The Spike: or, Victoria University College Review, June 1922
To the Editor
To the Editor
Sir—"When I was at school in New Zealand I was taught that it was a "great thing to be British, because so being one enjoyed so much freedom. I was greatly impressed by that teaching and the impression has persisted. Although I am for a while out of New Zealand, it is my home, and I hope to return to it. Its enemies are my own enemies, even though they set themselves up as our best friends and defenders. It is an enemy of our country who tries to take away our freedom; and if he is a Minister of the Crown, he is the worse enemy that his opportunities are so great. I have followed in the papers the course of recent events in "Wellington, and confess some dismay at the sentiments expressed and the acts done by the Minister of Education.
I refer to the case of Miss Weitzel, which seems to me to be important because it raises a great principle and indicates a settled policy.
The points to which I wish to draw attention are two:(l) Miss Weitzel was dismissed on being convicted of distributing communist literature. It is not quite clear whether the fault is (a) in being a communist, or (b) in instructing her pupils in communism. Are we not entitled to know by what rule the Minister proceeds? May a teacher be a communist and keep his place so long as he refrains from attempting to propagate his views among the children? If the fault is in being a communist, then the idea clearly is that a teacher cannot be a communist without influencing children towards communism. Does the Minister hold that? Then there page 16 are difficulties. (1) Is the Minister ready to apply this rule to the matter of religion? On this view a Roman Catholic, a Jew, a Baptist, a Theosophist, a Mormon, cannot help influencing his pupils. Are not the Anglicans (i.e., the great majority) entitled to claim that only Anglicans shall teach in our schools? Does the Minister mean to break up our national system of education? Or does he take the cynical view that religion doesn't matter and that only commerce must be considered?
(2) Is the Minister ready to apply the rule to conduct and morals? There are, for example, some people who hold unusual views of marriage and sex-relations. Is the mere holding of such views sufficient to make the holder unfit for the teaching service? The Roman Catholics and an important section of the Anglicans hold that the remarriage of divorced persons is Sinful. Now if a mother has so remarried, she may feel it intolerable to have her child daily taught by a person who holds that the child is a child of sin. If the teacher's beliefs do influence the children (even though the teacher does not try to propagate them) is not the mother justified in asking that no Roman Catholic or AngloCatholic should teach in the school? All this, if beliefs do influence teaching as the Minister thinks. Or again—as a recent controversy in the Auckland press has shown—there are not a few devout persons who hold that dancing, card playing and drinking are cardinal sins. Most people think otherwise. But—is such a person disqualified from entering the teaching service? Or again—some women smoke (most women in England seem to). Every one knows how example is contagious. If a parent thinks smoking by women a detestable practice, has the parent a right to insist that the teacher shall not smoke—even out of school hours?
(3) Is the Minister ready to apply the rule to political opinions? May no member of the Social Democratic Party, may no Guild Socialist, may no pacifist, may no philosophic anarchist (and all these wish to overthrow the existing order), may none of these teach in our schools? May no one do so who advocates an appeal to violence? Well, there are difficulties. Is New Zealand going to cut itself off from the rest of the world? Lord Haldane was Lord Chancellor of England. Heis a member of the British Labour Party, whose aim is to substitute a new industrial system for the present one. The other night in Westminster I heard the exBishop of Oxford, Dr. Gore, advocating the overthrow of capitalism. Undergraduates hear such advocacy every other Sunday from the pulpit of St. Mary's. Mr. R. H. Tawney is a Fellow of Balliol and has written a book advocating this change. Professor Soddy, the distinguished Professor of Inorganic Chemistry at Oxford, is the President of the Labour Club. Mr. G. H. D. Cole is a Fellow of Magdalen and a guild socialist. And guild socialists (most dangerous people to members of joint stock companies) are as the sands of the seashore. Lord Parmoor, now doing so much for the. Save-the-Children Fund, is a pacifist. Many very quiet and moral people are anarchistic communists. Like Prince Kropotkin, they believe that all industry and control should be left to free agreement. And as to the appeal to violence—everyone remembers how Mr. F. E. Smith and Mr. Bonar Law stumped this country calling on Unionists to take arms to resist Mr. Asquith's Home Rule Bill. Mr. Smith is now Lord Birkenhead and Lord Chancellor of England and Mr. Bonar Law is page 17 not unpopular in New Zealand. But none of these eminently reputable people seem fitted for the New Zealand teaching service! Because—on the Minister's showing—they could not avoid indoctrinating the young with their heresies.
