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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 53

IV.—Boards, School Committees, and State Schools

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IV.—Boards, School Committees, and State Schools.

Begin, be bold, and venture to be wise;
He who defers the work from day to day,
Does on a river's bank expecting stay.
Till the whole stream, which stopped him, should be gone,
That runs, and as it runs, for ever will run on!

Cowley's translation of Horace.

The Sovereignty of Wisdom.

Notwithstanding the homage almost universally paid to imperialism, royalty, aristocracy, hereditary honours, and wealth, and notwithstanding the fallacious saying, "It's good to he wise but better to be rich," reflection must convince us that the only human superiority in this world—with its vexed problem "Is life worth living," under the most favourable auspices—that we should own is wisdom [although Horace says even "Wisdom at proper times is well forgot"]; and that the only sound political platform is that expressed in the famous Declaration of Independence—which has always appeared to me the grandest pronunciamento on record of public liberty:—"We hold these truths to be self-evident: that cut men are created equal (the italics are mine); that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their first powers from the consent of the governed (the italics are mine); and that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundations on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness, &c."

And as it is on these principles—that is the exaltation of wisdom and equality—our New Zealand constitution is based, and our educational system is founded, it is necessary before we specifically discuss the subject of the present article that we clearly realise the general rights and duties of the people of this colony in respect thereof, and especially that the public education of our children is initiated, controlled, and conducted solely by us the people, for the sole benefit of us, the people; and that, therefore, we are directly and immediately responsible for, and benefit or suffer by its efficiency or inefficiency.


In other words that it is not the Legislature that creates or formulates the system of State education, nor is it Boards, School Committees, or teachers who control, conduct, or are responsible for it; but we, solely, the people, directly and immediately, ourselves. They being all merely instruments or conduit pipes, i.e., we being the heads that counsel [and as the Greeks proverbially said, "Counsel is a Divine thine" they, merely the arms that strike, carrying out our will.

And that therefore it is idle for us to complain of legislative or administrative grievances in the system, because that is merely complaining of our own conduct—the prevention of and the remedy for which are held by us in our own hands. Thus, if such grievances exist—it is not merely Prudence, which only directs what is to come, but Wisdom —which directs all matters present and to come—alone can rectify them, as we —and we only, the people of this colony, in respect of this colony—and Minerva in our own sole keeping and, the fore, we and we only are responsible if the goddess does not control our counsels and govern our conduct. Thus the learned Bishop Stilling fleet wrote: "Two things speak much the wisdom of a nation; good laws, and a prudent management of them." But in order to thoroughly understand what, this means we must more lucidly (and our great want according to Mr. Matthew Arnold is lucidity) page 19 and persistently recognise than we now do, the all-important ego factor in our educational life; that is the keen realisation of personal advantage to each of us in its efficient conduct. In other words, that we individually and directly are substantially and proportionately benefitted or injured in our persons and property—as I have fully detailed in my last article—by well or ill-conducted State education. Thus the non-exercise of wisdom in the election of representatives for the House of Representatives and therefore for the Legislative Council, for it is virtually an elected body depending for new members on the House of Representatives) and for Education Boards, and School Committees,

(1) Directly injures us each in our persons and property, by fostering or allowing the growth of physical weakness and disease (for as the Latin epigrammist, Martial, says "Life is not to live, but to be well"), mental error, and selfishness, and

(2) Indirectly harms us

(a) By destroying confidence in our qualifications to govern; (because a prerequisite to obtain or retain the power to rule is to inspire confidence of competence to rule), and therefore, by acting as a precursor of, at least a temporary, loss or curtailment of our governing powers. Thus, that distinguished statesman and political writer, Viscount Bolingbroke, writes in his celebrated letters, "We do not read, I think, of more than one nation who refused liberty when it was offered to them; but we read of many, and have almost seen some, who lost it through their own fault, by the plain and necessary consequences of their own conduct, when they were in full possession of it, and had the means of securing it effectually in their power."

(b) By dealing a blow at, and thereby retarding, the great principle of the government of ourselves by ourselves: which principle should, in the interests of humanity generally, be dear to, and protected by, all of us; and which—although it must ultimately prevail (magna est Veritas et praevalebit) is thus temporarily retarded by human frailty. For we should be especially on Our guard not to afford to the enemies of liberty any practical illustration of the sentiments to which De Tocque ville gives expression in his celebrated work on Democracy, where he says—Aristocracies are infinitely more expert in the science of legislation than democracies can ever be."

Thus, indiscretion in the choice of representatives means not only the individual and direct injury to us personally, that I have pointed out, but also indirect damage to us and others by playing into the hands of centralism—the vice-regent of autocracy here, and therefore—the pronounced foe to that most-to-be-cherished of political birthrights—self government, i.e., the sovereignty of the people. And it is quite irrelevant —in view of the constitutional powers vested in us—to reply that such powers are nominal rather than real.

Because it is not so. Their exercise, just as we may from time to time wish, being merely a question of will—the wondrous influence of which appears to me almost universally unrecognised, but the real and overwhelming potency of which is truly and grandly expressed by Ella Wheeler as follows:—

There is no chance, no destiny, no fate
Can circumvent, or hinder, or control
The firm resolve of a determined soul;
Gifts count for nothing—Will alone is great;
All things bow down before it soon or late.
What obstacle can stay the mighty force
Of the sea-seeking river in its course,
Or cause the ascending orb of day to wait?
Each well-born soul can win what it deserves.
Let the fool prate of luck; the fortunate
Is he whose earnest purpose never swerves—
Whose slightest action or inaction serves
The one great aim. Why, even Death stands still,
And waits an hour sometimes for such a will.

