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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 79

The Secularisation of National Education

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The Secularisation of National Education.

My Friends,—

It can afford no real pleasure to you and me, to whom what are known as The Bible and The Church count for so very much, to find that the complete secularisation of national education is inevitable. We neither profess nor entertain any; hostility to religion or to the Bible, Those of us who, in our modest way, are students of history—ancient and modern, sacred and secular—know something of the normal course of events in connection with the rise, progress, and triumph, as Well as the decline, disintegration, and fall of human institutions. No man of any standing in the world of thought, I science, or letters, to-day, regards the Church as anything J other than a purely human institution.. History makes it abundantly manifest that the story of the pre-Christian, Christian, and other Churches, is but the story, for the most part, of the work, influence, and legislation of humanly accredited priesthoods. All priesthoods began their career as servants of families, tribes, communities, or nations, and gradually, under the pressure and influence of social and political circumstances, acquired such prestige and power that they became too often, not merely tribal and national "masters," but tribal and national tyrants. All churches or priesthoods were originally founded to supply a social or spiritual need and demand. Slowly, but surely, what was meant to be a servant, became a master—and a very exacting master, too. The history of the Christian Church is no exception to the rule. An institution that began in the service of the State gradually acquired such power and influence that it eventually employed the State in Its service. The servant became master and vice versa! It is easy enough to understand how this came about. The influence of genuinely righteous and Christian priesthood is necessarily at its very highest and best when the social, civic, and political fortunes of the nation or people to whom it ministers are at their lowest and darkest. The misfortunes of empires and emperors have always furnished priesthoods with I opportunities for both good and evil—for the good of ministering comfort and consolation in times of personal and national loss or disaster: for the evil of self-aggrandisement and the acquisition of undue power. We know that the Christian I Church acquired during the past 1900 years such enormous influence that it at times completely dominated the States page 4 (Catholic and Protestant alike) of the Western world. It was the fact that the Churches (Catholic and Protestant alike seemed to have succeeded in reducing "thrones, dominations, princedoms," as well as the general body of the people, to a state of abject servitude in a virtual theocracy, that seems to have roused the modern democracy to a consciousness of the injustice and irrationality of their humiliating predicament The secularisation of education, my friends, is then but one phase of the modern revolt against ecclesiastical tyranny and self-aggrandisement.

Not so very many years ago, not a few of our Churches acquitted themselves with considerable distinction in connection with the education of their people—though, unfortunately, I their idea was that real learning and knowledge were to be got' from books and the older the books the better. Too often the Churches set to work as though all that was of real value to men was, not equipment for this life, but preparation for the life-to-come. Man's chief end was to save his soul and to provide modest luxuries for those saintly guides who showed him how to do it. His next duty was to be humbly and thankfully content with whatever lowly lot (God had assigned him. In fact, the Churches at no time in their history (notwithstanding laudable efforts, according to their light, in certain educational directions) can be said to have made a serious effort to impart, as part of their educational system, the results of accredited knowledge, science, and research. They were, and are, preoccupied with their old ideas and methods, with the inevitable result that the State itself has found it necessary, in the interests both of justice and education proper, to undertake the task of providing that part of education concerned with our life and prospects here. The State, too, virtually asks the Churches to confine their attention to what the modern world has come to regard as their legitimate sphere—that of the claims and interests of the spiritual life and the world-to-come The process of secularisation has been quite phenomenally rapid and drastic in certain parts of the world. Even in Great Britain what is virtually secularisation has made enormous progress during the past few years.

The (English) Northern Counties League met for its annual meeting at Leeds on the 14th November last, and its Secretary (Rev. C. Peach) submitted some remarkable statistic bearing on the transference of Church, or voluntary, schools to the State (as represented by Provincial Councils).

Since 1903 (that is, in seven years) voluntary schools in England have decreased in number by very nearly 1200, and the number of pupils on their registers by over half a million. On the other hand, during the same period the number of Council (or State) schools has increased by over 1700, and the number of pupils on the register by over three-quarters of a page 5 million, In 1903 the pupils in the voluntary or Church schools outnumbered those in the Council schools by 650,000: in 1910 the pupils in the Council schools outnumbered those in the voluntary schools by 600,000. In other words, the Council schools have 1,250,000 more pupils than they had seven years ago while the voluntary or Church schools have more than half a million fewer than they had seven years ago. Of course, it must not be supposed that there is no Bible-reading or religious instruction in these Council (or State) schools. There is; but it is of the order known as non-sectarian—an order virtually secular, though apparently more objectionable to Catholics and High Church Anglicans than a purely secular system. In fact, Catholics and High Churchmen regard this system as the endowment of Nonconformity. They sometimes nickname it "School-Board religion!" Well, one thing is clear: that this non-sectarian use of the Bible in State, or "Provided "schools as they are called, is but one remove from what must inevitably become very shortly the complele secularisation of national education. Examination of the relative strength and educational service of voluntary and Council schools indicates what their respective futures are to be:—
Council And Voluntary Schools In 1908-1909 (In England).
Council. Voluntary.
Number of schools 7,580 13,087
Accommodation 3,828,457 3,267,217
Average attendance 3,037,385 2,306,920
Average number on roll 3,404,995 2,601,145
(Under 3½ millions) (Over 2½ millions)

