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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 53

School Committees

page 23

School Committees.

"Do the likeliest, and God will do the best."

Now, School Committees—as I, when a member of a Committee, publicly ventured to assert, and as I again, when no longer a Committeeman but a member of a Board, unhesitatingly venture again to assert—are not only, as the Hon. Mr. Bowen admitted when passing the Act through the General Assembly, valuable: inasmuch as they keep up public interest, and keep local wants in view; but are invaluable as directly representing the principle of local self-government in the respective districts, and, moreover, are bodies superior in educational importance and power, and therefore in educational influence, to Boards.

Because Boards solely derive their existence from them, and the members of the Boards are dependent for their existence, as members, on the Committees. So that the Committees can not only elect whom they please to the Boards—pledged to carry out whatever educational policy or details they (the committees) wish but have the power practically to remove members from time to time of whose policy or of whose actions they disapprove. (For further details of the relative positions of Committees and Boards I venture to refer those interested to an address of mine published in the Herald of the 29th January, 1881, and to a leader which appeared in the Star of the 1st February, 1881).

Thus, as the direct representatives of the householders, they are the special instruments of educational self-government; and to use the words of the Hon. Mr. Chamberlain, uttered at Birmingham last year, "Local government is not merely the great instrument for promoting the comfort and the happiness of the people, but it is also the political education of the nation."

In addition to
(1.)Electing Board members, their main duties are
(2.)The appointment, suspension, and dismissal of teachers—for, as I contend, the powers, except in extreme cases, are intended by the Act to be vested in them, and are vested in them, and
(3.)The charge of the school buildings: which last mentioned duty vests in them the large power of closing a school; even in spite of a Board.
I am very pressed for space, but as applicable to the much-debated 45th section of the Act I cannot refrain from again quoting from Professor Huxley's article, where he says:—"I suppose no one will dispute the proposition that the prime duty of every member of such Board is to endeavour to administer the Act honestly, or in accordance not only with its letter but with its spirit. And if so, it would seem that the first step towards this very desirable end is to obtain a clear notion of what that letter signifies and what that spirit implies. So that his idea is, and, as I think, the only reasonable one, that the Act should be administered not only in accordance with its letter, but with its spirit, and that to administer it otherwise is to administer it dishonestly. With this idea kept in view—even if one had not read the debates in our Legislature on the Bill, before it became law, and the other sections of the Act—I cannot think that any impartial mind can come to any conclusion but that the confidential trusting word "consulted" in respect of an appointment, suspension, or dismissal of a teacher, means, and can only mean—
(1.)That the local School Committee should be not merely communicated with—for if such were the intention of the Legislature the more formal words "communicated with" would have been used—but taken into the confidence of the Board; in other words, have all the data, in the possession of the Board, laid before them in order to guide them in forming an opinion, and
(2.)Have their opinion, advice, or recommendations carried out, unless there be very substantial reasons to the contrary.

And the very substantial reasons to which I allude which would alone justify the Board in ignoring or exercising their veto power, and thereby overriding the local Committee, I believe can only be classed under one of two heads.

(a) Either when data have come into possession of the Board subsequently to the reference to the Committee, in which case the proper course, I apprehend, would be to page 24 refer the matter back with the additional data to the Committee for further consideration.

(b) Or when the local Committee have shockingly erred, as for instance, if such instance be possible, where they might recommend the appointment or retention of an unquestionably immoral character, or a grossly incompetent teacher. And not even in the latter case, unless the Board can possibly supply a more competent one. Because I am satisfied that it is quite possible that a teacher may have passed our highest grade of teachers' examinations, and yet be incompetent—for reasons which I have not space here to explain. Thus do I construe the powers of School Committees in respect of teachers; and in view of the approaching elections let householders and Committees remember the words of Cassius:—

"Men at some time are masters of their fate;
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings."

These being the most important duties of School Committees, the householders should be most careful to elect from amongst their number as School Committeemen, only such as attain or most nearly attain the qualifications I have skeletoned for members of a Board; which qualifications, as I have already mentioned under the head of "General Intelligence," include the courteous recognition of the rights of Committees, and therefore the recognition and value of local school government by householders in the respective districts.

I say most nearly attain because I am aware in sparsely settled districts the choice is generally limited. But of course if we cannot attain perfection the next best thing we can do—and that is always practicable—s to approach it as nearly as possible. And then, to use the words employed in an article in McMillan's Magazine for October, 1880, entitled "Schools in Florence," "It may be anticipated that a carefully-chosen body of local managers will ultimately be called in to take a more responsible share of the local work in connection with the schools than they do now."

For, as I have already stated, a necessary step towards obtaining increased power is to inspire confidence in capacity to exercise increased power.