THE CURSE OF EDUCATION
A NOTABLE BOOK
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'An able and suggestive book.'—The Spectator.
'It is a sane, healthy indication of the weak spots in the country's armour, and a practical attempt to indicate remedies.'—The Sunday Special.
'The author's contempt for the time-serving politician, who in this country has, unfortunately, come to count for so much in all governments—Tory or Liberal—will be shared by the thinking portion of his fellow countrymen.'—The Financial News.
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LONDON: GRANT RICHARDS 9, Henrietta Street, W.C.
The Curse of Education
BY HAROLD E. GORST
London Grant Richards 1901
In calling this little book 'The Curse of Education,' I trust that I shall not be misunderstood to disparage culture. The term 'education' is used, for want of a better word, to express the conventional mode of teaching and bringing up children, and of educating youth in this and other civilized countries. It is with education systems, with the universal method of cramming the mind with facts, and particularly with the manufacture of uniformity and mediocrity by subjecting every individual to a common process, regardless of his natural bent, that I have chiefly to find fault. At a moment when the country is agitated with questions of educational reform, I thought it might be useful to draw attention to what I believe to be a fact, namely, that the foundations of all existing education systems are absolutely false in principle; and that teaching itself, as opposed to natural development and self-culture, is the greatest obstacle to human progress that social evolution has ever had to encounter.
HAROLD E. GORST.
LONDON, April, 1901.
I. FLOURISHING MEDIOCRITY 1
II. SQUARE PEGS IN ROUND HOLES 8
III. THE DESTRUCTION OF GENIUS 18
IV. HUMAN FACTORIES 26
V. THE GREATEST MISERY OF THE GREATEST NUMBER 35
VI. THE OUTPUT OF PRIGS 44
VII. BOY DEGENERATION 53
VIII. THE STRUGGLE OF THE EDUCATED 62
IX. WOMAN'S EMPIRE OVER MAN 68
X. YOUTH AND CRIME 77
XI. MENTAL BREAKDOWN 86
XII. EVIDENCE OF HISTORY 92
XIII. THE APOTHEOSIS OF CRAM 109
XIV. THE GREAT FALLACY 118
XV. REAL EDUCATION 126
XVI. THE OPEN DOOR TO INTELLIGENCE 135
THE CURSE OF EDUCATION
Humanity is rapidly becoming less the outcome of a natural process of development, and more and more the product of an organized educational plan. The average educated man possesses no real individuality. He is simply a manufactured article bearing the stamp of the maker.
Year by year this fact is becoming more emphasized. During the past century almost every civilized country applied itself feverishly to the invention of a national plan of education, with the result that the majority of mankind are compelled to swallow a uniform prescription of knowledge made up for them by the State. Now there is a great outcry that England is being left behind in this educational race. Other nations have got more exact systems. Where the British child is only stuffed with six pounds of facts, the German and French schools contrive to cram seven pounds into their pupils. Consequently, Germany and France are getting ahead of us, and unless we wish to be beaten in the international race, it is asserted that we must bring our own educational system up to the Continental standard.
Before going more deeply into this vital question, it is just as well to consider what these education systems have really done for mankind. There is a proverb, as excellent as it is ancient, which says that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. No doubt learned theoretical treatises upon the scope and aim of educational methods are capital things in their way, but they tell us nothing of the effects of this systematic teaching and cramming upon the world at large. If we wish to ascertain them, we must turn to life itself, and judge by results.
To begin with, the dearth of great men is so remarkable that it scarcely needs comment. People are constantly expressing the fear that the age of intellectual giants has passed away altogether. This is particularly obvious in political life. Since the days of Gladstone and Disraeli, Parliamentary debate has sunk to the most hopeless level of mediocrity. The traditions of men such as Pitt, Fox, Palmerston, Peel, and others, sound at the present day almost like ancient mythology. Yet the supposed benefits of education are not only now free to all, but have been compulsorily conferred upon most nations. Nevertheless, even Prussian pedagogues have never succeeded in producing another Bismarck; and France has ground away at her educational mill for generations with the result that the supply of Napoleons has distinctly diminished.
Look at the methods by which our public service is recruited.
Who are the men to whom the administration of all important departments of Government is entrusted, and how are they selected?
They are simply individuals who have succeeded in obtaining most marks in public competitive examinations—that is to say, men whose brains have been more effectually stuffed with facts and mechanical knowledge than were the brains of their unsuccessful competitors.
There is no question, when a candidate presents himself for a post in the Diplomatic Service or in one of the Government offices, whether he possesses tact, or administrative ability, or knowledge of the world. All that is demanded of him is that his mind should be crammed with so many pounds avoirdupois of Latin, Greek, mathematics, history, geography, etc., acquired in such a way that he will forget, within a couple of years, every fact that has been pestled into him. For every vacancy in the various departments of the Administration there are dozens, or even scores, of applicants; and the candidate selected for the post is the one whose mind has been most successfully subjected to this process of over-cramming, and consequently most effectually ruined for all the practical purposes of life.
Now, to whatever cause it may be ascribed, there can be no doubt that the general level throughout the various branches of the public service is one of mediocrity. We are not surrounded, faithful and devoted as our public servants are universally admitted to be, by administrative geniuses. Facts point altogether the other way. Great national catastrophes, like the blunders and miscalculations that have characterized the conduct of the war in South Africa, have always resulted in making the most uncomfortable revelations concerning the inefficiency of more than one important department of Government.
The War Office has long since become a public scandal, and if the truth were known about the inner domesticity of more than one great Administrative office, the susceptibilities of the nation would be still further shocked and outraged. Fortunately, however—or it may be unfortunately—Government linen is usually washed at home; and it is only in times of great emergency that the truth leaks out, to the general consternation.
When this does happen there is a great outcry about the inefficiency of this or that branch of the public service. The Government in power wait to see if the agitation dies a natural death; and if it is successfully kept up, a sort of pretence at reform takes place. There is a re-shuffle. Fresh names are given to old abuses; incompetent officials exchange posts; and a new building is erected at the public expense. Then all goes on as heretofore.
Nobody seems to think of making an inquiry into the constitution of the public service itself. But until this is done no real reform of any permanent value can possibly be effected. It is not the nomenclature of appointments, the subdivision of departmental work, and such matters of detail, that stand in need of the reformer. The titles and duties of the several officials are of secondary importance. It is not in them that the evils of bad administration are to be located.
The fault lies with the officials themselves, who are the victims of the stupid system which has placed them in the position they occupy. The education they have received has, in the first case, unfitted them for the performance of any but mechanical and routine work; and the strain of a competitive examination, involving the most unintellectual and brain-paralyzing process of cram, has probably destroyed the faculty of initiative, which should be, but is not, a distinguishing characteristic of the administrative official.
Herein lies the secret of all opposition to progress. It is the permanent official who needs reforming. He is the embodiment of routine and conservatism, because he is the embodiment of mediocrity. Progress means ideas, and mediocrity does not deal in them. It has been furnished, instead, by a systematic course of instruction, with a sufficient equipment of the ideas of other people to last its lifetime. Whilst we fill our public service with specially prepared mediocrity, the administrative departments will remain reactionary. And as long as education is synonymous with cramming on an organized plan, it will continue to produce mediocrity.
The army affords at the present moment an admirable object-lesson in this connection. The results of cramming young men as a preparation for a profession which demands, more than any other, individual initiative and independence, have become painfully apparent upon the field of battle. One of our foremost generals has come home from the campaign declaring the necessity of both officers and men being trained to think and act for themselves. That is one, perhaps the chief, of the great lessons which this war has taught us. But here, again, no useful reform can be achieved by alterations in the drill-book, through lectures by experienced generals, or by the issue of army orders. It is our entire system of education which is again at fault.
Boys are stuffed with facts before they go to Sandhurst, and when they get there they are crammed in special subjects. The whole object of the process is to enable candidates to pass examinations, and not to produce good officers. The effect here is the same as elsewhere. A quantity of useless and some useful knowledge is drilled into the pupil in such a manner that the mind retains nothing that has been put into it. And, to make matters worse, all this is done at the expense of retarding the proper development of faculties which would be of incalculable value to the soldier.