Sir—the Minister occupies a very important position. Think of the opportunities for mischief that he has! On his own rule are we not entitled to know what are his opinions on sex-relations, on the smoking of women, on the remarriage of divorced persons; what are his religious beliefs, what are his private code of morals; and all the rest of those intimate questions which (on his showing) are certain to influence his work in the Department? Does the Minister look forward with equanimity to a general election fought on these terms?—Surely the fact is that a man's opinions on such questions in no way unfit him to teach in our schools. The periodic inquisitions set up at the Teachers' Training College in Wellington are not very dignified; and, apparently, are not very successful in chastening the spirits of the teachers. New Zealand men and women have enough spirit in them to refuse to be dictated to on points of conscience by any Minister. Who is the Minister that he should lay down beliefs for aspiring teachers? Does it occur to him to ask whether it is strictly honourable (being a conservative) to use, his position to exclude from the profession persons who hold different views?
The second point is about the University. The Victoria College Council seems to be distressed that any of the students should lean towards communism. This seems to indicate that in its own idea the Council has a censorship of opinion in the University, and that certain opinions (to be indicated by the Council) may not even be discussed. If this is so, it would clear the air if the Council would publish its Index Expurgatorius. What doctrines may not be discussed (or at any rate must be indicated only to be condemned) in the University? Can the Council come to any agreement among themselves, and is this agreement also between the Council and the community?
In the Christ church papers I find the heading: "Victoria College Asserts Its Innocence"! But what responsibility can Victoria College have for the opinions of its students? What responsibility ought any university have for the opinions of its students? It seems to me that the very idea of a university is that in it every idea should have free play regardless of the consequences it may involve. There is a danger Zealand, as in other new countries, that we undervalue the liberties which in old days our fathers won by their blood and treasure. Because we will not learn Greek, must we forget Socrates? Because we leave off reading our Bible, must we forget Jesus? Have we forgotten Giordano Bruno and the victims of the Inquisition? That is a long tale. Intolerance is not confined to any period of history: it is in our bones. We laugh when we hear that F. D. Maurice lost his chair of English Literature at King's College because of his views on the duration of eternal punishment. But it is only yesterday that Scott Nearing lost his chair of Economics at Columbia because he had criticized American "big business." Two (generations ago it would not have been possible for me (as a NonConformist) to become a member of this University. And it was only the other day that a New Zealand University College refused the candidate for a teaching post in history who had page 18 been chosen by its committee in England, on the ground that his religious beliefs were not acceptable.
In writing these lines I confess to a private concern for the rights of free speech. I hope myself to teach in the University of New Zealand. But I would like to know in advance how much tether a teacher is to have. My chief interests are philosophy and religion And I think that people ought to know now, if they do not know allready, that philosophy (like religion) is dangerous to the established order and vested interests. There is dynamite in Kant and Socrates. And the good Lord only knows what will come if it ever enters into our heads to take the New Testament seriously! But I do appeal—very conscious how well modesty sits on young shoulders—I do appeal to men and women of goodwill to hesitate before they allow such things to go on as have recently happened.
Finally, then, it seems to me that in our primary and secondary schools no competent teacher should be disqualified because of his opinion in religion, or politics, or economics, and the rest—the understanding being that the teacher must make no attempt to diffuse the "heresies" among the pupils, i.e., to take advantage of their immaturity to prejudice their judgment. Parents, as I think, are at feast entitled to this. On no other basis is a national system of education possible. But in the University no such restrictions ought to be imposed. The great things of life are all at bottom controversial (witness our controversies!) and we cannot afford to live by a lie. I should think that an honest teacher would be especially careful to notice what is "fact," in the scientific sense of the word, and what is opinion. But he is bound to come to some conclusions for the guidance of his own life, and should not be shamed or intimi dated into concealing them.