The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 53
"Be a frlen' to yoursel' and sae will ithers."
Now there are two considerations which should engage, as I think, our attention as affecting the choice of candidates for membership of a Board of Education, and
(1.) The first is that a representative—whether he be elected to an Education Board, School Committee, or House of Representatives, is not a delegate, or a deputy, or an ambassador as if to a Congress, but "a professional agent," empowered (according to Mr. J. S. Mill, on Representative Government, whose views on the qualifications of representatives generally I adopt) not only to act for his constituents but to judge for them what ought to be done; and that "in this" (referring specially to Britain, but of course equally applicable here), and moat other countries which possess representative government, law, and custom, warrant a member of Parliament," (and of course Boards and School Committees are simply Parliaments in miniature), "in voting according to his opinion of right, however different from that of his constituents." That paragraph of course only refers to where pledges have not been exacted, in which case he becomes a trustee only in respect of such pledges, and is bound to carry them out or resign his trust. But, in the absence of pledges, the position is this: That the electors accept the elected as their choice—relying on his wisdom—to act for them, as he may think best in their interests,—irrespective of their own judgment-on all matters that arise, and content to accept his judgment and actions as their own.
And, therefore, a representative frequently acts—and is quite justified in so doing—in direct contravention of what he knows to be the opinions or wishes of his constituents.
Indeed, where no pledges exist, to act wisely for the public good, irrespective of temporary popular clamour and ignorance, exhibits an invaluable wisdom, distinctly beneficial, not only to the public, and therefore to the representative as one of them, but also ultimately to the representative.
For no mistake can be graver, even for the representative personally, although it is not infrequent, than to sacrifice personal honour, which includes personal judgment (for one can-not act contrary to one's convictions without being dishonest), for the sake of temporarily pandering to public feeling and popular mistakes. And he who does so embraces the words of Caius Marcus in "Coriolanus," and "swims with fins of lead, and hews down oaks with rushes." Because political wisdom, which means consistent honesty of purpose coupled with persistently sound judgment, is the surest road to ultimate pre-eminent political success.
Thus to use again the words of the great philosopher, and which I adopt as my first and main canon on the subject, the election ought to be unremitting in their search for a representative of such calibre as to em-trusted with full power of obeying the [unclear: dictates] of his own judgment."
(2.) And the second—although really in eluded in the first—is that in judging what character of person (I do not say man, because women are also by the Education Act made eligible as holders of the office) should be elected to any post, the first question must be to inquire what are the duties of the port and therefore what should be the qualifications of the electee Because a person may be, of course, a very competent representative for one office hut equally incompetent for another. And thus to elect irrespective of special qualification for the post would be as rational as to employ a surgeon to conduct the advocacy of a cause or an advocate to perform a surgical operation. And yet, such a solecism, I fear, we—in choosing representatives —very frequently adopt, and thereby not only bring representative institutions into great contempt and damage to the interests entrusted to such representatives—and therefore to us individually—in the respects I have already indicated.page 21
Now the whole control and supervision of the public school system are (with the exception only I mention hereafter under the head of School Committees) virtually vested in the Boards (vide 35th section of the Education Act, 1877), and they are therefore virtually administratively omnipotent in their respective districts.
And thus the whole competent or incompetent public training of our children is rested in them.
And with them, therefore, lie, not only what are probably the two greatest requisites for State educational perfection, via.,
The selection of competent teachers and
The appointment of able inspectors,
but also all other subsidiary matters, without which even the appointment and selection of competent and able teachers and inspectors are vain, namely, to provide suit-file books and buildings, the best possible tit/urn of school duties, proper regulations for examinations and inspections, and for the training of teachers, and that general practical administration of school affairs which alone can ensure efficiency and harmony in the whole system. Thus, all these duties are especially the function of a Board, and unless the members of such a Board are qualified to efficiently perform these duties, one of two events must inevitably happen.
(a) Either—if competent teachers and able inspectors have been appointed—the whole administrative power must practically float to and become vested in them; making them practically, and the Board only nominally, the State educational machine, with the self-interest risk (including sordidity and love of ease)—with inevitable injury to the system—necessarily asserting itself.
