Popular Science Monthly/Volume 19/September 1881/State Education: A Necessity

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IN the September number of "The Popular Science Monthly," 1880, appeared an article, reprinted from the "Fortnightly Review," entitled "State Education: a Help or a Hindrance?" It was written by the Honorable Auberon Herbert, an English writer of more than ordinary ability. He opposes state education on principle; and, as much of his reasoning applies in this country as well as in England, it is desirable that his fallacies should be exposed in the same journal that has given them currency here. The writer has neither limited his remarks to the English system, nor confined himself to obnoxious methods of applying courses of study to the education of the young in England or elsewhere. Had he done either, a writer on this side the Atlantic might have hesitated to question the propriety of his convictions. But, embracing, as he seems to do, the whole field of organized state educational effort, he has opened a theme as broad as the foundations on which society rests.

Some of his conclusions present points on which eminent educators, both in England and in America, widely differ. A note at the bottom of the first page of his article may have some modifying effect upon his radical conclusions. This note is in the words following: "I ought to say that I have changed my opinions as regards the action of the state since 1870. I would not have made this change without the assistance of Mr. Herbert Spencer's writings."—("Popular Science Monthly," vol. xvii, p. 585.) Mr. Spencer, to whose writings our author refers, has written many able things on education, with which educators are well agreed; but he is not understood in this country to be wholly opposed to state education. And it may be suggested that the disciple may differ with his teacher, or that the teacher may himself be misunderstood in the application of his principles to particular conditions of the social status. The conditions of the state, also, must be continually advancing beyond the demands of earlier efforts, as society in its tastes and needs moves forward. State growth has no limit, and hence no rule can be laid down for the government of the future that does not embrace the possibility of new combinations. The Spencer of to-day may predict, but the Spencer of to-morrow may find the historic progress in conflict with his prediction. Man's needs in his social and civil relations, in his artificial progress, can not be determined with the precision of mathematical certainty, as we determine the movements of the planets.

The English Government, of which the writer of the article under consideration is an integral element, is rapidly changing its position on the question of state education. The question with his country seems not now to be, whether state education shall be inaugurated, but rather what kind it shall have. The state must retain control of all the elements necessary to its life. The educational element the state can not intrust to any organism beyond its control. Sovereignty must control the education which is the life and soul of the state.

The discussion on Sir John Lubbock's bill in the British Parliament, of recent date, was in relation to the studies to be introduced into the curriculum, rather than the question of state interference. An extract from "Nature," an English print, will set this matter in its proper light:

"It is unnecessary," says the writer, "for us to go again into the merits of the question which has been so often and so thoroughly discussed in these pages, especially as the 'Times' has put it quite as forcibly as there is occasion of doing at present. It certainly seems sad, nationally, indeed, that a few more millions of those who will have the destinies of this country in their hands are likely to be launched into active life, with all their education to acquire, ere legislation steps in to give us the advantages which nearly every other civilized nation gives to its children. Every day we hear of the ignorance of the working-classes, every other month 'congresses' are held to devise means to remedy the consequences of this ignorance: ignorance of the laws of health; ignorance of household economy; ignorance of the implements and objects of labor; ignorance of the laws of labor and production; ignorance of the nature of the commonest objects with which they come into contact every day; ignorance of almost everything which it would be useful and naturally beneficial for them to know; an ignorance, alas! more or less shared by the 'curled darlings' of the nation. Yet every day's paper shows how keen is the industrial competition with other nations, and how in one department after another we are being outstripped by the results of better—i. e., more scientific—knowledge; the poor pittance of 'elementary knowledge' asked for in Sir John Lubbock's bill is refused by a minister[1] whose own education leaves much to be desired. This state of things can not long continue, and, with such advocates for the children as the 'Times' and Mr. Forster, we may hope that next time Sir John Lubbock brings forward his bill it will meet with a happier fate."—("Popular Science Monthly," vol. xiii, pp, 562, 563.)

The truth expressed in the above quotation, that England, holding one of the most advanced positions of the human race, is yet being outstripped in one industry and another, in one department after another, "by the results of better—i. e., more scientific—knowledge," can not fail, in the reflecting mind, to suggest another truth: that civil society is a constantly developing organism, the range of whose future specialties must remain unknown. Yet through all, in the line of its direction, it is evident that some power must control. This power must be the sovereign will. The Cloister and the Castle, the Church and the State, at different stages have severally presented their peculiar claims to 'wield the scepter of education. And the supreme control is now, in England and in America, fast passing from the Church to the state. Is the growth in this direction sound and normal? The integral elements certainly have more freedom, the intellectual powers more activity, and the forces and laws of nature are made more thoroughly subservient to the wants of the whole. We can not, therefore, say that in this direction the movement is abnormal, or that a result of a disastrous character will arise. The state organism indeed seems, so far, the most efficient. And England, believing in its healthy growth, even in elementary knowledge, now makes a strong appeal, not to the Church but to the state (not in its unorganized elements, but in its sovereign capacity) for the education of all her people. Is the appeal unwise? Can the results be anything but beneficial?