Most of the blunders of the war are, in fact, attributable to want of common sense, and common sense consists in the capacity of an individual to think for himself and to exercise his judgment. Educational methods which, in the majority of cases, appear to destroy this faculty altogether are clearly pernicious. Common sense is the most valuable gift with which man can be endowed. It is the very essence of genius, for it consists in the application of intelligence to every detail, and the highest order of intellect can accomplish no more than that. Yet it is the rarest of all attributes, for the very reason that it is deliberately destroyed by conventional methods of bringing up children and instructing youth. Therefore, before we can hope to obtain a supply of self-reliant officers and men, we must see some radical change in the very principles upon which modern methods of education are founded.
Wherever we go we find this curse of mediocrity. In the professions, at the Bar, in the pulpit, amongst physicians, it is apparent everywhere. There are clever men, of course; but the very fact that their names spring at once prominently to mind is in itself a proof that ability is exceptional.
Some people, of course, accepting the world as they find it, may think it very unreasonable to expect able men to be plentiful in all walks of life. That is, to my mind, the chief pathos of the situation. It has come to be accepted that the world must be filled with a great majority of very commonplace people, even amongst the educated classes.
No doubt it is filled at the present moment with a very vast preponderance of conventional minds manufactured to meet the supposed requirements of our complicated civilization. But I deny that this need be the case. On the contrary, we are surrounded on all sides by ability, by great possibilities of individual development, even by genius.
And our education systems are busily engaged in the work of destroying this precious material, substituting facts for ideas, forcing the mind away from its natural bent, and manufacturing a machine instead of a man.
SQUARE PEGS IN ROUND HOLES
Perhaps the worst evil from which the world suffers in an educational sense is the misplaced individual. Nothing is more tragic, and yet nothing is more common, than to see men occupying positions for which they are unfitted by nature and therefore by inclination; whilst it is obvious that, had the circumstances of their early training been different, they might have followed with success and pleasure a natural bent of mind tending in a wholly opposite direction.
This miscarriage of vocation is one of the greatest causes of individual misery in this world that exists; but its pernicious effects go far beyond mere personal unhappiness: they exercise the most baneful influence upon society at large, upon the progress of nations, and upon the development of the human race. One of the advantages of the division of labour which is most emphasized by political economists is that it offers a fair field for personal adaptation. People select the particular employment for which they are most fitted, and in this way everybody in the community is engaged in doing the best and most useful work of which he is capable.
It is a fine theory. Perhaps in olden times, before the introduction of education systems, it may have worked well in regard to most trades and industries. A man had then at least some opportunity of developing a natural bent. He was not taken by the State almost from infancy, crammed with useless knowledge, and totally unfitted for any employment within his reach. The object was not to educate him above his station and then make a clerk of him, or drive him into the lower branches of the Civil Service. A bright youth was apprenticed by his father to some trade for which he may have shown some predisposition.
Of course, mistakes were often made through the stupidity of parents or from some other cause. There are many such examples to be met with in the biographies of men who attained eminence in wholly different callings from those into which they were forced in their youth.
Sir William Herschel, who discovered Uranus, and who first conceived the generally-accepted theory as to the cause of sun-spots, was brought up by his father to be a musician. In spite of his predilection for astronomy, he continued to earn his bread by playing the oboe, until he was promoted from being a performer in the Pump Room at Bath to the position of Astronomer Royal.
Faraday was apprenticed by his father to a bookbinder, and he remained in this distasteful employment until he was twenty-two. It was quite by accident that somebody more intelligent than Michael Faraday's pastors and masters discovered that the youth had a great natural love of studying science, and sent him to hear a course of lectures delivered by Sir Humphry Davy. This led happily to the young bookbinder making the acquaintance of the lecturer, and eventually obtaining a position as assistant in the Royal Institution.
Linnaeus, the great naturalist, had a very narrow escape from missing his proper vocation. He was sent to a grammar-school, but exhibited no taste for books; therefore his father decided to apprentice him to a shoemaker. Fortunately, however, a discriminating physician had observed the boy's love of natural history, and took him into his own house to teach him botany and physiology.
Instances of the kind might be multiplied. Milton himself began life as a schoolmaster, and the father of Turner, one of the greatest landscape painters who ever lived, did his best to turn his brilliant son into a barber. The point, however, is obvious enough without the need of further illustration. A few examples have been adduced of great geniuses who have contrived, by the accident of circumstances or through sheer force of character, to escape from an environment which was forced upon them against their natural inclination. But it is not everybody who is gifted with such commanding talent and so much obstinacy and perseverance as to be able to overcome the artificial obstacles placed in the way of his individual tendencies; and now we have, what happily did not exist in the day of Herschel, Faraday, Turner, Linnaeus and others—a compulsory education system to strangle originality and natural development at the earliest possible stage.
Most people would probably find it far easier to quote instances offhand of friends who had missed their proper vocation in life than of those who were placed exactly in the position best suited to their taste and capacity. The failures in life are so obviously in excess of those who may be said to have succeeded that specific illustrations of the fact are hardly necessary.
One has only to exert ordinary powers of observation to perceive that the world is not at all well ordered in this respect. It has already been pointed out that the public service and the professions are almost entirely filled with what must be called mediocrity; and one of the most potent causes of this unhappy state of affairs is the exquisite infallibility with which a blind system is constantly forcing square pegs into round holes.
Every profession and calling teems with examples. There are men, intended by nature to be artists and musicians, leading a wretched and unnatural existence in many a merchant's office because their best faculties were undeveloped during the early years of schooling. Mathematicians, philosophers, even poets, are tied to trade or to some equally unsuitable occupation. Scores of so-called literary men ought to be calculating percentages or selling dry goods; and no doubt there are shop-assistants and stock-jobbers who might, if led into the path of culture, have become creditable authors and journalists.
This is neither joke nor satire. It is sober earnest, as many observant readers will readily testify. The loss is not only to the individual, it is to society at large, and to the whole world. No one will deny the fact; but to how many will it occur that such anomalies cannot be the outcome of natural development and progress, but that they must be directly or indirectly attributable to some artificial cause?
It is the great difficulty against which all human advancement has to contend, that people can rarely be brought to question principles which have become a part and parcel of their everyday existence. There are plenty of individuals who are ready to tinker with existing institutions, and who erroneously dignify that process by the name of reform. But nothing is more despairing than the effort to convince conventionally brought up people that some cherished convention, with which the world has put up for an indefinite period, is founded upon fallacy, and ought to be cast out root and branch.
Even in the United States, where far greater efforts are made to encourage individuality in the schools and colleges than is the case with the countries of the Old World, people are not much better distributed amongst the various professions and occupations than they are here. I have made inquiries amongst Americans of wide experience and observation, and have learnt that nothing is more common in the States than to find individuals brought up to exercise functions for which they are wholly unfitted by natural capacity and inclination.
An instance was given me, by an American friend, of a boy who spent all his leisure in constructing clever little mechanical contrivances, in running miniature locomotives, and in setting up electric appliances of one kind and another. One day the youth's father came to him and said: 'I don't know what to make of B——. Could you find him a place in a wholesale merchant's office?' When it was pointed out to the parent that his son showed unmistakable mechanical genius, he obstinately insisted on getting the boy a situation for which he was quite unsuited, and which was highly distasteful to him.
I quote this instance to show that the parent is often as bad an educator as the school itself. In this case the school would have taken as little notice of the boy's natural bent as his father. It would, in all probability, never have discovered it at all. But it has become so much an accepted axiom that children are to be manufactured into anything that happens to suit the taste or convenience of their guardians, that it probably never occurred to the parent in question that he was committing a cruel and foolish act in forcing his son out of the path into which the boy's natural instinct was guiding him. The youth who might have pursued a happy and prosperous career as a mechanical engineer is now a disappointed man, struggling on, with little hope of success, in an occupation which does not interest him, and for which he does not possess the slightest adaptability.
