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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 81

Chapter XVI. — Education

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Chapter XVI.


A safe democracy must needs be enlightened. Nothing—not even Christianity—is exercising a more potent influence over the destinies of mankind than the onward sweep of Democracy. It is rushing like a tidal wave over the face of the earth. Its impetuous progress overwhelms all resistance. To some this is an omen of disaster. "The many-headed multitude, swayed by impulse and prejudice, has seized the reins of control," they cry," and the chariot of State will be driven to destruction. Cultured reason and learning have been dethroned and ignorance exalted The masses, lacking the luxuries of life, envious of the wealth of the fortunate few, are extremely impatient of inequalities, and disposed to any policy which uproots and overturns. They manifest an intrepidity in attacking social questions which makes the wise man quake. They avaunr hesitancy and indecision, and with fearful boldness pronounce categorically on the most momentous and intricate questions of the time. They are guided by instinct, not reason; place their trust in intuition, not logic. They are the playthings of demagogues who set themselves to inflame class cupidities. There is danger that envy and covctousness may become the dominant factors in pol-propagandism."

Such are the uneasy apprehensions of many, and they are not without cause. However ardent our hope for the future may be, however strong our confidence in the collective wisdom of the people, we cannot but be impressed with the inadequate equipment of the masses for the exercise of self-government. The gravest problems press into the foreground—problems whose issues run through all time. The political atmosphere, the wide world over, is charged with storm. Into the night of Russia's Autocracy dart the lightning flashes of the awaking power of the peasantry. A people bowed down with the weight of centuries of unrequited toil is beginning to shake itself. Thunderclaps of strikes here and strikes there break in upon our tranquillity. Huge trusts and combines spread their lowering clouds over the darkened firmament. These problems are grave. They will precipitate revolutions if ignorance and prejudice are left to encounter them. An instructed people alone can meet them without catastrophe. "There is no more terrible sight," said Goethe, "than ignorance in action." The masses are claiming the right of government. A political Samson stalks the land. If he is blind the pillars of society will indeed be page 118 insecure; but if he sees with the eye of an instructed reason, what a mighty factor we have for the uplift of mankind. The need is imperious: Democracy must have an instructed people.

We cannot wonder, then, at the conspicuous position which education occupies in all advanced communities. It is not the writer's intention to labour a subject the importance of which is already fully recognised. A few remarks will suffice. Education should be directed to equipping men for industry, fitting them for participation in government, and teaching them the right use of leisure. As to the first, there are few who have not sufficient confidence in British skill to predict that foreign competition in trade can never injure Britain if British hands are the servants of educated British brains. What our Empire needs is not the artificial protection of tariff walls, but strengthening from within.

As to the second object of education, it is remarkable it should have received so little attention. Manhood suffrage practically prevails under the British flag, yet few who exercise the franchise understand the first principles of trade or industry. Momentous social and economic questions cannot be settled by a policy of groping. Too often, also, men enter Parliament with as little appropriate knowledge as the voters. Democracies need a wider diffusion of the first principles of political economy. Nevertheless, the rudiments of industry, commerce, and government are taught in none of our primary and secondary schools, and in comparison with the dead languages are considered utterly insignificant in our universities. Political econmy, touching men in the largest concerns of their life, should rank second to no branch of learning m our national system of education.

As to the third object of education, it becomes more important with the progress of the amelioration of social conditions. The reduction of the hours of the working day is a doubtful blessing if it is not accompanied with the right employment of leisure. Higher education should not be the luxury of the rich, but in rome degree the portion of all classes. With increasing leisure there is increasing need of the development of tastes and aptitudes for that high thinking and high-feeling which comes from communion with the master spirits of the races of men.

The general diffusion of education will bring abcut a readjustment of social relations. There is many a man at the plough who ought to be in the laboratory, and many a man at the university who ought to be at the bench. General education will sort men out and bring ability to the top. It will apportion task to capacity. Upon this ground alone education ought to be free from the bottom to the top. There is no extravagance more prejudicial to a nation than that of allowing natural genius to run waste from lack of opportunity. The growth of national wealth is retarded when page 119 capacity happens to be born of poor parents is allowed to

Again, the spread of higher education is already beginning to have an important influence on wages. The learned professions are losing their monopoly value. Educated men crowd the intellectual and avoid the manual occupations. This can only have one result—lowering the remuneration of the former, and raising the remunerartion of The litter. Thus social distinctions arising from distinctions of wealth will tend to fade.

In this respect, education becomes a factor in the more equitable distribution of wealth. It takes away the monopoly earnings of the educated few. When writing was a rare accomplishment clerks received exceptionally high salaries; now they are worse paid than the manual labourer. This tendency should not be deplored. There is no reason inherent in natural justice why manual labour should not be rewarded as amply as intellectual labour. It is only the relative scarcity of the latter which has enabled it to secure a differential advantage. In the course of a generation or so, the intellectual walks of life, which call for little originality and little power of adaptation, will not be so remunerative as the manual, where skill is required. Indeed, generally, as Ruskin says: "We shall pay our ploughmen a little more, and our lawyers

Those occupations which are disagreeable, and become more repellant as education is diffused, will command higher relative wages. Education is changing the adjustments of supply and demand in different branches of industry, to the benefit of poorly paid manual labour. It is breaking down the monopoly of learning and equalising opportunities. The efficacy of general education for this purpose, amongst others, explains the hostility of the instructed classes in the past to all extensions of popular education.

The claims of general education upon a democracy are irresistible. It cultivates interests which employ profitably the leisure which is increasingly characteristic of modern progress. It augments productive power. Mere muscle is daily retreating before the advance of machinery Sandow can lift heavy weights, but the unreasoning horse can lift heavier, and an inanimate engine can lift still heavier. But no machine can lift a nation's mental loads. Every country wants more energy and strength of mind. Superiority here carries with it national ascendency. Again, the diffusion of education among the masses tends to redress the inequalities of distribution.