Analysis of these figures discloses the fact that it takes very nearly twice as many voluntary schools, as State schools, to I supply the educational needs of" nearly one million fewer children than are attending the State schools. It is, therefore, obvious that the voluntary schools cannot hold out against the State system. The State can do the work much more economically and efficiently.

Until the process of secularisation is completed, there will inevitably be sectarian friction, jobbery, and intrigue in connection with the administration of the Education Act, I and more especially in connection with the appointment of teachers. The rampant evils of sectarianism account very largely, I cannot doubt, for the remarkable shortage in the supply of candidates for the teaching profession in England. In three years (between 1907 and 1910) the number of candidates has decreased by no fewer than 80 per cent., and this fact is occasioning considerable anxiety page 6 in educational circles. Of course.* this phenomenal shortage in partly due to the fact that the State is more exacting in its expectation of the educational competency of its teachers than was the Church. The whole thing is, however, but an incident in, or a phase of, the gradual secularisation of national education. It is becoming increasingly obvious to statesmen and leaders of thought, as well as to accredited educationists in Britain, that secular education is the only logical solution of the great problem. Not a few, too, of the great Nonconformist ecclesiatics have affirmed their conviction that the secular solution is inevitable, "The whole drift," said Sir William Robertson Nicoll, in "The British Weekly," a year or two ago, "of Liberal opinion seems steadily settling in this direction (that of secular education). It is the one solution of the problem. All the rest are makeshifts. We are quite willing to accept the penultimate solution of the problem, if it can be arrived at. No doubt, many earnest Nonconformists are still very much opposed to the abandonment of State religious instruction-: and they are in all probability, strong enough to enforce a temporary and not a lasting settlement. He it so; but the temporary settlement will not give satisfaction, and there will be unrest till the inevitable goal (that of secular education) is attained The late Drs. Dale and Parker were also satisfied that secular education was the only solution. Dr. Clifford, the eminent Baptist clergyman, has also given expression to similar views.

A League has been formed in England to promote the cause of secular education. Among its members are to be found some of the best-known men of letters of the day, as well as distinguished Anglican and Nonconformist divines. In platform is indicated thus:—"Recognising that the sole ressponsibility for religious education rests with parents and churches, the League expresses its conviction that there can no final solution of the religious difficulty in the national schools until the Education Act is amended so as to secure that there shall be no teaching of religion in State-supported elementary schools in school hours or at the public expense." As early as 1869 that genial man of letters and large-hearted Anglican divine, Charles Kingsley, recognised the inevitability of the secular solution in national education. "It is the duty of the State," he then expressed himself, "to educate all alike in those matters which are common to them as citizens, that is, in all secular matters which concern their duties to each other as defined by law. Those higher duties which the law cannot command and enforce they must learn elsewhere, and the clergy of all denominations will find work enough, and noble page 7 work enough, in teaching them." The late Mr, Gladstone, too, on not a few occasions, made it clear that in his opinion the secular State should have nothing whatever to do with the religious side of education. From the second volume (p. 300) of Morley's "Life of Gladstone," we learn that during the Cabinet discussions which preceded the introduction of the Education Bill of 1869, Gladstone wrote to Lord de Grey (more recently known as Lord Ripon):—"(Why not adopt frankly the principle that the State or the local community should provide the secular teaching, and either leave the option to the ratepayers to go beyond this sine qua non, if they think fit, within the limits of the conscience clause; or else leave the parties themselves to find Bible and other religious education from voluntary sources." According to Mr, Alfred Illingworth, a leader in the secular movement, Mr. Gladstone wrote on the back of the draft Bill, when it was being circulated, the memorandum: "Why cannot we confine ourselves to secular education?" In a letter to John Bright in 1870 Mr. Gladstone wrote:—"The fact is, it seems to me, that the Nonconformists have not yet as a body made up their minds whether they want unsectarian religion or simply secular teaching, so far as the application of the rate is concerned. I have never been strong against the latter of these two. It seems to me impartial and not, if fairly worked, in any degree unfriendly to religion.

Mr. Chamberlain, we know, has been all his life an enthusiastic Secularist. So have Lord Morley and Lord Rosebery The late Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman, speaking at the I Alexandra Palace in 1902, observed:—" If we had our way there would be no religious difficulty at all. We would confine ourselves (I believe nine-tenths of Liberals would confine themselves) to secular education, and to such moral precepts as would not be obnoxious to people who do not come within the range of Christianity."