Every nation is equally at fault in this respect. In Germany, for instance, the child is quite as much a pawn at the disposal of its parent and the school system as it is elsewhere. I spent a number of years in the country, and enjoyed an intimate acquaintance with many German families. Nothing has left upon my mind a deeper impression than the tragedy I witnessed of a boy being gradually and systematically weaned from the pursuit to which he was passionately devoted, and forced into a career utterly unsympathetic and distasteful to his peculiar temperament.
The boy was simply, from head to foot, a musician. He spent every moment he could steal from his school studies in playing through the difficult scores of Wagner's music dramas. His taste, his musical memory, the enormous natural ability which enabled him to surmount all technical difficulties with ease, were apparent to everybody who knew him. Yet his parents determined from the first that he should study law, and enter the legal profession.
I have never seen anything more painful than the deliberate discouragement, during a period extending over several years, of the boy's natural bent, and the application of absolute compulsion to force him, against every natural instinct, to prepare himself for a profession repugnant to his inclinations, and for which he was not in the smallest degree adapted.
Out of this promising musical material the Stadt Gymnasium manufactured the usual piece of intellectual mediocrity. He was stuffed with the regulation measure of facts, scraped through the customary examination, and was despatched, much against his will, to the universities of Jena and Zuerich. When I last saw him he was a plodding lawyer of the conventional type, doing his duties in a listless manner, with very indifferent success, and quite broken down in spirit. The Gymnasium, the university, and the parental obstinacy had done their work very effectually. They had succeeded in reducing him to the level of a machine, and in all probability Germany lost an excellent musician who might have given pleasure to thousands of others, besides enjoying an honourable career of useful and congenial work.
We have seen that between the stupidity of the parent and the inflexibility of the school system children have little chance of developing their natural propensities. The results surround us everywhere, and there is no getting away from them. All that the school professes to do is to stuff the pupil with a certain quantity of facts according to a fixed curriculum. It does not pretend to exercise any other function. There is no effort to differentiate between individuals, or to discover the natural bent of each particular child. Instruction consists in cramming and prescribing by a more or less pernicious method—according to the lights of the particular school authorities in some cases, and in others according to a hard and fast code enforced by the State—a certain quantity of facts into all pupils without distinction.
Parents, on the other hand, think they have fulfilled their duty simply by sending their children to school. The only thing considered necessary to equip a child for the battle of life is to get him an education, and nobody bothers his head about the principles or the effects of the process. The parent leaves everything to the school, regardless of the fact that schools do not pretend to concern themselves about the natural tendencies of their pupils. He is satisfied if his son is receiving the same education as his neighbour's, and is quite contented to leave the question of his future career to be an after-consideration.
The result upon the world in general of this double neglect on the part of parents and school systems is disastrous in the extreme. In the first place, it makes the life of the misplaced individual a burden to himself and to those by whom he is surrounded. Natural tendencies cannot be wholly suppressed, even by education systems; and the victim's existence is not rendered more bearable by the reflection that, but for circumstances which he is rarely able to analyze, he might have succeeded in some other and more agreeable occupation had he only received the necessary encouragement in his youth.
Secondly, there is the fact that the progress of civilization is enormously retarded by its being rarely in the hands of the most fit. The most fit are not, and cannot be, produced under prevailing conditions. The whole machinery of education is directed towards the production of a dead level of mediocrity. In many cases—such as, for example, in Prussia—this is done by design, and not by accident. Instruction is imparted in such a manner that no regard is paid to individual propensities. All are subjected, more or less, to the same process. They are fitted for nothing in particular, and no trouble is taken to ascertain the direction in which an individual mind should be developed. The consequence is that, from one end of the civilized world to the other, resounds the cry, 'What shall we do with our boys?'
And, lastly, it scarcely requires pointing out that the enormous sums of money spent by Governments, by municipalities, and by private persons upon education, in order to produce this lamentable state of affairs, is so much waste and extravagance. Not only does it bring in no practical return, but it works out in a precisely opposite direction. Schools and colleges that only serve to produce anomalous and unnatural social conditions, that stifle genius and talent, and that cause widespread misery among the unsuitably educated, must be reckoned as a national loss.
People deplore the heavy sums spent on armaments and on the maintenance of enormous fleets and armies; but it may be doubted if this expenditure is as costly in the end as that which goes to support a systematic manufacture of the unfit, and to assist in the distribution of individuals to stations in the social scheme for which they are wholly unsuited.
THE DESTRUCTION OF GENIUS
Most people labour under the delusion that genius only makes its appearance twice or thrice during a generation. It is certainly the fact that a Napoleon, a Shakespeare, or a Beethoven, is only born once in a century; and colossal intellects such as these are rightly regarded as unnatural phenomena. But genius of a less high order is far more common than is generally supposed. People are simply blind to it. Although it surrounds them on all sides, they fail to recognise it. And nearly everybody is busily engaged in helping to destroy it, with a perversity that is as unconscious as it is criminal.
Those who have had the opportunity of observing the mental development of an intelligent child that has not been subjected to the ordinary processes of teaching, must have been struck with the originality of its mind. If children are left to themselves, they will breed ideas at an astonishing rate. Give an imaginative child of five or six some simple object, such as a button or a piece of tape, and it will weave round it a web of romance that would put many a poet or author to shame.
Naturally brought up children will chatter fascinating nonsense to the very motes that float in a sunbeam; they will spin an Odyssey out of the most trivial incident that has chanced to impress them. Every commonplace object will be invested by them with mysterious and fantastic attributes. When left to observe facts for themselves, they will develop powers of reasoning and logic which no amount of cramming and caning would ever succeed in driving into them.
There are probably few parents who have not been startled, at some period or another, by hearing from the lips of a child an original reflection that exhibited an unexpected degree of mental development. Did it ever occur to them that some intellectual process must have been going on in the child's mind to produce such powers of observation or thought? There is a fallacious notion, founded upon pure want of observation, that human beings are unable to form ideas or to think for themselves until they have been put through an elaborate course of mental gymnastics. A great deal of the process misnamed education is directed towards this end, with the result that in nine cases out of ten the brain is simply paralyzed and rendered incapable of performing its proper functions.
The fact is, that people, whether young or old, cannot be forced to think. It is a habit that must come of its own accord, and that can only be stimulated by the most delicately-applied influences. Observant and reflective parents, who have not chosen to leave the entire development and upbringing of their children in the hands of nurses, will have noticed that there is a natural tendency on the part of a child, if not interfered with, to think and to expand its faculty of imagination. This tendency is not shared to an equal extent by all children; there are, of course, dissimilarities caused by varying degrees of intelligence. But it is there, in however rudimentary and undeveloped a stage; and the more backward it appears to be, the more care should be taken not to destroy it or to check its natural growth.
Now, the whole machinery of education is brought to bear, from the moment the child is of an age to receive any instruction, to strangle the development of the thinking and imaginative faculties. That process will be described presently. What I wish to point out first is that, long before the school or the governess commences this operation, the parents of the child, or those to whom they have delegated the duty of taking charge of it during the tenderest and most momentous years of its existence, are generally engaged in doing everything they can to bring about the same pernicious result.
Of course the evil is committed in sheer ignorance. But it has been bred for so many generations that individual judgment and common sense must every day be becoming more rare. Therefore the evil spreads, and people blame the introduction of railways and other mechanical improvements for the diminishing supply of artistic and creative genius, whilst they are in reality themselves busily employed in stifling its development.
There are two ways in which this unhappy result is brought about. In the first place, there is the invariable custom of giving young children toys which, far from stimulating the imagination, only serve to impress upon their minds the commonplace facts of everyday life. It is really, only in a different form, a part of the process by which, later on, the education system drives out ideas and crams in facts.
