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his dance.” Shut out from every thing that can sustain or ennoble an intelligent nature, the peasantry of England have long since displayed, in unparalleled degradation, the full effects of knowledge denied, and have now sunk into a state of mental inanition and semi-barbarism, from which, it is to be feared, the present generation can never be recovered. Rude, selfish, superstitious and profane;—their sense of right and wrong limited and often perverted; insensible to enjoyments of a higher order than those which arise from the grosser forms of sensual gratification; and scarcely ever looking beyond the apparent interests of the present hour; the great mass live and die without an effort to raise themselves above the lowest conditions of animal existence.
In the towns a different state of things prevails, yet one scarcely less to be lamented, and probably more perilous to the peace of the community. The bulk of the labourers still remain in utter and hopeless ignorance; while the better class of artizans, only partially enlightened, are seldom found capable of enjoying a scientific lecture, a useful book, or a calm political disquisition. The oracle of the work-shop is the Sunday Newspaper. “Shrewd, intemperate, presumptuous, careless of the truth of their representations, provided they make an impression,” the conductors of these mischievous productions too frequently pander to the prejudices, excite the passions, and deprave the imaginations of their readers, without conferring upon them any substantial benefit, beyond the mere communication of passing intelligence. For evils of this description, there is but one remedy ;-the cultivation and enlargement of the popular mind.
That the most unlimited dispersion of knowledge could in itself ensure the advancement of wisdom and virtue, it would be absurd to pretend; but it cannot be disputed that “utter ignorance is the most effectual fortification to a vicious state of the mind, not only defeating the ultimate efficacy of the means for making men wiser and better, but standing in preliminary defiance to the very application.”
From these general observations probably few will be found to dissent. It is not on the value of Education itself that men now profess to differ,-in that respect “the darkness is past,”---but on the nature of the Education which should be imparted, and on the means by which its universality should be secured. The two points interlace each other; the settlement of the one, determining the decision of many in relation to the other.
On the question of MEANS, the friends of Education are divided into two classes :
1. Those who hold that the spread of Education should be left to the voluntary efforts of the people.
II. Those who consider the promotion of public instruction to be the duty of the Government.
Each of these classes may be again sub-divided. The friends of THE VOLUNTARY SYSTEM into two sections :
1. Those who dislike the principle of Government interference in all matters affecting the moral interests of the country.
2. Those who distrust the working of such measures.
The former, without being prepared to admit that Government can with propriety establish a scriptural system of instruction, dread and deprecate any plan by which the Bible should be excluded. The latter fear that Government interference would, in its immediate results, be injurious to the interests of religion, and, perhaps, ultimately lead to tyranny, by the controlling power it would give in the inculcation of opinions. By the first of these classes a Government education would be opposed as unjust; by the last as inexpedient.
The advocates of STATE INTERFERENCE may, in like manner, be divided into two parties :
1. Those who wish to see both originating and controlling power vested in a Central Board.
2. Those who would confine the functionaries of Government to the aiding of Schools already in existence, or to the establishment of new ones in connection with local effort, on fixed and understood principles.
The first, represented by an association recently formed, under the title of “The Central Society of Education,” contend that, “improvements must be enforced by the State;"* that, “Government ought to have the power of preventing individuals from acting as Schoolmasters, whose capacities have not been duly certified ;”+ that, it is just to use (compulsion,) “on the principles professed and acted on by all shades of German Governments.”I The last, that the interference of Government should never extend beyond inspection, with consent of parties, and the granting or withholding of pecuniary aid on established conditions.
To evolve from these conflicting views and notions any principle which may reasonably be expected to meet with the concurrence of a sufficient number of persons to render its adoption wise, or even practicable, must evidently be a task of no ordinary difficulty. I am not presumptuous enough to imagine myself at all equal to such an undertaking. I should not venture to take a single step towards its accomplishment, did not the circumstances in which we are placed at this moment seem to demand that every man should give his most anxious attention to the subject, and at least do all he can to promote unity of sentiment.
In endeavouring to arrive at some satisfactory conclusion with respect to the principles on which Parliament might advantageously promote Schools for the working classes in England, we propose to shew:I. That if Government interfere at all in the Education of the people, it must do so rather by aiding and promoting voluntary efforts than by centralization and direct control.
* First Pub. p. 21. † Ibid p. 14. Ibid p. 33.
II. That Education, in order to be useful, must be moral and religious, without being either sectarian or exclusive.
III. That the Bible is better adapted than any other book for general use in Schools; its introduction, without note or comment, involving us in fewer difficulties, and offering greater advantages, than any other plan that has yet been devised for the religious instruction of the population.
If these points can be successfully established, the path of duty will be plain. Good men of all parties must unite, to lay the foundations of public virtue and private happiness in the general Education of the people on scriptural and comprehensive principles. A system of instruction established
other basis would be a public calamity, since it would not only supersede voluntary efforts, but convert public instruction either into an engine for the promotion of spiritual tyranny, or a channel for the propagation of latitudinarianism.
CENTRALIZATION AND THE VOLUNTARY SOCIETIES.
The people of England, it is well known, have hitherto manifested a very salutary unwillingness to entrust the State with a greater degree of power than is requisite for carrying on the functions of civil Government. It has been their boast for ages, that while other nations have depended upon their Governments for the promotion of objects of public utility, they, the English people, have pressed forward in the march of improvement, alike unaided and unembarrassed by the State. From discoveries recently made, however, by some new friends to popular Education, it now appears that this, their way, has been their folly. No instruction at all, we are told, would have been far better than the scanty portion which they have contrived by their own efforts to gather for themselves. The voluntary system is thus described: “It leaves the amount, and still more the nature, of public Instruction to caprice or chance. It throws the reins on the neck of the courser and allows him his headlong or headstrong course at will. Anomalies and contradictions abound. Ignorance or knowledge, morality or immorality, become a mere matter of luck.”* The remedy, however, is at hand. Government must come forward and deliver the people from themselves. Government must choose Schoolmasters, select books,-and, in all respects, direct the Education of the country. “Is a Government,” asks Mr. Wyse, “which should enlighten and teach, to yield to the prejudices and follies of a people who are to be taught ?"
Such are the views now propagating through the country by the Central Society of Education. Adapted as they are only to a despotic Government, borrowed from a country
* First Pub. Central Society p. 37.