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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 71

State Education

page 33

State Education.

O for the coming of that glorious time
When, prizing knowledge as her noblest wealth
And bust protection, this imperial realm,
Whilst she exacts obedience, shall admit
An obligation on her part to teach those who are
Born to serve her and obey! Binding herself
By statute lo secure to all her children whom
Her soil maintains the rudiments of knowledge;
So that none, however destitute, shall be let to
Droop by timely culture unsustained, or be left
Without the aid of intellectual instruments and tools,
A savage horde amongst the civilised,
An enslaved mass amongst the lordly free!

JJoseph Addison died in 1719; he will, therefore, readily be recognised as one of those divine intellectualities who occasion ally appear on this earth with thoughts and aspirations many generations in advance of their time; for,—whatever may have been achieved in the Australasian Colonies and New Zenland—it can scarcely be claimed for Great Britain that she has yet attained to that state of advancement when an obligation to convey to all her children the rudiments of knowledge has been, hy statute, frankly admitted. Still, if the magnificent conception that entered the brain of the essayist who wrote some 200 years ago has not yet reached the stage of realisation, it is gratifying to know that, in the colonies, amongst those who labour with their hands, the acquisition of "intellectual instruments and tools" is now pretty general, and it must be confessed that, upon the whole, the power which the "tools necessarily give, has been used with more or less wisdom to the moral and material welfare.

Fifty years—a short half century—ago, to meet with men and women who, from their circumstances, had been debarred the opportunity of acquiring the rudest rudiments of educational "implements and tools" was of painfully frequent occurrence. It was necessary for the world that from this condition there should be a Iargg advance, and it has taken place. To-day, in the colonies at least, the man, when found, who can neither read nor write is entitled to be regarded us something of a curiosity. The spread of education—limited, in a comparative sense, as that education may he esteemed—has been followed by a lifting up of the masses. As the for ages neglected and page 34 debased children of toil have learned to read, so their eyes have [unclear: gradually] been opened, and they have realised how wretchedly naked mentally naked—indeed they were. With the acquisition of knowledge has developed a desire for better things, and with this desire—natural reasonable, laudable, it must be allowed—has been manifested [unclear: as] impatience for which, considering all the circumstances of the pas some generous allowances must be made. Surely those born to [unclear: positions] affording far greater educational advantages—those to whom [unclear: a] much wider reading has necessarily given far larger comprehension-should be able to find very little difficulty in discovering excuses for the errors and passions of their fellow men who, smarting under a sensed wrong—a mistaken sense, possibly—use the dull weapons they have just acquired in a manner now ridiculous, now offensive, now, perhaps tragical? "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing," but "knowledge, in every land, constitutes the "noblest wealth and best protection." The view of this writer is that at present, from an educational aspect in the privileges of the working classes a merely initiatory stage has been reached. The children of labour are only emerging from the A.B.C. class; they must be brought on and called up higher. It is scarcely possible—it is not in the nature of things—that the condition of the working classes should remain as it is; there must be movement backward or forward. Considering this, and all that is owing to the progress of education in the past, it seems desirable that the present facilities for the educational improvement of the working classes should be examined, and the possibility of further advantageous development ascertained.

In Victoria—the colony to the brilliant early days of whose histay Australasia owes so much—in 1872 the first free, secular, and com pulsory Education Act was passed. Some years later New Zealand followed with a similar measure. It must be matter of notoriety that in New Zealand, up to this period, the compulsory character of the Act has been completely ignored. In Victoria some three years were suffered to pass before any attempt was made to enforce the compulsory sections of the statute; then inspectors were appointed, each having charge of several school districts. The duty of these compulsory officers was to obtain copies of the school rolls, ascertain the parents whose children did not attend school, or attended an insufficient number of times at spasmodic intervals, which did not meet the requirements of the law, and take proceedings against them. There have been prose cutions to compel parents to send their children to school in Victoria, but hardly ever in New Zealand. Of course, to compel the attendanc of children at school whose parents were too poor to provide the necessary books and requisites would partake of the nature of tyranny, more especially when it is remembered how heavily the cost of such books and requisites fall. For instance, in New Zealand, when a child is raised from, say, the fourth to the fifth standard, a sum of from 10S. to 14s. is required for books, drawing instruments, &c., and in cases where page 35 there is a large family, the necessary expenditure would mean a great deal to poor parents. In fact, there are many families now in New Zealand where the children do not go to school because of the expense. The Victorian Government, in anticipation of such circumstances as have been indicated, very properly provided that books and requisites should be found for the children of parents who were unable to pay for them. Under a compulsory system of education this, manifestly, was the only course that could be pursued with justice. In New Zealand, not only has there been no attempt to enforce attendance, but there has been no assistance offered by the provision of books, &c., to induce the poor to send their children to school.