To take a concrete instance, a doll is the plaything usually given to little girls. At first sight nothing can appear more charming or instructive than the gift to a little girl, who will one day be a wife and a mother, of the miniature representation of a baby. There will be a bath provided, in which she may learn to wash it. Everything will be complete—soap, sponge, loofah, puff-box, and powder. The present will be accompanied by a layette, so that the child may learn to dress her infant and to change its clothes. Hair-brushes will teach her to keep the doll's hair neat; and probably a dozen other toilet requisites, of which the masculine mind has no notion or is expected to affect ignorance, will be found ready at hand to inculcate the lesson of nursery routine.
In this ingenious way the materialistic side of life is deliberately forced upon the attention of the child. Everything is providently supplied that would be calculated to occupy her attention with commonplace facts instead of with fancies. The child is not encouraged to make a living creature of this inanimate dummy, to tell it stories, or to exercise her imagination in some other way. She is provided with a round of prosaic and extremely material duties, and her mind is carefully kept within these bounds by details of soap and feeding-bottles, which do not offer scope for any flight of imagination.
It would be far better to place a bundle of rags in the arms of a little girl, and to tell her to imagine it to be a baby. She would, if left to herself, with no other resource than her own invention, soon learn to exercise her dormant powers of imagination and originality.
With the same lack of forethought boys are surrounded from earliest infancy with objects designed to keep their minds within the narrow limits of fact. Their playthings are ships, fire-engines, miniature railways, water-pumps, and such-like. The imagination is allowed as little play as possible. Interest is carefully concentrated upon the mechanical details of spars, sails, rigging, watertight compartments, wheels, rods, cranks, levers, and the thousand-and-one items which go to make up a mechanical contrivance. Great care is taken in constructing toy models to reproduce at least the chief points of the original, in order to give them a supposititious educational value. The parents then fondly imagine that, in stocking the nursery with these abominations, they are largely assisting in the development of the boy's mind.
To people who do not understand children it is difficult to convey any adequate idea of the fatal result produced upon the dawning intellect by this introduction of materialism into the nursery. The imaginative will at once say that the contention is too far fetched. Certainly the pernicious effects of such toys as have been described are not easily discernible; therein lies the insidiousness of this retarding process. But to those who have watched, as I have done, the natural development of an intelligent child's powers of reflection and imagination—unchecked by dolls or toy locomotives—there will be neither absurdity nor exaggeration in what I have written.
Toys in themselves are harmless and unobjectionable things, though every observant person who has had much to do with young children will readily concede how superfluous they are as a means of amusement. The average child will treasure up a button or a shell long after it has destroyed, or maybe forgotten the existence of, the most elaborate and expensive toy. That is a commonplace of the nursery. But it does not seem to convey either meaning or moral to the majority of parents.
The second way in which the thinking and imaginative faculties are impeded in their development is by the discouragement of, or by the injudicious answers given to, the questions asked by children. At a certain age the latter become inquisitive about everything in the universe. They ply their elders with perpetual questioning; and it must be acknowledged that many of their interrogations are highly inconvenient and unanswerable.
It is very difficult for the average person to reply offhand to elementary questions such as, Why does the sun shine? What makes the wind blow? How does a seed grow into a tree? and so forth. Few people have the patience to answer the numerous inquiries of an intelligent child; and sooner than expose their ignorance, parents will generally quench this thirst for knowledge at the outset by a flat prohibition. The selfish desire for peace prompts them to refuse the solicited information altogether, or, worse still, to return answers calculated to kill imaginative ideas or to impress the child's mind with a bare and prosaic materialism.
They do not stop to think of the immense harm that may be done to the child by throwing cold water upon its first attempts at research. Children, it must be remembered, do not possess the perseverance and determination which often come to the rescue of original genius at a later period. However active their minds may be, they are also timid, and shrink back quickly under the influence of unsympathetic treatment.
The fact should be patent to everybody that children strive constantly to use the brains with which Nature has endowed them. Being naturally imaginative and original, these faculties only need ordinary encouragement to develop and flourish. Yet the entire method of bringing up children, from the cradle to the school bench, is directed towards stifling all originality and substituting for it a stock of commonplace ideas and conventional knowledge.
The process is begun at home. It takes its root in conventionality, the curse of all individuality and progress. Parents, brought up to be the slaves of custom, carry on the imbecile traditions that have been handed down to them from former generations, without stopping to consider whether they are rational or foolish. It is good enough for the majority of people that the imbecile things they do were done by their forefathers before them; and no tradition is more rigidly followed than that which prescribes the manner of bringing up children.
It would have been thought that those who had themselves suffered from the effects of bad methods would be careful not to repeat the mistakes with their own children. But that is the worst aspect of the evil. Its chief operation consists in hedging round the intelligence with conventionalities to such an extent as to exclude vigorous and independent thought. The most intelligent people often find the utmost difficulty in attempting to shake off the prejudices inculcated during the early years of life.
Many, before accomplishing this end, have had to pass through a long period of suffering and adversity. But the average mind is generally a hopeless case. There must be strong inward impulses, or the necessary measure of initiative and courage will not be forthcoming. Everybody who chooses to think for himself knows that it is an operation which does not usually entail pleasant consequences.
So much for the part played by the parent. The school system stands on a different plane altogether, and must be considered by itself. For parents there is, as has been pointed out, a certain amount of excuse. For the school system there is none.
Distinction must be made, of course, in discussing the effects of teaching methods upon children, between the various kinds of schools, and between public instruction and private tuition. It would not be fair to lump them all together, for the evils they produce are by no means distributed by them in equal proportion. One must differentiate. Fundamentally, all education is proceeding on a false principle. In this respect it is necessary to blame education systems, institutions, school teachers, tutors, governesses, and parents alike; for all are engaged in keeping up an educational delusion that is working great harm to the world in general.
But when we come to consider the amount of evil produced by each of these factors, it will be seen at once that there is a good deal to choose between them. The private tutor, under present methods of teaching, is in a far better position to encourage the individual development of a child than is the schoolmaster who has the care of a class. Children can contend, to a certain extent, against the tyranny of the tutor; they can force their own wishes upon his attention should they possess the necessary strength of character. But the strongest must succumb to the school system. Here there is no latitude to particular pupils, no concession made to idiosyncrasies of mind or character. The system must not be relaxed, and in consequence everybody has to be subjected to precisely the same course of study.
Children begin to receive instruction at a very early age. The usual plan is to take a child the moment it is able to string enough words together to form ideas, and to subject it to a methodical process of teaching. The custom of beginning what is called a child's education at a tender age is verified by the fact that the State now compels, or rather pretends to compel, parents to send their children to school at the age of five, whilst large numbers of the children of the poor are voluntarily sent to school at three years of age, or even younger. It will be observed, therefore, that the State, as far as the masses of the people are concerned, takes the child in hand at the most impressionable period of its existence.
The instruction of infants is not a very difficult task, if all that is aimed at is to teach them certain elementary subjects. At five years of age children will generally learn with avidity. Their minds are just sufficiently formed to be receptive, and as all knowledge is a blank to them they are ready to learn anything, within the limits of their comprehension, that the teacher may choose to put before them. This would place upon the latter a very heavy responsibility if the matter were left entirely to his discretion. But this is by no means the case; the course of instruction is fixed beforehand by the school managers. It may differ slightly in schools of varying types; but in the main it is identical in all the essentials.
To what extent this variation may occur is, however, entirely beside the point. What should be noted in this connection is that each school, and for the matter of that every private teacher, has a fixed plan of instruction which is more or less rigidly enforced. In the case of the school, as has already been stated, no attention whatever is paid to individual requirements. All are subjected to exactly the same process, for better or for worse. The child, therefore, as soon as it begins to attend school is compelled to learn certain things.
The stock subjects are reading, writing, and arithmetic. They are necessary accomplishments in all stations of life, and education without them would be practically impossible. I do not disparage them in the least. But there is a good deal to be said about the method of teaching them, and the grave error of making them the principal objective of elementary teaching.