It is safe to believe that as human society advances it develops step by step relations of a wider, better, and different character; transferring responsibilities once peculiar to the lower to the next higher relation. The child of the family in turn becomes the man of the tribe, and the member of the tribe becomes the citizen of the state or nation. In this forward movement the family may have had absolute control during the age of childhood. In the next stage parental government is modified, or terminated, and yields to the dominant claims of the tribe. In the still wider national relation, the tribal government, embracing whatever there may be of culture in war and peace, at once yields to the supreme demands of the state or nation.

The child passes in any organized society through all the grades in the related social state. In the same order also government passes on, until it rests in the control of sovereignty, the state. And the right of the state to the custody and control of the citizen is as complete as the right of the parent to the control of the infant child. These are only the natural laws belonging to the several relations in the growth of society in all artificial conditions, under all governments. State control, therefore, comes into rightful exercise of authority over the education of every human being entitled to the privileges and protection of government. The particular age at which state authority may rightfully interfere in this relation is a matter of state policy and sovereign discretion.

All arguments, therefore, of the writer against either the right or the policy of the state, in exercising control over the education of the subject, rest upon a theory quite erroneous, upon the superior right of the parent over the control of the entire education of the coming citizen of the higher organization.

Mr. Herbert asks the pertinent question, "Could education be supplied without official assistance?" This question he answers in the affirmative. His answer might be correct if confined to some kinds of education. But he does not seem to consider that the education conducted without official or state assistance, permission or direction, maybe entirely opposed to the best interests of the state, and, indeed, subversive to its organization, and thus fall short of the kind of education required for the very existence of the state. Had he asked the more vital question, "Could education, such as is required for the existence of the state, be certainly supplied without state direction or official assistance?" the writer would hardly have answered that "the kind of education required could well be supplied without state direction and state authority." And it would seem that the real question for England and America to answer is. Will voluntary, individual, or associated parental authority at all times sustain the education required by the state? And still further. Will the education furnished by voluntary effort be equal to the demands of the successive generations as they come and go? To provide this, some authority must interpose some organized system of supervision, as active and continuous as the life of the government, and. as extensive as the demands of the generations passing through the required course.

State education, then, is not only not a hindrance, but a necessity, state aid, however, in education is of wide application. It may not be necessary for the state to pay for education out of the state treasury, and still it may necessary to regulate by law some system of uniform public instruction. It may be necessary for the state to allow local taxation for the education which, without law, they might demand in vain. It may be necessary for states to allow, by statute law, a graded system of education, culminating in a university course. If the child is required to be educated in some particular way, he certainly should have the legal right to demand the time to acquire it, and the course of study legally defined. If he is allowed, a time to acquire the state education, he should be allowed the necessary instruction during the time. These are correlative relations.

On no individual or associated plan, of a voluntary character, can education be supplied to the entire people, such as the state can rely upon for its own existence. It would take generations to give it even a partial existence in the most favored communities in the most advanced governments. At no one period could the voluntary plan apply the requisite culture to the entire masses passing the age of school culture. And to this conclusion the honorable gentleman seems himself to have come when criticising the present English attempt to introduce a national system. He says: "No truly great thing grows like a mushroom. An intelligent value for education can only spread slow, like civilization itself. In our hurry to act, we have not seen how much life and movement is sacrificed to make place for an official system. Those who administer such systems wish to get the flower ready made without any process of growth."

The voluntary plan has been tried by England ever since the island came under one rule. And this mode of application was not only not interfered with, but actually encouraged by the state. Immunity from certain punishments was granted to the man who could read. Even this low species of education was rewarded by the state with the title of "clerk, though neither initiated in holy orders nor trimmed with the clerical tonsure."—(Blackstone's "Commentaries," vol. iv, p. 366.) And, after this long reign of voluntary effort, encouraged for centuries by the state, and supplemented by the coöperative principle, the nation is now driven to assume the duty, as it has ever had the right, to control the educational system demanded not only by the parentage but by the whole people. Private efforts, individual and associated labors, all personal benefactions, and various national foundations, have severally exerted the voluntary and in part the coercive methods of education, and, under the most effective operation of them all combined, the national illiteracy has not been diminished, but is rather increasing with the growth in population. How, then, can this system, or, properly, no system, be relied on? With it, can England apply to practical demands the education which the slow growth of the ages has made ready for her hand? It is less a question how to create, than how to apply the knowledge now ready for the hungering masses.

Mr. Herbert objects seriously to state education, because "forced payments taken from other classes place the workman under an obligation; that, in consequence, the upper and middle classes interfere m the education of his children; that under a practical system there is no place for his personal views."