It does not seem to have occurred to the governing authorities of the public school-in New Zealand that, unless the most strenuous efforts were put forward to prevent the appearance of favouritism, that evil was certain to become manifest in the conduct of the various classes. More especially in the classes conducted by female teachers might favouritism have been anticipated. Some teachers become attached to certain children because their parents are well-to-do, and "highly respectable"; others, to children who come to school nicely dressed; others to children because perchance they have pretty faces, or sweet endearing ways; others for reasons which they themselves could not define beyond an admission of a mere woman's fancy. Young gentlemen teachers no doubt show a partiality to certain children for similar reasons, and others beside, such as plucky boys and those who show superior quickness in mastering questions, and greater attention to their studies. It is—it must be—scarcely necessary to point out that marked partialities of this character are productive of much bitter jealousy and cruel heartbreak to sensitive minds and tender hearts such as the young possess, and that the more the most sedulous efforts are put forth to advance certain favoured scholars and to save from punishment tor offences for which others suffer, the more other scholars by that favouritism are discouraged and driven back. Such favouritism is a wrong which perhaps only those who have suffered can understand.

Now, in New Zealand, if a child is remiss in not bringing to school the books that are held to be required, suffering—usually it takes the form of the cane—in some way is the result. Possibly, a child's parents could not find the money at that particular juncture, but there is no allowance made for that, the child suffers rebuke or sterner punishment. Now it is asserted here that all of these evils might have been anticipated, and precautions might have been taken to obviate them. By regulations, or a code of instruction, or by circulars addressed to all teachers from time to time, or by impressing it constantly and strongly on head-masters, it might have been earnestly sought to avoid the appearance of showing favour in school to one child more than to another. Certainly it might have been provided that if the State really could not undertake to find books for page 36 those children who unfortunately had not got them, they [unclear: were] no means to be scowled at, roughly handled, or corporally [unclear: punished] if they had been guilty of some very serious moral offence. [unclear: These] precautions which would obviously occur to intelligent minds [unclear: have] never yet been taken—this writer believes—in New Zealand at [unclear: least] The chief value of these observations is to be found in the fact [unclear: that] an attempt were seriously made to secure the enforcement [unclear: of] compulsory sections of the statute, necessarily this state of this would require radical alteration. To compel the children [unclear: of] parents to be sent to school without books; to refuse in such [unclear: cases] provide books; and then to punish the children—cane them, [unclear: perhaps] as is done to-day—for not having books, would mean the [unclear: institution] a system of intolerable cruelty. For the children to be sneered [unclear: at] looked down upon contemptuously, subjected to small nameless [unclear: slights] weak, thoughtless, and careless teachers, because forsooth their [unclear: parent] were of the poor, would be a wrong of only a lesser degree.

Yet these evils would certainly be found in full vigour in the [unclear: public] schools if conducted as they now are. In Victoria, the whole [unclear: powers] administration is vested in the Department presided over by [unclear: the] Minister; the duty of the local board—the Boards of Advice—is [unclear: an] their name signifies, of an advisatory character only; and it is [unclear: right] to say that in that colony there is more uniformity of [unclear: management] more effective supervision and control exercised, and greater [unclear: succes] achieved than in New Zealand under a divided, complex, and [unclear: cumbrous] system which apparently has resulted in nothing but [unclear: weakness] neglect, and indifference, Any way, what is affirmed here is, that [unclear: the] public schools of the colonies are paid for by the whole people for [unclear: the] education of the whole people; and, that it is to the interest of [unclear: the] whole people that the whole people shall derive all the benefits to [unclear: be] obtained from the full administration of all the principles of the [unclear: law] as it was originally designed. The time has corae when the [unclear: people] shall insist upon a better state of things than now prevails; a stated [unclear: of] things under which greater value will be rendered for the money [unclear: paid] and under which it will be more firmly ensured that of the children [unclear: of] the poor none shall be left to rot "by timely culture unsustained."