In this connection it is both interesting and instructive to note a significant alteration in the Day School Code issued by the Board of Education. Until quite recently reading, writing, and arithmetic were classed under the Code as 'obligatory subjects' in infant schools. Article 15 of the Code now reads: 'The course of instruction in infant schools and classes should, as a rule, include—Suitable instruction, writing, and numbers,' etc. Compare this with the same passage contained in former Codes. 'The subjects of instruction,' it runs, 'for which grants may be made are the following: (a) OBLIGATORY SUBJECTS—Reading, writing, arithmetic; hereinafter called "the elementary subjects,"' etc.
This amendment is a recognition of the fact that nothing can be more detrimental to education than hard-and-fast rules. It is a protest against the general assumption that the curricula of schools must be of a more or less uniform pattern, and puts an end to the absurdity of the central authority prescribing subjects to be taught in all elementary schools, regardless of varying circumstances or the possibility of improved methods of teaching.
Formerly the pernicious custom existed of examining the pupils, at the annual visit of the inspector, in stereotyped subjects. Matthew Arnold, reporting to the Education Department in 1867, observed: 'The mode of teaching in the primary schools has certainly fallen off in intelligence, spirit, and inventiveness during the four or five years which have elapsed since my last report. It could not well be otherwise. In a country where everyone is prone to rely too much on mechanical processes, and too little on intelligence, a change in the Education Department's regulations, which, by making two-thirds of the Government grant depend upon a mechanical examination, inevitably gives a mechanical turn to the school teaching, a mechanical turn to the inspection, is, and must be, trying to the intellectual life of the school. In the inspection the mechanical examination of individual scholars in reading a short passage, writing a short passage, and working two or three sums, cannot but take the lion's share of room and importance, inasmuch as two-thirds of the Government grant depend upon it.... In the game of mechanical contrivances the teachers will in the end beat us; and as it is now found possible, by ingenious preparation, to get children through the Revised Code examination in reading, writing, and ciphering without their really knowing how to read, write, and cipher, so it will with practice no doubt be found possible to get the three-fourths of the one-fifth of the children over six through the examination in grammar, geography, and history without their really knowing any one of these three matters.'
Throughout the whole of his career as an inspector of elementary schools Arnold had to reiterate this complaint again and again. He saw the incentive to cramming provided by the mode of distributing the grants, and he perceived the uselessness of the type of instruction engendered by it.
To-day all this has been changed. There is no such thing now as a compulsory annual examination in the three elementary subjects. It has been finally abolished by the central authority. The duty of the inspectors is no longer to examine the children, but to investigate the methods of teaching, the qualifications of the teachers, and so forth. They are, it is true, empowered to examine children when they think it advisable to do so; but they are directed to use this power sparingly, and in exceptional cases.
The Department at Whitehall does not, unfortunately, exist for the purpose of abolishing education systems. It has been called into existence for the sole purpose of distributing grants of public money in aid of elementary education and for the support of training-colleges for teachers. The exercise of this function has necessitated the framing of a code of regulations to be observed by schools wishing to qualify themselves for the grant. This code is revised each year, and has undergone some remarkable changes of late. There is a distinct tendency to make it as elastic as possible, with the obvious aim of encouraging variety in the schools and in the methods of teaching.
For an example of this tendency one need only compare the present conditions attaching to the payment of the principal grant to infant schools with those that were in force a few years ago. The higher grant was formerly given if the scholars were taught under a certificated teacher, or under a teacher not less than eighteen years of age, approved by the inspector, and in a room properly constructed and furnished for the instruction of infants. There was also a proviso that the infants should be taught 'suitably to their age.' The new code contains the following regulation:
'A principal grant of 17s. or 16s. is made to infant schools and classes. The Board shall decide which, if either, of these grants shall be paid after considering the report and recommendation of the inspector upon each of the following four points: (a) The suitability of the instruction to the circumstances of the children and the neighbourhood; (b) the thoroughness and intelligence with which the instruction is given; (c) the sufficiency and suitability of the staff; (d) the discipline and organization.'
Working in this spirit, the Board of Education is able to mitigate some of the evils of a State system. But it cannot attack them at the roots without initiating a complete revolution. Out and out reforms of this kind are only politically practicable when they are demanded by the irresistible voice of a strong public opinion. The public are misled as to the true issues by the intrigues of political parties. The conflict is narrowed down by party politicians, who have particular interests to serve, to a mere squabble about school boards, voluntary schools, local authorities, and religious instruction.
The consequence is that these side issues have come to be regarded as the great education question of the day. It is not easy to stir up any deep feeling about the comparative merits of the two classes of elementary schools. Most people do not care a jot whether their children go to one or the other. It is not the masses who agitate about denominational or secular teaching, but those limited classes who have some direct interest in matters affecting religion.
But who would not cast aside their lethargy, if they were made to understand that the question to be decided is not whether this or that type of school should be supported, but whether the present system of education should be entirely discarded in favour of an altogether new plan? that behind all these petty controversies lie great issues, affecting the fundamental principles of education, which must be pushed to the front unless the degeneration of the race—an inevitable result of the present educational method—is to be continued indefinitely?
Let people consider for a moment what is effected by the present system. The child, as we have seen, is taken by the State at an early age and subjected, for the most part, to a careful drilling in the three elementary subjects. There is no harm in knowing how to read and write; it is a very necessary accomplishment. A little arithmetic is also indispensable to the fulfilment of many of the commonest duties of everyday life. But, apart from the iniquity of cramming or forcing the brain in a particular direction, it must be recollected that by imposing certain subjects upon the undeveloped mind of a child, others are necessarily excluded. The process therefore, when rigidly carried out, has very serious and far-reaching effects. It prevents the development of the mind in any direction but that which is being enforced.
The harm done to the individual child by this means is incalculable. On the very threshold of the development of its faculties according to natural instincts this development is violently arrested by an artificial operation. Nor does the evil end here. This interference with Nature is carried on throughout the whole school career of the child, and the tradition flourishes in a modified form in the colleges and universities. It is, in fact, the vital principle of modern education.
These schools in which the children of the people are taught are nothing more than factories for turning out a uniformly-patterned article. They do not succeed in their object of conferring what is called an education upon their pupils, but they contrive to drive out all original ideas without implanting any useful knowledge in their place. The general result of this wholesale manufacture of dummies will be dealt with directly. The intention here is merely to point out that the practical working of the machinery of State education is to check the natural development of the mind, and to unfit those whom it has victimized, not only for one, but for all occupations that demand manual dexterity or practical intelligence.
THE GREATEST MISERY OF THE GREATEST NUMBER
It is now time to consider the effect of this system of compulsory education upon the masses of the people. In the first two chapters an attempt was made to sketch some of the anomalies brought about by the educational methods of our public schools and universities, and by the pernicious system of public competitive examinations. We will now turn our attention exclusively to the masses, and endeavour to see what national instruction does for them.
The common people labour under the delusion that children who have passed the standards of an elementary school are educated. They have been fitted, according to the popular belief, for a superior station in life. The first ambition of parents is, therefore, for their child to obtain a post suitable to its supposed scholarship.
Of course, the truth is, as we all know, that the product of the public elementary school is utterly useless, and generally wanting in intelligence. But these facts are only discovered by the victims themselves after years of bitter experience. Totally unfitted for any station in life, many of them leave school full of self-confidence in the belief that their superior education will secure them a good opening. Despising all manual labour, they seek situations as clerks, shop-assistants, and such-like. The result is, of course, an over-supply of candidates for employment of this kind. In consequence, the girls have to fall back upon domestic service; while the boys swell the ranks of unskilled labourers and unemployed loafers, or, worse still, betake themselves to a life of dishonesty.
Nowhere are the evil effects of this education system more strikingly illustrated than in the country districts. The children of agricultural labourers and small farmers are given instruction which will be of no earthly use to them in the occupation for which they are naturally fitted. Instead of being prepared for country pursuits, they are given an inferior type of all-round education which is equally useless everywhere. When they leave school they can read, write, add, subtract, divide, and multiply—after a fashion; they can mispronounce a few French words, without being able to construct a single grammatical sentence or understand a syllable that is said to them; they know enough shorthand to write down simple words at one half the speed of ordinary handwriting; and they have acquired by rote a few dry facts from history and geography, all of which will be totally obliterated from their memories within a space of twelve months.
