education and Democracy

THE Government's Education Bill was dropped after drastic amendment in the House of Lords on February 18th, and there must be a considerable delay before it -can be passed, as the Government have announced that they intend it shall, under the Parliament Act. It is not too late, therefore, to consider our edu- cational policy as a whole, and whether the results which it has so far attained justify its extension without further change.

With this in view, it is very much to the point to listen to the recent complaints which have been made about democracy. Since the beginning of the movement for universal education, " Educate your masters " has been largely the motive which has inspired it. The complaints which are now being made are partly based on the thought, often indeed explicit, that this policy has failed; that the majority of mankind must always be too stupid to take even their present small share in their own governMent ; that by no process of education can they be protected from the wiles of the unsmnpulous place-hunter or demagogue, or induced to support a policy which, though wise, will cause them even momentary discomfort.

If this is indeed so, democracy and public education are both failures together; but before we admit this devastating conclusion it were well to ask whether it may not be one alone of the two which is at fault, and that the one which is less often accused. The extraordinary apathy with which the public received the dropping of the Bill may be combined with other evidence to show that there is at least some suspicion of this in the public mind. One piece of such evidence is the ease with which almost any crank system of education can find followers ; another is the enthusiasm which greets such experiments as the new " rural schools " and the village universities of Cambridgeshire, while orthodox education is treated with the utmost indifference. The growth of the adult education movement is alone proof that the public is not dissatisfied with education as a principle, but mainly with its manifestations in schools which are directed by the State, as well as, of course, in some others. Educationists especially are conscious of this feeling, which recently made itself heard through the mouth of Dr. L. P. Jacks at the Conference for New Ideals in Education. There and in his recent book he urges a new conception of education, which he describes as " the education of the whole man," and it is worth while paying some attention to his argument, which for the most part merely summarizes, with a force and coherence seldom found elsewhere, sentiments and opinions half-formed in the minds of most of the educated world.

Our present system, he contends, fails because it has no object. It is lineally descended from a system which was, in effect, technical education for certain skilled professions, but it has been so curtailed, and the nature of civilization has so changed that it is now, even for those professions, a useless anachronism. It creates in the subject no skill, whether of mind or body, in life in general or in a particular trade or craft. And, since the whole of knowledge is only valuable in as much as it can be transformed into skill, the system is even harmful in perverting our idea of the use of knowledge, and delivering us over helpless into the power of the popular Press and the cinema.

For this Dr. Jacks would substitute a different system, aiming not at knowledge but at skill, not at literacy but at competence. It should be founded in his opinion on that skill which is essential to all of us, though half of us are sadly lacking in it, the care of th- body, or hygiene. He gives an instance of a north country factory, where the firm had instituted training in physical culture, and had taught the young women there to walk. In the words of the manager, " when we have taught them to walk and to carry themselves easily, they begin asking for other things. . . . Three of them have been writing poetry. I expect we shall end up by becoming a little University." This is succeeded by further training of mind and body together till, in the end, you turn out not a mere " literate," but a man or woman fully qualified for life, for a trade or profession, and for citizenship. This is, of course, the ideal which all our educators have somewhat vaguely before them, and it must be acknow. ledged that here and there even under the present system these principles are being applied to some extent. People are less prone than they were to believe that you can educate the mind without the body, and many of the schools run by public authorities are in the van of pro- gress in this respect, which has been fairly forced upon their attention. Individual headmasters have done wonderful work, sometimes encouraged by their local authority, sometimes discouraged. But there is an inve- terate enemy, the subject of much controversy in the past, against which all efforts for progress must contend. - The examination system and the curriculum laid down by His Majesty's Inspectors and the local authority combine in assuming that the final object of all effort, the criterion of success, is the degree of literacy achieved. Surely by this time we should begin to recognize that the literate man, unless tried by experience, is often not less but more of a fool than his neighbours. We do not choose professors for our leaders, but men who have proved themselves competent, skilled in affairs. If each one of us could found his judgment of such skill upon skill of some kind in him- self should we not perhaps be surer judges of our states- men ? Which brings us again to our starting point, the relation of education to democracy.

For the rest, the new system would seek to set before us the ideal not of material comfort, for which few men will exert themselves, but of a full and ultimately of a creative life. Education is already moving towards this ideal, but if the tyranny of the examination system could be broken down or even slightly relaxed it would be able to move much faster. Unless it does, we fear that public opinion will not be strong enough to save what was good in the Education Bill. Perhaps, if the loss will enable us for a year or two to forget the school-leaving age, and concentrate our efforts and resources upon the school-leaving condition, that will not be an unmixed disaster.