Notwithstanding that throughout Australasia education is [unclear: now] compulsory, secular, and free, it does seem to be a [unclear: somewhat] extraordinary circumstance it should be held advisable to refrain from hanging up to view in every classroom the elements of a simple code of morals to which no sect could possibly take exception, Love and reverence for the Creator; love, duty, and respect for fellowman; love of country, and the obligation imposed to a faithful discharge of all the duties of citizenship; these, surely, are leading principles which commend themselves to the acceptance of all, and could not possibly cause offence to the religious feeling of any.

Through the princely liborality of a Victorian squatter, who gave £15,000—if memory serves—for the purpose of erecting a "Working page 37 Men's College" in Melbourne, the cause of education in that colony has been largely advanced. By his will, the same gentleman left £10,000 to the noble institution which he had founded. This same gentleman, in addition to many other munificent benefactions, found the money for the erection of a truly palatial edifice on the University Grounds, which bears his honourable name—Ormonde College! At the Working Men's College, conveniently situated near the centre of the city, the classes are open to all upon payment of some 5s. a quarter; the hours of instruction are fixed to meet the necessities of those for whom the institution has been principally designed; and the classes embrace almost every subject of education, languages and mathematics, the fine and the mechanical arts, from architecture and music to engineering and carpentry. In Sydney, a similar institution—the Technological College—has been established by the Government. Of the value of these two institutions it is scarcely possible to speak too highly; but—to the mind of this writer at least—their chief value consists in the fact that they point to still better things—they are merely initiatory, in fact. Why should not Working Men's Colleges be more general? Why should not there be a Working Men's College in every town that is the centre of a large and populous district? Why in a colony—like New Zealand, for instance—should colleges, designed for the instruction of working men, prove striking institutions only by reason of their absence? Why, indeed?

In all the colonies the establishment of Public Libraries in centres of population, and of Museums in the cities, constitutes a marked feature of the efforts which have been put forward to advance the education of the people; efforts honourable in the highest degree. It is to be feared, however, that the educational benefits to flow from the Museums are very greatly in the future; the stream of visitors which flows through the galleries to-day being stirred by no other motive but that of the merest curiosity. Possibly their children may use them for a more profitable purpose.

In the twelfth century—just about the time King Henry II. was ascending the throne of England—the first Universities, those of Bologna and Paris, from very small beginnings were rising into notice, A hundred years or so later, when Simon de Montfort was unconsciously creating the House of Commons by summoning for the first time Knights of the Shire to the great Kingdom, the foundations of the two great Universities of the Mother Country were laid. In these very early days, it need scarcely be said, the thoughts and aspirations of the noble youth of the land were almost exclusively occupied by deeds of prowess and brave feats of arms. Private tutors, wise and grave fathers of Holy Mother Church, no doubt they had, and mayhap there were few who could not contrive with more or less mental agony to work out the meaning of a scroll, but not much beyond this performance could the bulk of England's noble youth boast of learning. As the Universities grew into favour, support, and strength, Colleges were established. page 38 "The origin of the Colleges," it is recorded, "was due to [unclear: benevo] persons who desired to relieve poor scholars from some of the [unclear: hardship] of their life at the mediaeval Universities, and in order to do [unclear: that,] Tided a building in which such scholars could live a common life, [unclear: as] also an endowment for their maintainanee." Where, it may be [unclear: asked] are the colleges for "poor scholars" to-day? Alas, it is feared [unclear: that] the "noble youth" of England, the children of the wealthy, [unclear: have] grasped them all! The atmosphere at the English Universities [unclear: and] Colleges has become decidedly—fatally—unhealthy for the poor [unclear: schols] that received so much consideration—such quarters, such [unclear: provising] such far-sighted endowment—so that, driven forth to [unclear: educatioally] perish, fchey are left without a home!