Now, it is hard to see how a tax for the education of the children of the workman should be more likely to create a feeling of obligation toward the tax-payer than would necessarily exist in any other case of taxation for the support of government, standing on the same legal foundation as a tax for education. Why should the feeling of obligation oppress the royal family, to know that royalty is upheld by a forced levy upon the property of the lords and landholders of the realm? It is certainly not such a feeling of dependence as the royal family wishes to discard. Royalty can certainly endure the strain quite as long as the tax-payers desire to continue the relation. But the feeling of obligation does not, in fact, exist between the workmen of England and the class taxed for education, while in this country, from the nature of our political society, it is not only unknown, but an impossible thing.

Labor, in all departments, physical and intellectual, working as a unit, produces a reservoir of wealth. This reservoir of wealth is leisure, a fund common to all, in which all are interested to the extent of their wants, natural or artificial. In the production of this common capital, the laborer, in the first form of production, is an essential ingredient. Without him the reservoir would contain nothing. And every worker of the series required to swell this reservoir of wealth has an interest in the end to be attained, and in every contribution to that end. The workmen embrace nearly every member of the national family. The interdependence is complete; and the obligation felt is not the kind to be avoided, but ought to be agreeable, mutual, and brotherly. However, a little inquiry will satisfy any one that the laborer feels that the world owes him quite as much as he owes the world. This argument, drawn from dependence and obligation, has no application in the family or in the nation. Analogies in nature are everywhere at hand. If any part of its articulated order fails, the whole is affected:

"In Nature's chain, whatever link you strike,
Tenth or ten-thousandth, breaks the chain alike."

So with the related order of society rising from native savagery to its highest artificial conditions.

A tax for education, considered from another point of view, might be properly regarded as a police regulation; and governmental action, state or national, rigorously and systematically applying it to the reduction of ignorance, that worst foe to a free people, viewed as a vital step toward securing the public safety.

Uniformity.—But uniformity is objected to, by Mr. Herbert, as an evil in the English system; and, if so, it would be the same in any other country. Such a system, he believes, is not sufficiently elastic, and does not yield readily enough to improved methods of instruction. Teachers and pupils and trustees go alike into the groove of established routine, and there remain, to the injury of the mental growth of all, and thus become a positive hindrance to progress. "Changes," he says, if ever made by great exertions, "would be only spasmodic; they would not be the natural outcome of the system, and therefore could not last."

It can be replied to this objection, that uniformity is but the precursor of variety, and without intelligent uniformity there can be no sure foundation for progress. We, indeed, expect the greatest variety from the most perfect uniformity and regularity in the systems we are investigating. Were there no laws of uniform operation in nature, we should have no foundation for science, physical or psychological; and the most perfect uniformity is yet so prolific in variety that the fields of human investigation are infinite.

But we have only space for one practical illustration of this principle of uniformity. We have, in America, a system of schools, either permitted by license from the State, or required by State enactments, which is quite as uniform a system as exists in England, and perhaps far more so. And the uniformity of the American system of graded free schools, for the forty years of their operation, has not as yet presented any of the special or general evils so much feared by the honorable gentleman, and which to him seem so threatening in the schools of England. In several of our American cities the system has matured, during a period of some thirty-odd years, from the kindergarten to the university. These schools have produced whatever results the organism of the graded system is calculated to accomplish. The pupils have passed from the lowest grade, in regular order, in large classes, under similar programmes, in a uniform course, supervised by boards of trustees, and taught by instructors rising in literary attainments from grade to grade through the entire series. When the higher grades are reached, the pupils take more and more optional studies, and less and less required. And, as the curriculum widens toward the end of the course, the linguistic and scientific studies yield more and more to the inclination of the parent or the pupil, until the post-graduates of the high-school, as well as of the university, severally fall into chosen specialties, as their tastes and preparation may dictate. The result is all that could be desired. So independent and so varied are the subjects of this uniform, organized system of required and optional studies, and so thorough is the knowledge imparted in the selected fields embraced in its curriculum, that from one city its fame has passed from the Western to the Eastern Hemisphere, and in several important lines of skilled industries and art-culture received the award of superiority at the late Paris Exposition over the schools of the civilized world!