With these premisses—and with the warning of Sir George Grey, as expressed last year in our General Assembly, ringing in Our ears at elections of Educational representatives "That it requires some hard fighting to win a real battle," and moreover remembering as Whyte-Melville says "Opportunity is the harvest of the Gods"—let us enquire what are our individual and direct interests, and therefore what are our duties in electing Educational Boards and School Committees to control and conduct—what I have endeavoured to demonstrate in my preceding articles to be, and what Montaigne, amongst many others, designates (as I have already quoted) as—"the most difficult and the most important of all the arts." And the most important page 20 not only for the reasons I have already given in my preceding articles but also for this reason, as I think—although I have no space to dilate on it—that education as contrasted with many other arts, such as that of the clergyman, the physician, or the advocate, is essentially preventive rather than remedial; and is, therefore, as superior in importance to them as to prevent a catastrophe is to remedying it. Moreover, the exact status ante quo can never he regained.


"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.

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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.

(3). Which is also a distinct faculty from the last—viz., the ability to practically apply the aforementioned knowledge. For persons, as I fully showed in my first article, are not necessarily wise because they are theoretically learned or well informed, or, as Goldsmith expresses it in his essay on "The present state of polite learning," we grow learned, not wise by too long a continuance at college; or, as another writer has artistically expressed it, "Knowledge is not wisdom; wisdom, it is only the raw material from which the beautiful fabric of wisdom is produced. Each one, therefore, should not spend his days in gathering gaining materials, and so live and die without a shelter." Therefore, the special educational requisites for a member of a Board of Education should be twofold—
(a)Technical Educational Knowledge, and
(b)Practical Ability

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.

Thus an educational representative at a Board of Education should possess
(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."

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.

State Schools.

"Forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit."—Virg.

My space is gone, and oven were it not I am afraid of wearying, and therefore can go into no details, except briefly to indicate what appears to me as amongst the main defects in the practical working of our public schools, viz.:—
(1).That education is not practically recognised therein—as fully detailed in my first article. And since writing it I have lighted on a paragraph quoted from the "Times," which markedly corroborates the conclusion I then expressed—viz., "The public elementary scholar now emerges from the six standards, a mere useless pedant, his head filled with worthless stuff, and without either the will or the power to turn it to account."
(2.)That the minimum school age should be 7 not 5, because earlier school tuition is not only physically hurtful, but mentally injurious.
(3.)That in respect of teachers there is not only no sufficient test examination of their competency: but that not even qualified junior teachers, but actually pupils only learning to be teachers are employed to teach the most impressible scholars—i.e. the juniors—as I also in my first article pointed out.
(4.)That the visiting examiners in standards should be periodically changed: to prevent examinations constantly in the same groove; and prejudices for or against any particular teacher.
(5.)That there has been no universal examination of scholars, but only of a few selected at the caprice of teachers, which is not only a grave injustice to the un-examined children and precludes the Board and the public in forming even any such conclusions as examinations afford on the efficiency of scholars and teachers, but creates public delusion and thereby public detriment.
(6.)That there is no systematic inspection of the schools—in this district at all events —some schools remaining uninspected for years—a most serious omission, as I think. page 25 For remember the real state of a school can only be judged, not by the annual standard examinations, but by inspection.
(7.)That large classes, such as 70 to 80 in a class, as at Wellesley-street School, are tolerated, rendering tuition of individual scholars a farce.
(8.)And that school materiel is not supplied by Boards, but by teachers, which is wrong; for the reasons I have already fully publicly expressed.
These are grave defects, which, I conceive, require immediate correction; and then, and then only, may we hope that State schools will fulfil their mission; which I have already elaborately explained, and which—as far as the intellect is concerned—Mr. J. S. Mill, in his work of Political Economy, expresses to be as follows:—

"It may be asserted without scruple that the aim of all intellectual training for the mass of the people should be to cultivate common sense; to qualify them for forming a sound practical judgment of the circumstances by which they are surrounded."

General Conclusion.

"The dreaming soul is on the way of death
The harvest soon is o'er
Rouse up, and dream no more!
Act, for the summer fadeth like a breath-"

Thus I have endeavoured to contrast education as it should be, and as it is here; and have attempted not only to diagnose the disease, but to prescribe the remedy. The issue is in the hands of you, the electors. Or to apply the figurative words of Junius (referring to Lord Mansfield), "I have bound the victim and dragged him to the altar," and reminded you, the electors, that you have all the powers of a sacrificing priest.

Therefore, again using the words of Junius, and especially in view of the approaching elections, "If, when the opportunity presents itself, you neglect to do your duty to yourselves and to posterity, to God, and to your country, I shall have had one consolation left," that I have not refrained from boldly warning you of your obligations, and, in default, of your fates: whilst at the same time purposely avoiding all vexed religious questions, including those which Square, the philosopher, and Thwackum, the divine, discussed, such as "Can any morality exist independently of religion?"

Of course I fully expect that there will be those who will endeavour to mislead you by sneering at my reasonings as fallacious, and at my conclusions as Utopian: but for that I care nothing; because I am satisfied "that there is a fund of good sense in this country which cannot long be deceived by the arts either of false reasoning or false patriotism."