Shorthand is not a very promising preparation for the plough; and French and mathematics are equally valueless accomplishments for the carting of manure. Dairymaids need neither history nor geography; they can even do without grammar. Consequently these unhappy school-children have been rendered useless for all the practical purposes of the life they ought to lead. The result is inevitable. There is a constant, never-ceasing exodus from the country into the towns. The rural school victims are incited to look for employment in an altogether different sphere from that for which nature originally intended them.
Philosophers and politicians crack their heads over this mysterious problem of town immigration; but it is really a very simple affair. We are pretending to educate the rural population by conferring upon them the blessings of French and shorthand. The natural consequence of our excellent foresight in spreading this type of culture throughout the land is that there is a scarcely remarkable dearth of rural labour. Farm hands are not quite as plentiful as they used to be, and there is some difficulty in getting damsels to churn butter. But, on the other hand, we are driving this mob of cultured yokels into the towns to crowd out local labour, to starve, and to fill the gaols and workhouses.
London has at the present moment mainly to thank this process of 'education' for the overcrowding problem which is becoming every day more dangerous and pressing. It is useless to talk of pulling down slums and building up model blocks, or of inventing fresh means of communication to convey artisans to suburban dwellings, whilst the real cause of the evil is left untouched. Young men and women will continue to pour in from the country districts as long as a smattering of geography and arithmetic flatters them into the delusion that they are educated, and that knowledge of the useless kind that has been drummed into them is the high-road to fortune.
It is, however, of little use to urge overcrowding as a ground for reforming educational methods. Few people are stirred by what to them is a purely abstract question. They see nothing to indicate its existence, and they know nothing of its evils. They seldom walk down the dreary avenues of bricks and mortar which contain the houses of the working classes; and if they do, they scarcely realize the fact that inside the humble, dingy little dwellings whole families are crowded into single rooms, share each other's beds, and are even thankful to find sleeping accommodation upon the floor.
But everybody appreciates and understands the servant question. That touches the comfort of the individual too nearly to be ignored. The rapid extinction of good servants, the insolence and inefficiency of the average domestic—these are facts of everyday life that will come home to the suffering upper and middle classes. It is not because they are educated that domestic servants have deteriorated, however, but on account of the profound state of ignorance in which their elementary schooling has left them, leading them to the misapprehension that, from the standpoint of culture, they are as good as anybody and certainly above their menial position.
Servants have as little need of French verbs and hieroglyphics as the ploughboy or the dairymaid. There are many useful things that might be learnt by a person who wished to be trained for domestic service; but it is rare enough to find a cook that, amongst other items of a liberal education, has been given cooking lessons. In this respect education is like food: what is one man's meat is another man's poison. We do not wish to teach book-keeping to a washerwoman, or fancy ironing to a private secretary. Then, why stuff artisans, domestic servants, and farm labourers with common denominators and the rules of syntax? It may be highly satisfactory to schoolteachers to succeed in making their class read aloud passages from Shakespeare and Milton without dropping more than fifty per cent. of the aspirates, or mispronouncing more than half a dozen multi-syllabic words. But, unfortunately, there is no demand for parlourmaids who can quote 'Hamlet' amid the intervals of waiting at table, or for page-boys capable of spouting 'Paradise Lost' for the intellectual improvement of the servants' hall.
Perhaps these instances show as well as anything the grotesque absurdity of collecting a number of children together, and attempting to teach them things that they are not fitted to do, whilst no effort is made to cultivate in each individual the faculties that are really capable of development. It is not in the least surprising that occupations involving manual labour are for the most part filled with dissatisfied and incompetent grumblers, who have been obligingly provided by a State system of education.
But if any further illustration be needed of the superficiality and harmfulness of the education forced upon the masses, we have it glaringly enough in the cheap literature of to-day. This stupendous mass of bosh could not have been produced unless there were a demand for it. Some people are never tired of abusing the millionaires who have made their fortunes by providing the illiterate nonsense that forms the intellectual food of the vast majority of the public. It is wholly unjustifiable and illogical to blame them. They are not founders of new schools of thought in the field of literature; they are men of business, and do not pretend to be anything worse. As such, it is their vocation to find out what the public want, and to supply it to them. They have no interest in making the million take their literature after it has been passed through a mincer. They chop up news and hash grammar at half price because the patrons of cheap papers and periodicals like their literature served up in that fashion.
It is not the millionaire trader who is to blame for this state of affairs—he merely profits by its existence. The real culprit is the education system, which is the universal provider of the peculiar type of culture that interests itself in the number of beef sandwiches that would be required to encircle the earth, or the rate at which the population of the world would have to increase within a given time to enable its inhabitants, by mounting upon each other's heads, to reach the moon.
The enormous demand for this class of literature is the most pregnant evidence of the miserable effects of misapplied education and defective instruction that could well be brought forward. But it is by no means confined to the uncultured masses who have been driven through the standards of an elementary school. Thousands who have been put through the paces of what is called 'higher education' may be seen in railway-carriages, at health resorts, or in the public libraries, deeply immersed in cheap-jack reading-matter that no self-respecting person of moderate intelligence would care even to be capable of specifying.
This painful sight, which cannot have escaped the notice of the least observant, must surely lead the reflective man or woman to doubt the value of educational methods that have led to no better result. It is monstrous to think of years spent in grinding out syntax rules, mathematics, Latin, French, geography, science, history, composition, and a dozen other branches of knowledge, in order to develop a taste for sensational rags, middle-class magazines, and inferior fiction.
If the process were coupled with no worse consequences than this, nobody of the least pretension to culture would wish to see it continued another day. But we have seen that the mischief goes far beyond mere superficiality and bad taste. It carries its pernicious influence into every social problem by which modern statesmen are perplexed and harassed. From the housing question to the dearth of servants we feel its baneful effects. And as if it were not enough to have unfitted the masses of the people for the occupations best suited to the great bulk of them, to have instilled into the minds of working-men's children, by means of illiterate Shakespeare recitations and burlesque efforts to grasp geography, a contempt for the skilled labour of the artisan—this education process has brought about a general deterioration in the manners of the lower classes that has long been a subject of general complaint.
Nobody wishes to see the common people in a constant attitude of servility towards the classes above them. To thinking people nothing is more painful than to observe such signs of a want of proper self-respect and independence on the part of freeborn men and women of whatever standing in the social scale. But it is a significant fact that educating the masses, in the sense in which that term seems to be generally employed, has had the effect of eradicating from them all respect for education. The educated man of real attainments is not looked up to in the smallest degree by the average individual of the lower orders. It would be useless to quote, in support of a statement made in the presence of unexceptional members of the working classes, the opinion of any recognised authority. For the matter of that, there are many persons of a higher rank who are supposed to have enjoyed the benefits of a more liberal type of education than that afforded by the elementary school, who are equally unimpressed by the value of expert knowledge.
Whether it is that State-educated youths think that their accomplishments have made them the equals of everybody else, or whether the inanity of the system to which they have been subjected has given them a contempt for learning, it would be difficult to determine. Probably both misconceptions are evenly distributed amongst the victims of the process. But the fact that this should be the case at all speaks eloquently for the crass ignorance which results from the confounding, on the part of so-called educationists, of mere fact-cramming and subject-compulsion with the proper development of the human faculties.
THE OUTPUT OF PRIGS
Having considered the evils produced by sham education, such as is compulsorily given to the masses of the people, we can proceed to examine into the average results effected by more genuine and efficient systems of cramming and instruction. It is not in the least degree necessary, for this purpose, to go into minute comparisons of the various types of secondary schools and colleges that have been established in this country. In the actual method of teaching there is little to choose between them. All have practically a common aim, namely, the preparation of boys and young men for examinations.