In Scotland, the lectures of the professors at the Universities [unclear: were] free to the public. As a consequence of this liberality the [unclear: children] poor people were enabled by diligence and care to acquire a first-[unclear: class] education, and the Scottish nation attained to a position of [unclear: education] eminence and fame that the savor of it still clings to the land. [unclear: Presently] there was an awakening to the astounding fact that the [unclear: sons] weavers, spinners, and others of that class no less really [unclear: possessed] better education than the sons of the barons, which—considering [unclear: the] the sons of articans achieved their instruction greedily and at [unclear: some] sacrifice, whilst the sons of the aristocracy attended the classes [unclear: in] perfunctory, careless, half-hearted spirit—can be readily [unclear: understood] The privilege of free lectures was thereupon withdrawn from the [unclear: people] Readors of the works of Sir Walter Scott are no doubt familiar [unclear: with] the fact that in some of the novels from his prolific and versatile pen [unclear: can] in the periods of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, he [unclear: represents] Scotchmen filling the humble social position of cooks and [unclear: butchei] speaking the Latin language quite glibly. Laurie Linklater, for [unclear: instance] was "’prentice to old Mungo Moniplies, the fleslier at the [unclear: wanta] West Port of Edinburgh," and he is made to confess, "besides [unclear: my] skill in art I owe much to the stripes of the rector of the High [unclear: School] who imprinted on my mind the cooking scene in the [unclear: Heauton] menos." The author of the "Fortunes of the Nigel" was not [unclear: likely] to bo guilty of a grave historical mistake such as he most [unclear: assuready] would have done if the condition of education hi Scotland had [unclear: not] warranted the portraiture of Linklater and other similar [unclear: characters] Of course it is not contended here that a knowledge of the classics [unclear: is] at all likely to render a man more proficient in the art of cookery [unclear: or] the smallest degree more virtuous or happy, but a knowledge of [unclear: mathamatics] in its higher branches will probably prove of service to [unclear: the] humblest artizan. What is sought to make clear here is the high [unclear: state] to which education had attained amongst the people of [unclear: Scotland] centuries ago.

The Education Act of Victoria contains a provision that upon [unclear: any] boy distinguishing himself at school, the Board of Advice appertaining to that school may submit to the Department a recommendation, [unclear: and] page 39 upon that having been done the boy recommended shall be entitled to complete his education at the University without coat to his parents. This, no doubt, is a very liberal provision, but this writer has never heard of one instance in which a Board of Advice has ventured to exercise the privilege thus given, and unless the privilege was exercised to a considerable extent, the boys who were sent to the University under the free auspices of the State would probably prove fair objects for commiseration.

The Universities as they exist to-day are essentially class institutions—they are for the special advantage of that class ever eager and loud in its condemnation of Class Legislation. In Australasia, with a population of a little more than half that of London, there are no fewer than three of these institutions. Of the two in Australia prominent public men—such as Sir Henry Parkes—have not hesitated to express their opinion that they have completely failed to give tone—exercise that healthful, elevating influence—to Parliament and people which was hopefully expected from them upon their foundation. The Melbourne University, founded in 1854, received an annual vote of £100,000 from the public revenue, and the vote no doubt is continued to this day. The Sydney University is also supported by an annual money endowment. In Christchurch the support of the institution is derived from endowments in land. But whether directly or indirectly, the people in every case have to pay pretty heavily for University education, the advantages of which are wholly in the pos eion of a class—and that the most wealthy of all the classes. Now, of course, no one, it is to be hoped, would be so short-sighted as to deprive a country of the advantages of high-class education; nor is it suggested here that masons and bricklayers should be constrained to go to the University and learn Latin; but surely whilst the people continue to contribute so liberally to the support of these institutions they have a right to expect to obtain all the advantages that can be drawn from them. The country pays a learned doctor, say £1000 a year in addition to his quarters; surely the same lecture that costs the country £20 to deliver to 50 scholars could be listened to with advantage by 500? To shut out no fewer than 450 who would gladly drink of the educational waters is clearly the grossest national waste. Is it really too much for the people of the colonies to ask that the privilege—let it be called a privilege—which proved so productive of blessing in Scotland should be tried here; or that, as in Victoria, the University should be thrown open to the children of the State schools in certain cases? Let it be remembered that the people are just awaking to a sense of the value of education, and they are disposed to march on. Where their marching will ultimately lead them to no one can definitely say; but one thing is certain—the property that is theirs—the institutions that are theirs—they meau to have put to the most profitable purposes for the advantage of tho whole people. In this aspect the University is just as much a socialistic institution as page 40 the Post Office, the Railways, or the Savings Bank. What the [unclear: future] may develop for the Universities it may be difficult for the [unclear: present] predicate, but in all probability the people will shortly claim a [unclear: restors] tion to some extent to early days; that in the twentieth century [unclear: the] "poor scholar" shall at least receive as much consideration as [unclear: was] extended to him in the thirteenth: and that without seeking to in [unclear: any] way force high class education upon the masses, certainly the [unclear: opptunity] will be presented freely to all to acquire all the education [unclear: that] their parents or they themselves may esteem necessary or desirable. These, however, are but a few fugitive suggestions; let everyone think the subject out to definite conclusion for himself.