In 1902 the Congregational Union, assembled in Glasgow, affirmed:—" There can be no final solution of the religious difficulty in national education until the State lays aside all claims to interfere, either by support or control, with religious education, and freely leaves to parents and Christian churches the responsibility and opportunities for the provision of the same."

It is a well-known fact that the present British Cabinet, though it has through force of circumstance been using every endeavour to arrive at a working compromise in connection with the problem of religious instruction, is abundantly satisfied that no compromise can have any real stability, permanency, or finality about it; and that the complete secularisation of national education will be achieved in a very few years. There is no disputing the fact that the leading scholars, states- page 8 men, and men of letters in the Empire, are all but [unclear: unanim] in the conviction that (unfortunate though not a few of [unclear: the] regard the necessity for it) complete secularisation of our national system of education is the only possible solution. [unclear: it] when complete secularisation is achieved, morality and national character will be detrimentally affected, it will be standing disgrace and discredit to the Christian clergy and the Christian Church, For if they are inspired with high Christum ideals, and prompted by a genuine Christian altruism, they can find better and ampler opportunities than ever for providing specific instruction in morality and religion, by co-operating with the State to the extent of providing such instruction, at their own expense and by teachers [unclear: du] accredited by themselves. The idea of a return to the [unclear: ham] hazard method of denominational schools is out of the question No denominational system has ever, or ever can, [unclear: achiom] national efficiency, or any claim whatever to the title or attribute "national," There are, of course, ecclesiastics [unclear: we] have such faith in themselves, and in the problematic [unclear: theoc] to which they belong, that they honestly believe that human beings and human souls are mere pawns in a theological game of chance, and that they, and they alone, have a right to [unclear: po] as experts in the game. Such ecclesiatics are either clamouring for what is known as "concurrent endowment," which would mean a return to denominationalism in an aggravated form-a State-subsidised denominationalism; or they refuse to differentiate .secular from religious education, and insist that with or without a State subsidy, education must be directly under the control of the clergy and the Church. They tell us that they have conscientious scruples against any and every attempt to separate religious and secular education. They belong to the no-compromise order. They keep discrediting the State secular system as Godless, etc., etc. This, of course is nothing short of ecclesiastical clap-trap. The State does not profess to deal with the whole of education in what we may call the secular "schooling." It recognises that the parents and churches have duties and responsibilities in Connection with the more specific elements in the moral and religious side of education; and the parents and churches that cannot be brought to realise their duties and responsibilities is this connection are scarcely deserving the name Of Christian, even in its most attenuated form. One would have though that, even in Catholic schools, it would be found, not merely expedient, hut even absolutely necessary to recognise the economic value of division of labour, to the extent of (for convenience and efficiency sake) separating the secular and religious. Perhaps, however, there are theological and nontheological, Galileon and non-Galileon ways of teaching astronomy, mathematics, and the other subjects found in a page 9 secular course. Under our existing secular system of education, Catholics have absolutely no grievance whatever. Were you and I snobs enough, socially or religiously, to think that our children would be, socially or morally, disadvantaged by consorting with the children at the State schools, we would have quite as just and reasonable a claim for "relief" in the shape of a Government subsidy for private schools, as have our Catholic fellow-subjects. Aristocrats in religion and in what is known as Society have to pay for the privilege of exclusiveness. The Catholics of New Zealand are at present unable to provide any education at all for one-half the children belonging to their own Church? Where would they be but for our State schools? If it was made obligatory, as the State might reasonably insist, that their teachers be duly trained, and remunerated for their services on the same scale as our State teachers, probably not one-fifth of the Catholic children in New Zealand could be educated in Catholic schools- In fact, it is high time, I venture to suggest, that various Catholic institutions were made subject to our Labour laws. There is no justification whatever for leaving any part of the work of education or of social amelioration to private charity. Mendicancy, the handmaid of such charity, is almost invariably demoralising—demoralising in its influence both on the giver and the receiver. We, who defend our free, secular, and compulsory system of education, are secularists only to the extent of believing that it is no part of the duty of the State to provide for, much less endow, specific religious instruction in our schools or churches. We are—most of us—strongly opposed to what is known as Secularism in the wider and wilder acceptation of the term. We are fully conscious of the ethical as well as the literary merits of the Bible. We believe that specific moral and religious instruction is desirable—even necessary—but we believe that it is the business of the State to confine itself exclusively to the secular side of education.