Of course, all boys who go to school are not destined for professions that necessitate the passing of an examination, competitive or otherwise. But that does not disturb the school authorities a jot, or involve the slightest relaxation of the school system. The boys are crammed just the same. Whoever wishes to pass through the mill must go in like a pig at one end and come out as a sausage at the other. There is no middle course except the private tutor; and he, owing to the defects of his own early training and to the terrific Conservatism peculiar to his profession, probably knows no better process than the familiar routine of cram and idea-suppression.
The whole of school life is a scramble for marks. The school managers and masters are interested in getting the boys stuffed with facts, dates, figures, and inflections, because the prestige of the school—and consequently its commercial success—is mainly dependent upon the creditable placing of pupils in public examinations. Therefore the boys are encouraged, or rather compelled, to occupy themselves with what will best conduce to secure this object, regardless of their own wishes or obvious inclinations.
A boy might enter a grammar-school, or one of the great public schools, teeming to his finger-tips with an inborn thirst for scientific knowledge; he might spend all his spare moments making crude experiments with an air-pump, or gazing at planets through a cheap astronomical telescope; he might fail dismally to grasp the rudiments of the Latin grammar, and be incapable of conjugating an irregular verb; but his nose would be kept down to the grindstone of the school curriculum all the same, and not the smallest attention paid to his obvious bent of mind.
He had been placed there, the authorities would say, to receive a general education, and a general education he should have. If during the process all the scientific enthusiasm is ground out of him, that is not the business of the schoolmaster. The boy, for the ordinary purposes of instruction, is an empty bottle into which a certain prescription is to be poured. The prescription has been made up beforehand, and cannot be altered. The school undertakes to administer a draught, but it refuses to bother about diagnosing each case. There is only one method of treatment, and every patient who enters the establishment has to be submitted to it.
There have been, of course, enlightened pedagogues. The names of Arnold and Thring will always stand out prominently in the history of English school life, and it will be a bad day indeed for the youth in our public schools when their traditional influence shall have been entirely obliterated. They grafted upon the established methods of teaching a liberal and broad-minded effort to bring out what was best in each pupil by other influences. 'It is no wisdom,' Dr. Arnold declared, 'to make boys prodigies of information; but it is our wisdom and our duty to cultivate their faculties each in its season, first the memory and imagination, and then the judgment; to furnish them with the means, and to excite the desire of improving themselves, and to wait with confidence God's blessing on the result.'
Edward Thring wrote the following remarks in his diary:
'Education is not bookworm work, but the giving the subtle power of observation, the faculty of seeing, the eye and mind to catch hidden truths and new creative genius. If the cursed rule-mongering and technical terms could be banished to limbo, something might be done. Three parts of teaching and learning in England is the hiding common sense and disguising ignorance under phrases.'
No stranger anomaly can be conceived than that presented by the constant effort of these two eminent headmasters to undo the evils of a universal system of education. It is not often that people strive to set their house in order after this fashion, and all honour is due to them for the courageous endeavour. The mistake they made was in tinkering with a system inherently bad and useless, instead of taking the bold step of abolishing it altogether and beginning afresh on new and sound principles.
The energies of schoolmasters of the type of Thring and Arnold are, in fact, concentrated mainly upon a constant struggle to prevent the ordinary process of school instruction from producing prigs. Stupid boys are generally rendered more stupid by teaching, for reasons that will be analyzed later on. But boys whose brains are amenable to academic training are liable, unless the environment of the school is peculiarly unfavourable to the development of the species, to become priggish.
It is the purely academic training that produces the prig. Football, cricket, and other athletic sports are not favourable to his growth; and he receives equally little encouragement from his companions. The important point about him is that he is not a natural product at all, but the outcome of an artificial drilling of the mind. In a word, he is the embodiment of the education system, uncorrected by fortuitous influences and conditions. Everybody knows that gracefulness is not acquired by means of stilted lessons in deportment, but that it consists of natural muscular movement untrammelled by self-consciousness or artifice. The same law of nature applies to the working of the brain. Stuffing a boy's head with so much knowledge is not developing his mind, and the result must necessarily be as artificial as the process. The mind becomes incapable of thinking individually and naturally; it becomes pedantic and circumscribed, powerless to give simple expression to simple thoughts; and the prig is made.
It requires a great deal of kicking and hustling on the part of the victim's schoolfellows to arrest this process, and the cure is generally only effected outwardly. Priggishness cannot be eradicated from the system in a moment, even by the most heroic measures. Its excision involves a slow mental process, the converse of that which served to call it into existence. The prig has to divest himself of the false mental outlook imposed upon him by his education, and to begin all over again. It is a hard lesson which can only be learnt in the school of life, generally after humiliating experience and bitter suffering. Many never succeed in learning it. There must be some material to work upon, and probably their individuality, weak at the commencement and therefore doubly in need of tender treatment and fostering care, has been hopelessly crushed out of existence by the conventional training of school and university.
Under present conditions prigs can and do grow up everywhere. In some educational institutions—notably in great public schools like Eton and Harrow—they are more discouraged than in others; but the cramming system has reached such proportions that all schools and colleges are affected in a greater or less degree. They infect our public life, as we have seen; largely recruit our public service; and are in evidence in the pulpit, at the schoolmaster's desk, on public platforms, in the lecture-room of the university, and wherever the services of educated men are employed.
The ideals of men like Arnold and Thring cannot be carried out as long as the examination system puts a premium upon cramming. 'I call that the best theme,' said Dr. Arnold, alluding to original composition, 'which shows that the boy has read and thought for himself; that the next best, which shows that he has read several books, and digested what he has read; and that the worst, which shows that he has followed but one book, and followed that without reflection.'
There is no time nowadays for a boy to read and think for himself. Besides the examinations inside his own school for which he has to be prepared, there are scholarships, university examinations, competitive examinations for the civil service, and a host of other possibilities of the kind, all of which necessitate the acquisition of an enormous number of useless facts in every branch of learning.
Too much attention is concentrated on the admirable physical product of the athletic side of our public school and university life. This advantage of the English system of education has been dwelt upon to such an extent, that people are apt to overlook the fact that, side by side with these fine specimens of healthy and for the most part unintellectual manhood, we are manufacturing a purely academic article of the least inspired and most retrogressive description.
If somebody, wishing to make you acquainted with a friend, says to you: 'I want you to meet So-and-so; he was at Eton and Trinity Hall, and came out tenth in the mathematical tripos,' you know exactly the kind of man to whom you are going to be introduced. He will have a very proper contempt for made-up ties, and will refuse to fasten the bottom button of his waistcoat. You know beforehand the precise point of view that he will take upon every conceivable topic, and the channels in which his conversation is certain to flow.
His entire mental horizon will be bounded by academic conventionalities in such a cast-iron fashion that it would, you are well aware, waste your time to attempt to extend its boundaries by the fraction of an inch. If you say anything yourself out of the beaten track, you know that you will be looked down upon as a fool or a faddist. The Eton stamp will be upon his dress and manners; the Cambridge brand seared into every crevice of his mind. There will be an individuality about him, but it will be an individuality shared in common with hundreds of young men of the same educational antecedents.
That is the fault of the system. It takes away, or fails to evoke, the distinguishing traits of each individual, and substitutes a kind of manufactured personality according to the particular institution, or type of institution, in which the educational metamorphosis has taken place. 'A mob of boys,' said the man who raised Uppingham from complete obscurity to the front rank of public schools, 'cannot be educated.' It is, nevertheless, the process that is going on all over the civilized world. Reform does not lie alone in making instruction itself more effective. As long as the principle is retained of forcing certain facts and certain subjects into the mind of every boy, the country will continue to breed conventionality, to produce a uniform type of useless mediocrity, and to make prigs.
This is, unfortunately, exactly what the average educationist aims at. There is no disguise about the belief that conventional ideas, and the manufacture of what is called average ability, are the sheet-anchor of the State. And this type of fossilized Conservatism seems to grow in proportion to the number of schools and colleges in the country.
Lower-middle-class young men, of no intellectual predisposition at all, are being turned out on all sides crammed with the narrowest type of educational tradition. Prigs are produced wholesale; the worst and most odious branch of the family being the semi-illiterate prig—the man who gets drummed out of decent regimental messes, the man who wants to go on the stage and declaim Shakespeare through his nose, the man who vulgarizes the public service by dropping his h's in the great Government departments, and others too numerous to be specified.
