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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 31

To School Committees and Parents in the Province of Otago

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To School Committees and Parents in the Province of Otago.

A short Statement in regard to the Instructions recently issued by the Otago Education Board.

The Education Board has recently issued to the School Committees and Teachers of Public Schools a set of regulations in connection with school reading books and Bible reading, which demands most serious consideration. The regulations are of such a nature that it is imperative that School Committees and parents throughout the Province take immediate and determined action, unless they wish to see our present system of education gradually but surely undermined and destroyed.

In these regulations it is assumed that the Board has power to supersede School Committees in the management of educational matters in the various public schools of the Province; and it is further assumed that, in respect to the 40th clause of the Ordinance, which enjoins the reading of the Bible in public schools, the Board has power to step in and hedge about this clause with restrictions not contemplated by the Ordinance, and of such a nature as to make it practically impossible to carry out the object aimed at in an effectual manner.

With regard to the first of these assumptions the Ordinance is quite explicit. It says (clause 17): "The School Committee shall be entitled to select the teacher or teachers of such school or schools and generally to have the entire management of educational matters within the district." In the face of this, and in direct de- page 2 fiance of it, the Education Board now attempts to step in and promulgate a set of resolutions forbidding the use of a number of excellent school books in the public schools, and "enjoining" School Committees and school teachers te interdict the use of these books in the various schools under their management. But this is not all. The Board further directs that any books which a teacher may desire to introduce into his school must be first submitted to the Board for its approval. The regulation says: "a teacher desirous of introducing any reading book or books in addition to the books above-mentioned may obtain permission to do so on satisfying the Board that the use of such book or books in the school is desirable and proper." That is to say, that the parents 'of the children attending the schools and the Committees elected 'by them are to have no voice whatever in the selection of the books to be taught to their own children.

With regard to the second assumption, viz, that the Board has power to make regulations repugnant to the spirit of the Ordinance in connection with the reading of the Bible in schools, it is only necessary to quote the regulations to show the attempt which is being made to render inoperative this provision of the Ordinance. The regulations say—"Schoolmasters shall take care that both parents and children be informed that attendance at such reading, is optional, and they shall avoid in the course of the ordinary school instructions, the use of any words or expressions calculated to give reasonable ground of offence to the members of any religious denomination. The time for the reading of the Bible shall be positively fixed to take place at the opening or closing of the schools; the time no fixed shall be rigidly adhered to, and notice of the time of such reading shall be conspicuously put up in every class-room." Not to notice the absurdity of supposing that every teacher shall understand what the tenets of every "religious denomination" are, which would of itself necessitate the study of a life-time, who is to be the judge of what constitutes "reasonable ground of offence?" Is the Secretary of the Education Board to judge between all "religious denominations?" or is Bishop Moran to be the judge? or how is it to be done? We should soon be having disputes such as that which lately took place in England, where an Inspector referred to the Privy Council the question whether the children being asked to sing "God save the Queen," was to be considered as introducing it denominational topic, and other absurdities of a similar kind.

Then again the teacher is to tell the children that attendance at Bible reading is optional; that is to say, the alternative is to be given to the children of an hour's reading, or an hour's play!! Who ever heard of children who did not wish as little school and as much play as possible? The result will be, if this is carried out, that the page 3 Bible lesson will be looked on by the children in the light of a punishment, instead of being looked on as a necessary pact of the day's lessons.

If we compare these regulations with the Ordinance, we at once see the difference. The Ordinance says (Clause 40), "In every school established under the provisions of this Ordinance, the Holy Scripture shall be read daily, and such reading shall be either at the opening or close of the school as may be fined by the teacher; and no child whose parent or guardian shall object to such instruction shall be bound to attend at such times."

The object of this is clearly to assert the necessity of Bible reading, and to leave the onus of objecting to the Bible on the parent. But these new regulations seek to upset the intention of the Ordinance, and to compel the teacher to warn both parents and children that the Bible is to be read at a certain hour, and that if the parents wish they can keep away their children, and if the children prefer it, they can get an hour's play instead of an hour's schooling.

The fact is, that these regulations are intended as the insertion of is lever by which it is intended to subvert our whole system of education.

The principal features of our system of education are:—
1st.To secure that competent teachers only shall he appointed.
2nd.To provide for local control or management of all educational matters, subject to inspection as to general efficiency; in other words, that parents shall have the direct control of the education of their own children.
3rd.To provide that the Bible shall at least he real in all our schools, with a provision that there is no compulsion to those whose parents object.

The enemies of our system have been endeavoring for years past to accomplish its destruction, but have as yet always been foiled by the circumstance that local management only was permitted, and that by no secret wire-pulling could they effect their object. This last attempt, however, is made in a more covert and underhand way. The Education Board is to usurp power over School Committees not given it by the Ordinance, end is gradually to establish its right to dictate what shall and what shall not be taught to our children. The enemies of our system, despairing of effecting their ends through the School Committee, now seek to accomplish them through the instrumentality of the Education Board. They know that political influence, which is powerless as regards the School Committees, in all-powerful with the Board; and they know further, that if they can get the Committees to submit to the directions of the Board in one case, they will establish a page 4 precedent upon which they can plead for an alteration of the law. It is the duty of those who wish to maintain our Education Ordinance in its integrity, to protest against this attempted usurpation by the Board; and it is to be hoped that School Committees throughout the Province will take united action in the matter, and positively decline to recognise the instructions now issued; first, because in issuing them the Education Board claims for itself a power not granted to it by the Ordinance, and second, because some of the regulations are contrary to the provisions of the Ordinance itself, and therefore that to observe them would be a breach of the law.

It is to be hoped that the parents and School Committees throughout the Province will take this matter up, and will by all means in their power endeavor to maintain intact our present Ordinance, and to insist that it shall be carried out in its integrity. There are many ways by which this object can be forwarded. The following are some of these means—1st. To take care that no one is elected a member of a School Committee unless he pledges himself to jealously guard the rights of local Committees against dictation from any other source whatever. 2nd. To take care that every member of the Provincial Council and Central Assembly shall go pledged to maintain our pima Ordinance. 3rd. If necessary, to hold public meetings to denounce any attempts made to coerce School Committees in any way and from any quarter. 4th. To see that the people know what their privileges are under the Ordinance, so that they can insist on those privileges not being infringed.

We may rest assured of this, that if the Committees once allow the management of their schools to be taken from them, and vested in an irresponsible Board sitting at Dunedin or Wellington, from that moment they are at the mercy of political influences over which they have no control, and instead of the work of the schools going on steadily and satisfactorily, and the school teachers working in harmony with the parents of the children, the divided authority under which the teachers will be placed will he most detrimental to the efficiency of the schools, and will lead to constant conflict between the authority of the Committees and that of the Education Board. The system, moreover, will be constantly changing with the political changes of the day, and the real object of education, viz., the bringing up of good and law-abiding citizens, will run great risk of being entirely frustrated.

Mills, Dick and Co., Printers, Stafford street, Dunedin.