At the expense of a little brevity, let me here make a short quotation from a report of Superintendent Peaslee, of the Cincinnati schools, under date of 1880. He says: "I desire to call the attention of the board to the statement of the National Educational Association at Washington, in February last, by Hon. J. D. Philbrick, U. S. Commissioner to the Paris Exposition, and former Superintendent of the Public Schools of Boston. In speaking of the different school exhibits at Paris, Mr. Philbrick said, * No other exhibits of scholars' work equal to that of Cincinnati was ever made in the known world.' It will be remembered that Mr. Philbrick was also United States Commissioner of Education at Vienna, in 1872, and that he was connected with the educational exhibit of the Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia. *In this connection,' he says, *it gives me great pleasure to report that I have received, through the United States Commissioner, General R. C. McCormick, a gold-medal diploma and a silver-medal diploma, awarded to the public schools of Cincinnati, by the international jury at the Universal Exposition of 1878 held at Paris. I have had the gratification, also, of receiving from the Royal Industrial Museum at Turin a diploma of membership, as a token of their appreciation of the work of our school exhibit at Paris. As stated in a previous report, Cincinnati enjoys the most complete system of public-school education of any city in the world; for the pupils of both sexes have not only open to them the advantages of the district, intermediate, and high schools, but possess the privilege of attending, free of charge, the University of Cincinnati. The course of instruction in their long-extended curriculum is of a very high character. From school to school the student passes, till he goes out into the world from the university with the broad teaching which will make him hold his own proudly in the stirring times in which we live."

In what this school is, as an organic element, preparing in American cities, we see in miniature the still wider organization growing up in the several States, preparatory to the completed national organization of the ideal American System of Graded Free Schools. The cities, in the American State school system, under State law, by means of local levies, limited to the property of the city or district, with scarcely an exception, have built up this class of schools. The common school, with its corps of teachers, is followed by the high-school, with higher instructors and added supervision, and this again by the university, either for the city or the State, with a still higher order of instruction and supervision; and the organism is complete, each element in the series working apart but in harmony with the whole.

But finally we come to the religious question, which the ingenious objector to state schools has arrayed in its full force. Both in England and in America this question continues, to some extent, to be a disturbing element in the school problem. Mr. Herbert is not entirely free from the mist which this element creates in all sectarian atmospheres. He gives expression to his convictions in the following explicit language:

"I can not escape a few words on the much-vexed religious question. Under our present system the Nonconformists are putting a grievous strain upon their own principles. Whoever fairly faces the question must admit that the same set of arguments which condemns a national religion also condemns a national system of education. It is hard to pronounce sentence on the one and absolve the other. Does a national Church compel some to support a system to which they are opposed? So does a national system of education. Does the one exalt the principle of majorities over the individual conscience? So does the other. Does a national Church imply a distrust of the people, of their willingness to make sacrifices, of their capacity to manage their own affairs? So does a national system of education. Does the one chill and repress the higher meanings and purposes of formalism? So does the other."

The contrast between a national Church and a national system of education is quite clear to all persons, although there are several points of resemblance in their application. The two curricula are different in all those peculiar specialties in which each has its appropriate sphere. One relates to temporal and the other to spiritual matters; and hence one embraces the great truth that the citizen should "render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's"; the other, that he should render "unto God the things that are God's." The organisms that administer these curricula must necessarily differ. The comprehensive specialty of the Church is faith in a revealed religion. This, according to each sectarian creed, must be taught by the Church. The distinguishing specialty of the state is law, and obedience to this arbiter is the foundation on which the "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" are guaranteed to the citizen, and must be taught by secular schools, either permitted directly or aided by the state. These organisms have each a special work. And while the state could teach religion as well as the Church could make and enforce laws regulating all state matters and the duty of the citizen, in doing this, each must necessarily abandon its own specialty; so that, while these organisms exist separate, as in America, each must pursue its own specialty. In no other way can the proper support of the several arbiters be maintained.

The argument, therefore, of Mr. Herbert, above quoted, against a national system of education for the reasons stated or implied, is unsound, and of no possible application. He has presented no argument against a national system of education that would not apply as well in in any other case of enforced taxation. Substitute a national system of imposts, a tariff, instead of a national system of education, and ask his questions, and the same answers must be given. Thus: "Does a national Church compel some to support a system to which they are opposed? So does a national system of imposts. Does the one exalt the principle of majorities over the individual conscience? So does the other. Does a national Church imply a distrust of the people, of their willingness to make sacrifices, of their capacity to manage their own affairs? So does a national system of imposts." Now, it is evident that the results here arrived at prove nothing more than this: that an enforced tax, however imposed, must necessarily result as stated; some will be opposed, majorities will be exalted, and even some slight foundation afforded for the startling implication of distrust in the voluntary action of the people, as a whole, in the matter concerned.

But we can not conclude that this religious argument in any way militates against the argument in favor of national education. The argument in favor of a national tariff, though oppressive to some, is only such oppression as minorities must endure in any species of legislation, whether for the promotion of virtue or the suppression of vice. But there is still a more complete answer to this religious argument, as used by Mr. Herbert. Over matters of conscience the higher law has dominion; but only over intentional acts has human legislation any rightful control. The control of men's actions lies within, but the control of men's consciences without and beyond, the scope of human legislation; so that state education is a legitimate subject of state control, while the support of a national Church is altogether beyond the sphere of national authority.

  1. Lord George Hamilton.