(b) Or, if the teachers be not competent, or the inspectors not able, then the whole system must degenerate in tone (and therefore in efficiency) down to the level of the educational views and capacities of the Board. It was probably with views somewhat akin to these that the Hon. Mr. Bowen when introducing the present Act into our General Assembly said: "It is important that men working on these Boards should be men who are known to have taken an interest in popular education, and to have spent time in studying it;" and Professor Huxley, when standing for election at the London School Board in 1870, wrote an article in the Contemporary Review on "The School Boards: what they can do, and what they may do," which contains several valuable suggestions on Boards, and, par parenthése, I may mention, sets physical training and drill as the primary kind of instruction to be attended to.
Now for a Board to be competent to select fit teachers and inspectors, decide on suitable books and buildings, and the best possible régime of school duties, on proper regulations for examinations, inspections, and for the training of teachers, and practically administer school affairs generally, three special educational qualifications seem, to me, indispensable, viz,:
(1.) Thorough knowledge of what education is—that is of the end to be attained by a public curriculum of training.
For how can one reasonably hope to attain an end if one does not know what end he is striving to attain.
(2.) Which is an entirely different thing—the knowledge of how best that end is to be attained. For one may thoroughly understand theoretically what education is, and yet be entirely unacquainted with either what lessons the experience of the past affords, or be able to judge whether a suggestion—not found in the annals of experience—be practically wise or not, or to decide on technical situations and problems which must inevitably and constantly arise.
Let me illustrate what, by this latter sentence, I mean. The primary schools, which are especially the charge of Education Boards, teach six standards of knowledge, and the subjects specified in the 84th section of the Education Act of 1877; and therefore, of course, teachers and inspectors are appointed, books provided, régime of school duties, examinations, inspection and training of teachers regulated with this in view. Now how is it possible for the members of a Board—unless they are content to throw themselves completely into the hands of the technical officers of the Board and accept their dicta, which thereby become mandates,—to be judges of the competency of a teacher to teach the six standards, or an examiner to page 22 examine, or an inspector to inspect in them; or of the fitness or superiority of books proposed to be chosen, or of the goodness of a proposed régime of school duties, or of regulations for examinations, inspections, and for pay of teachers, or of the technical results of examinations and inspections—all to be applicable, mark you, to one or other of the six standards—unless the members of the Board have at least that amount of technical knowledge, which will enable them so to judge. The situation otherwise seems to me quite incongruous; and I regret I have not more space to demonstrate its anomaly by more detailed, and therefore more startling, illustrations.
But I am forced to pass on to the third special qualification.
|(a)||Technical Educational Knowledge, and|
An indispensable compound, which I designate as Educational Wisdom.
But, possibly, I hear an objection to all this, to the effect, "Your theories are all very well as theories, but they are Utopian—they are not practical, because we can't obtain such representatives as you suggest." I should greatly grieve to hear such an objection, because it can really in effect mean this, and this only—"It is quite true we claim to govern ourselves, and should be greatly aggrieved if the right were not conceded to us, but we are, practically, not able to efficiently do so." Which is a practical surrender to centralism of educational rights, because a practical confession of inability to rule; which confession of in ability—as I have above-stated—can only be a precursor of at least a temporary loss of ruling power until we, the people-who are inherently entitled to it—are sufficiently educated to appreciate it, and efficiently exercise it. And, moreover—as I have already pointed out—works injustice towards the vindication of the great principle of self-government, and therefor, to humanity, Or, if it did not result in a temporary loss of ruling power would mean a régime which could only tend to national decadence not to national advancement. For rest assured in national life as in natural life (because the former consists of the latter) a stationary attitude whilst others advance is equivalent to decadence.
Moreover there is no ground for any such objection because we have amongst us men thoroughly competent to be members-such as I describe—but, I fear, we, following the tendencies common to all democratic communities, do not seek to elect them for reasons which I have not here opportunity to give.
|(1)||General Calibre, which includes the requisites for representatives mentioned in my last article, and|
|(2)||Special Educational Wisdom, such as I have above described.|
Let me therefore press upon the electers—"Know what you want; know it for a certainty, and without misgivings or doubts; then possess yourself of the patience for biding your time to secure it," because "on all occasions the beginning should look forward to the end." And seeing that education "is the most difficult and the most important of all the arts, surely it follows that it should be controlled and conducted only &7 ablest men.
I sincerely trust I have made myself so clear that I may be permitted without egotism to apply—to what I have written on this head —the words of the immortal Junius, "A writer who founds his arguments upon facts such as these is not easily to be confuted He is not to be answered by general assertions or general reproaches. He may want eloquence to answer or persuade, but speaking truth, he must always convince."