Everything is vulgar that pretends to be what it is not. Priggishness is an artificial mental condition that is far more common than people generally suspect. We are most of us prigs, if we only knew it. The man who is unable to get rid of conventions and to think for himself is a prig. England is peopled with them. We meet them at every turn; we see them driving the country to the dogs by sheer inability to grasp its needs;—and we send our sons to the schools and universities to be manufactured after the same pattern.
If some boys thrive, according to ordinary school standards, on the cramming system, what becomes of those to whose nature the process is entirely antagonistic?
The question is best answered by a glance at the schools themselves. Take one of the great public schools, and it will be found that much the same conditions are prevalent in every class or form. There is a small percentage of boys at the top of each class who are considered the most intelligent, and by whom most of the questions asked by the master are answered. The remaining majority are divided into two sections, one of which consists of what are termed boys of average ability, whilst the other contains the lazy element, the refractory boys, and the dullards.
In the last chapter we chiefly discussed those individuals who may be taken as representing the average of the best results achieved by higher schools and universities. These form, however, only a fraction of the scholars who pass through such institutions. It still remains for us to discover the role which is played by the other four-fifths in school-life. According to scholastic methods of classification, the bulk of this residue are boys of medium intelligence who plod on without specially distinguishing themselves, and contrive, by dint of industry and application, to blunder through the ordinary course of study without coming to grief.
It would be difficult to conjure up a more melancholy picture than that presented by these plodders, whose work is rendered trebly hard by being performed against the grain. They suffer more under the system than the dull, the lazy, and the fractious, who escape its worst evils, either because some active power of resistance comes to their rescue, or because the mind itself is so formed as to be incapable of receiving instruction imparted on the cramming principle.
But the average mediocrity amongst schoolboys are often inferior in ability both to those who rank above and below them in school attainment. They neither profit by the teaching process, nor do they possess those qualities that would enable them to resist its consequences. Thus they fall between two stools, being carried out of their natural sphere, and at the same time failing to attain such a measure of artificial success as would afford them compensation for the injury.
Success in life is not an easy thing to generalize about. It is, however, important to note as far as possible the results brought about by school education. The boy who is trained to pass examinations has a respectable chance of getting into some branch of the public service; and, as we have seen, it is from amongst his ranks that the permanent officials of the various departments of Government are recruited. A great number of those who distinguish themselves academically also pass into the teaching profession; though a considerable percentage of graduates, for reasons that will be discussed in due course, drift into the ranks of the unemployed.
The average schoolboy, who does his work mechanically and without enthusiasm, probably furnishes the greatest number of examples of the misplaced individual. His application to his studies is not natural; it is enforced by what is called school discipline. That is to say, the authorities devise every conceivable form of punishment to make a constant grind at obligatory subjects less disagreeable than the consequences of idleness. These are the simple arts by means of which unwilling boys are driven, like cattle, along the highway of what is termed, by an inaccurate application of the English language, knowledge.
Anybody who has been coerced, and poenaed, and flogged through the curriculum of a public school will acknowledge that the performance is not an exhilarating one for the victim. It is preposterous to dignify this nigger-driving by the term 'education.' One might as well talk of the Chinese eagerly embracing Christianity, when, as a matter of fact, the missionaries have been forced upon them, like their foreign trade, at the point of the bayonet.
The wonder is that anybody survives the process and retains his sanity. That many nervous temperaments and highly-gifted minds do not survive it is a point of so much importance that it will be dealt with later on in a separate chapter. What needs emphasizing here is that to make boys do certain things under compulsion is not developing their faculties, but is absolutely preventing their development; and secondly, that this infamous but universal proceeding is responsible for a positive degeneration amongst those whom it is supposed to educate and improve.
Dr. Arnold held that a low standard of schoolboy morality was inevitable. 'With regard to reforms at Rugby,' he wrote to a friend, 'give me credit, I must beg of you, for a most sincere desire to make it a place of Christian education. At the same time, my object will be, if possible, to form Christian men, for Christian boys I can scarcely hope to make; I mean that, from the natural imperfect state of boyhood, they are not susceptible of Christian principles in their full development upon their practice, and I suspect that a low standard of morals in many respects must be tolerated amongst them, as it was on a larger scale in what I consider the boyhood of the human race.'
In a letter to another friend he spoke still more strongly on the subject. 'Since I began this letter,' he wrote, 'I have had some of the troubles of school-keeping; and one of those specimens of the evil of boy nature which makes me always unwilling to undergo the responsibility of advising any man to send his son to a public school. There has been a system of persecution carried on by the bad against the good, and then, when complaint was made to me, there came fresh persecution on that very account, and divers instances of boys joining in it out of pure cowardice, both physical and moral, when, if left to themselves, they would rather have shunned it. And the exceedingly small number of boys who can be relied on for active and steady good on these occasions, and the way in which the decent and respectable of ordinary life (Carlyle's "Shams") are sure on these occasions to swim with the stream and take part with the evil, makes me strongly feel exemplified what the Scriptures say about the strait gate and the wide one—a view of human nature which, when looking on human life in its full dress of decencies and civilizations, we are apt, I imagine, to find it hard to realize. But here, in the nakedness of boy nature, one is quite able to understand how there could not be found so many as even ten righteous in a whole city.'
This sweeping statement has been quoted because it comes with double force from an undisputed authority such as the late Dr. Arnold. Everybody who has had experience of school-life knows that the average boy spends a great deal of his time in cheating the masters, lying to the authorities, and playing every sort and kind of mischievous or disreputable prank that comes into his head. But it is better to have this fact testified to by a man who has been in a position to observe large numbers of boys over a very extended period. The accusation of exaggeration or hasty generalization cannot then be well sustained.
Where, however, I venture to differ with Dr. Arnold is in the assumption that this low standard of morality must be ascribed to boy nature alone. Undoubtedly this is the case in part. But there is a far more potent cause than natural instinct. It is to be found in the system of education which not only fails to develop and encourage the boy's individual tastes or faculties, but actually forces upon him occupations that are, for the most part, absolutely foreign to his nature. This is the real key to the vagaries of boyhood, and without such an explanation one must hold, with the great headmaster of Rugby, that boy nature is inherently bad.
Boys, like other rational beings, must have their interests and amusements. If the legitimate and normal ones are prohibited, solace will be sought in those which are illegitimate and abnormal. By failing to encourage the faculties that nature intended a particular boy to develop, a vacuum is created. This vacuum must be filled up, and it is no earthly use trying to fill it up, against the grain, with mathematical problems or the irregular inflections of Latin verbs. The average boy is as little capable of taking an absorbing interest in these exhilarating features of the school curriculum as would be the average Hottentot.
Every healthy boy stores up energy. It should be the first object of the schoolmaster—if such a being ought to have any existence at all—to see that this energy is not allowed to waste. Natural forces of this kind do not, it must be recollected, evaporate. There they are, and the laws of nature have decreed that they shall be constantly expended and renewed. If this or that boy's store of energy is not turned into one channel, it will expend itself through another. If the schoolmaster were to take the trouble to find out the particular bent of a pupil, and were then to proceed to foster and educate it, all the energy of the boy would be used in this useful and congenial work. But this can never be the case until the present methods of instruction have been revolutionized.
The discipline upon which schools pride themselves so much is an altogether false and pernicious discipline. The only liberty which is vouchsafed to schoolboys is outside of their work. No doubt it is an excellent thing that boys should be free to choose the manner in which they make use of their leisure hours. There would be a great uproar amongst parents if their sons were forbidden to join in the games they wished to play, and compelled to play those for which they had no taste. It would be considered monstrous to remove a boy who was a capital bowler from the cricket-field, and make him go in for fives or racquets; or, to use an Eton illustration, to take a 'wet bob' who was a promising oarsman and might row in the school eight at Henley, and turn him into the playing-fields to become an inferior 'dry bob.'