According to our Education Act, all "children must be instructed in secular knowledge I Parents are under no obligation to send their own children to the State schools, but whether they do so or not, they are as citizens of the State, justly enough, required to contribute to the support and maintenance of the national system. Since the State insists on every child receiving a modicum of education, the State has to provide institutions for the purpose. So that no parent can have reasonable excuse for failure to educate, and so that no child need go uneducated the State has established the public school at the public expense. All can, and may, use it. If parents think they can do better for their own children by sending them to private institutions, their doing so in no way relieves them of general responsibility in connection with the State system, which is quite as much in the public interest as page 10 the maintenance of our Army and Navy. Where would we be as a nation and empire if those who are conscientiously opposed to war were to be allowed a remission of rates or taxation on the ground of conscientious scruples? The idea of such "relief "is absurd—childish.

Of coarse, it Bible-reading is introduced into our school as part of the State system, there can be no disputing the justice of the Catholic claims. The Catholics would then be justly entitled to a subsidy, such as they now receive in Scot-land.

All systematic teaching- has ethical and disciplinary value, A secular education which extends our knowledge, which trains our senses and mental faculties, is in itself of considerable moral value. All in education that tends to develop self-restraint, self-control, and self-direction exercises a healthful moral influence. What is called, or rather miscalled, secular education, does not ignore, nor yet discount, the moral need of the pupil. What is, or can he, the value of a moral education based on superstitious dogmas or defective knowledge? Real morality must be determined very largely by sound know ledge. Why should we continue to teach our children what we have sensed to believe ourselves? It is surely no longer necessary to draw upon bogey-men in teaching morality either in the nursery or the schoolroom? The State, at any rate, cannot, in these days of accredited knowledge and exact science, find any justification for a return to the utterly discredited educational methods of a less enlightened age. It there was good reason to believe that the Churches had kept In the van of progress in knowledge and education, there might be some justice in their desire and demand to control education; but have they? Is it not notorious that the majority even of our great Churches are using their best endeavour to discredit modern knowledge and science, and making it uncomfortable for their members and adherents of modernist sympathies? If the Churches are to retain their hold on the masses, it must be by having a learned clergy, whose mental furnishings and educational acquisitions entitle them to the] respect of educated, as well as of indifferently educated, men and women, Literature and the Press are fast emptying our churches. Men and women are not going to waste time and money on the luxury of "divine service "if they are convinced that they can get sounder and more valuable knowledge at their own fireside from a book or a newspaper. A year or two ago a distinguished Oxford professor informed the world that it' was impossible to find twelve men of educational distinction worshipping (of a Sunday) in all the Oxford churches—and this in a city where there must, he several hundred men of eminence in scholarship! It can be only when the Churches have realised the necessity of having a soundly and thoroughy page 11 educated and cultured clergy that they can recover lost ground, and once more be a real leaven of righteousness in communities and nations.

It is the business of the State to provide a sound scientific and civic education. If the Churches can supplement that education by specific instruction in morality and religion, they can be of very great service to the State. If, on the other band, they fail to do this, they assuredly may he said to fail in justifying their own existence.

We know that civic, political, social, and educational progress has been the greater and more marked wherever the State has recovered its lost rights and superseded the Churches in the control and organisation of education. The Churches must henceforth be content to regard themselves as the servants of the State. It is, and has always been, their duty (no matter how indifferently discharged) to strengthen and support the natural ethic of the State as tested in the crucible of experience and practice, by indicating its divine implications. By confining themselves to this task, they can always be of the very greatest help and service to the State. Why should they go beyond their own specific province, and keep agitating to be allowed to do for the State what the State can do far more effectively for itself?

The best minds in England to-day are, in the interests both of religion and education, aspiring to achieve such freedom as we in New Zealand have already achieved under our secular system. We have received from the distinguished statesmen and educationists who inaugurated our secular national system, a priceless heritage, and we would be traitors to the best interests of education and religion, if we failed to come forth as its defenders and champions.

There is one reassuring circumstance in connection with the defence of our New Zealand secular system. The Minister of Education and Leader of the Opposition have made it absolutely clear that they will be no party to any tinkering or tampering with our free, secular, and compulsory system. There is, however, one possible danger—that is, that our Government may be foolish enough, and illogical enough, to recognise the right of the people to determine such a question as this, involving religious and sectarian issues, by means of a referendum. Strict neutrality is the only attitude which the State can justly assume to the various religions professed by its subjects. To determine the question of Bible-reading in Schools by menus of a referendum is absolutely incompatible with the neutrality of the State. We are not quite out of the wood vet. Let us therefore he ever ready to come forth in defence of a system that cannot justly be regarded as unfair to any individuals or churches. Let us remember that:

"Eternal Vigilance Is the Price of Liberty."

* Note.—Entered as teachers:—1906-1907, 11,018; 1907-1908, 10,352; 1908-1909, 8,718; 1909-1910, 7,115.