The Spike: or, Victoria College Review 1912
AT this year's Capping Ceremony the Hon. James Bryce said, in the course of his address, that New Zealand had many educational problems of her own to face. He was mainly referring to University education, but his utterance may be taken as prophetic in another connection, when we find springing up in our midst—an unwelcome weed in our secular garden—a flourishing Bible in State Schools League. Its objective, a leaflet states, is the restoration of religious teaching in the public schools of the Dominion, by the introduction of that system which has existed in New South Wales since 1866.page 6
That our present system of education is in many respects faulty was made clear by witnesses before both the Cost of Living and the Education Commissions. That it is "a dishonour to progressive New Zealand" because it is secular is the contention of the Bible in Schools League. The League's supporters add further that the introduction of the Bible into schools will "supply the one great factor needed to make the New Zealand education law complete." If only this is needed to make our law perfect and complete, why do people hesitate in the matter? We have been told that in this connection New Zealand is showing herself unprogressive. Fortunately, there are many who think otherwise. Mr. Birrell, commenting on the educational problem in England, said that secular education was the only logical solution, though he also regarded it as a counsel of perfection. The mass of the people, he added, would neither understand nor accept it. New Zealand, however, has understood and accepted it, and, let us hope, will retain it.
Those who wish to upset the present state of affairs acknowledge that our Education law is excellent. What they wish to do is to "complete" it, their argument being that no education is complete that does not include religious instruction. "If," to quote Professor Mackenzie, "they state that the spiritual and purely intellectual side of the pupils' nature should be trained and developed contemporaneously, no one is likely to challenge this statement. If they mean that the secular and religious elements of education ought to be taught at the same time and in the same place, and by the same individuals, their suggestion must appear little other than consummate nonsense to unbiased minds." Unfortunately, the latter suggestion is the one they make. No one will affirm that the State school gives a "complete" education. But it does its part better than the churches are doing theirs.
There are three factors in the education of the child : the church, the home, and the school. If the school takes up five hours out of the twenty-four, and this only on five days of the week out of seven, and leaves the rest of the time for the church and the home, surely it is page 7 justified in demanding that, in those few hours secular subjects only should be dealt with. "For it is the business of the State," says Charles Kingsley, "to educate all alike in those matters which are common to them as citizens: that is, in all secular matters, and in all matters which concern their duties towards each other as defined by law. Those higher duties which the law cannot command and enforce they must leave elsewhere, and the clergy of all denominations will find noble work enough in teaching them." So there is plenty of work for the Church to do. The anti-secularists acknowledge the fact, and make of it a plea for the State's help. But the State should reply, "Help thyself." Some of the churches, especially the Nonconformist, have large Sunday Schools, attractive and well managed; but many are grievously lacking in this respect. They should quicken themselves, not seek to lessen the vitality of an absolutely distinct organisation. They should appeal to the home, not to the State. The responsibility and opportunity for religious education should be left to the parents and the churches.
Secular education may be non-ecclesiastical, but it is not, as some of its opponents in Wellington assert, anti-religious. There is much emotional talk of the banishment of God from the schools. But "education by the State is no more Godless than instruction at a music-school is Godless piano-playing. The State should provide a sound scientific and civic education—the churches should supplement it by instruction in religion. The two are separate parts of the child's education. The child welds them together to form its character.
We shall not dwell on the many questions at issue in this controversy: on the position of Roman Catholics and the State's liabilities towards them if secular education be overthrown; on the unsuitability of many parts of the Bible; on the "conscience clause," and its operation on sensitive children; and on the overcrowding and mutilating of our present school syllabuses. The point we wish to emphasize is the position of teachers in regard to Bible in Schools.
At our University are a great many people who are engaged daily in teaching in the State schools. Will page 8 they welcome the introduction of religion into their syllabuses? Are they competent and willing to teach it? It is stated in a pamphlet on Bible Teaching that "no teacher in any of the Australian States has ever objected to teach the Scripture lessons." If this is true, it may be explained by this further passage: "This Religion. ? Teaching is placed on exactly the same footing as geography, grammar, or any other subject. At the annual inspection of schools the failure of any class to reach the standard in Scripture would tell against the teacher, just as satisfactory work would tell in his favour." This is the deplorable state of affairs in New South Wales. If the stories of the Bible were taught as literature and their beauties and their ethics expatiated on, all would be well. But "religious teaching on the same footing as grammar" is ridiculous. Religion, a thing vital and personal and sacred, so say the churches, yet it can be "taught" by State teachers. "Foul fall the day," said Gladstone, "when the men of this world shall give into their uncommissioned hands the duty of manipulating the Christian religion." To teach religion as a subject-Australian teachers may consent; let us hope New Zealanders will not.
An Australian writer reports that a large majority of the men and women who were set to teach the Bible had an uneasy feeling that they were expected, by their superiors and by the parents, to teach the Bible as if it were perfectly inspired, and as if every word of it were absolutely true. They could not teach sincerely. All teachers know from experience how unprofitable the work must have been. Hampered by their convictions, and helped by their invaluable text-books, they delivered dry-as-dust, useless lessons.
A teacher in a Sunday School has children to instruct on definite lines. He knows to a certain extent the habits of thought in the children's minds. He knows he has merely to confirm the habits of thought according to the rules and customs of the church to which they and he belong. Moreover, he undertakes his work enthusiastically. A teacher in a State school knows nothing of his pupils' religious upbringing, of their outlook on religious subjects, nor is he teaching Scripture for page 9 pleasure, but for duty. How then can he avoid misunderstandings and misconceptions except by limiting himself, in a wilfully unintelligent fashion, to a narrow and uninteresting path? There is no religion, nothing vital, in that perfunctory, so-called "religious teaching" by unwilling and often unbelieving servants of the State. For there are among teachers some who will treat the Bible as an idol to be worshipped; others, if they had then way, as an idol to be broken. Yet both are to teach it as "an ordinary lesson," says Canon Garland.
Surely the teaching of religion should be left to those who love it and who are sincere in it, for in this way alone will it be a potent influence. The influence for good will be greatest in the churches, and greatest in the State, when each is doing its own work. May the teachers of New Zealand recognise this fact, and help to preserve our system of Secular Education!