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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 49

Minor Objections

Minor Objections.

On the minor objections urged by the Catholic Church against the public school system, I shall touch very lightly, reserving my chief attention for the one great and central principle of its protest.

It is charged, for instance, that the public school system, as compared with the Catholic parochial school system, is unduly expensive, and the merit of superior economy is pleaded for the latter. This may be true to page 65 some extent, and is easily explained when the two kinds of education imparted are compared as to their intrinsic value. Economy is not always secured by buying cheap articles; and the cheapness of Catholic education is no argument in its favor, when its character is considered in the light of certain Catholic admissions which might easily be quoted. But that the universal adoption of the voluntary denominational system, supplanting the public schools with church schools established by each sect in its own sectarian interest, could possibly reduce the total cost of education on the whole, is incredible. The cost of so many sets of schools would greatly exceed the cost of our present school system, if the same number of children should be educated with the same degree of thoroughness as now.

Again, the gradual expansion of the common school system, by the establishment of State high schools, normal schools, and universities, is dwelt upon as a great evil, which will ultimately involve the destruction of denominational institutions of the corresponding grade. Perhaps no higher encomium, in the eyes of every enlightened friend of education who knows the worthlessness of most denominational colleges, could be passed upon our present system. Whoever is competent to compare Cornell University and Michigan University with sectarian colleges that could easily be named, will see that this objection is of the nature of a boomerang, and returns to damage the unskilful launcher of it. It would be foreign to my present subject to discuss the equity of sustaining high schools, normal schools, and universities, as State institutions, since we are now concerned only with the elementary public schools as such; but I would enter a general denial of the assumption that the lower grades of State schools are inequitable because of the supposed inherent tendency of the system to expand into page 66 higher institutions of learning. Certainly a very strong argument can be made, on grounds of a thoroughly democratic character, in defence of that tendency, if it exists.

Again, the argument that the secular education given in the common schools not only does not tend to diminish crime, as is claimed by their friends, but, on the contrary, does tend directly to foster immorality both in teachers and pupils, was urged on this platform last Sunday by Bishop McQuaid. But statistics of unquestionable accuracy are against him on the former point, as any one may learn from the "Report of the Committee on Education of the New York City Council of Political Reform on Compulsory Education," published in 1873; while on the latter point it is sufficient to say that moral abuses tend to creep into every great institution, and that infinitely worse stories are told, on authority at least as good, of the immorality practised in Roman Catholic convents, nunneries, monasteries, and so forth, than have ever been told of American public schools. This is a very dangerous argument for Roman Catholics to use; it will hurt their own church a great deal more than it can possibly hurt the public school system; but it is one which I have little inclination to go into, and one which will certainly draw upon the Catholic Church a host of assailants, if the Church is incautious enough to give them an opportunity. The wholesale charges brought by Catholic writers against the public schools with respect to their so-called immoral tendencies will not always be suffered to go unchallenged. Whatever truth there is in them should be made manifest; whoever is guilty should be exposed and punished; but wholesale insinuations against the teachers and pupils of the public schools will call out at last a species of reply not very agreeable to those who have indulged in this mode of warfare. No argument against the justice of taxing the whole community for the support page 67 of public schools can be drawn from any such local and incidental abuses as were referred to last Sunday; whether actual or invented, they are neither part nor product of the public school system as such; and I pass them by, not simply because they are irrelevant to the argument, but also because, if the debate is diverted to a discussion of the relative moral influence on society of the public school system and of the Roman Catholic Church, the latter will have all it can do to defend its own principle of ecclesiastical celibacy, and the historical record of its effect on public morality.