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POSTSCRIPT IN 1862.
SIX years have gone over since the foregoing review of M.
all this, forsooth, in order to train young people to teach
reading, writing, and summing, or the “A, B, C,” of learning.
Without entering into statistical details concerning the results, beneficial or otherwise, of this vast, and I may add, unwieldy machinery, I must be permitted to observe that, the introduction of it into the social economy of this country tends to destroy one of the recognised features of English character, viz., the ability and disposition to manage our own affairs without being interfered with by Government. Many benevolent country residents assuredly feel the presence of official rule as unpleasant. Proprietors of land, who would naturally interest themselves in the schooling of their districts, find their suggestions overridden, and the superintending function wholly exercised by the Parson and the Government. The numerous candidates for places under the Committee of Education of the Privy Council, form a body of humble dependents, and the idea of pleasing the dominant authorities takes entire possession of their mind.
This state of things is a novelty amongst us, and I must add that its establishment is likely to weaken, if not to efface, the habit of local activity and spontaneous organization for purposes of useful expenditure. It has something of the effect of a poor law, in so far as it renders people in humble circumstances careless of the obligation contracted by the parental relation; disposing them to claim the aid of the State for the schooling of their offspring, in like manner as they claim, in right of the poor law, food and shelter, when unable or reluctant to procure these by their own industry.
It is beside my purpose to go into the arguments by which the necessity for bringing village or rural schooling under Government superintendence is generally sustained. Perhaps we have reached that stage in our social history, wherein the imperfect performance of the duties required of rural parishioners comes to be felt as a species of disgrace, and wherein the ideas of the community, as to the skilful employment of means to ends, have outrun ancient modes and habits. We may see daily instances of the impatience manifested by the English public, of the smallest shortcomings on the part of individuals entrusted with the management of any machi
nery bearing on the general convenience—post-office, railway companies, innkeeping, packet companies, telegraph workers —no matter what the inaccuracy or incompleteness, John Bull is become so exigent since he has grown so wealthy, that he will not endure the old dilatory methods of carrying on the business of administrative life by voluntary or quasi-voluntary agencies, When a nation has come to be pampered by extraordinary facilities of locomotion and intercommunication, and indeed by the adequate organization of most of the departments connected with material comfort, the few examples which remain of old systems strike us as intolerably clumsy, and inappropriate to the circumstances of the period. And, at this point of public sentiment, a lively conception of the comparative advantages of centralization lays hold of the imagination, and so gradually allows this principle to take root in our institutions. The spread of this principle in Great Britain I take to be fraught with injurious consequences to the national character; We are entering upon a changed state of things, wherein for the sake of escaping the tiresome obligations involved in citizenship, the indolent man accepts the direction of the Executive Government. Commissioners, lay and ecclesiastical, inspectors, and “Boards,” now control the action of a great portion of our domestic economy, whilst the ramifying fibres of the “Committee of the Privy Council,” appear to pervade the entire surface of society. Of course the feeling of a rich man is first to enjoy, and next to avoid trouble. And when this last desire reaches the amount now apparently present in the English mind, centralization offers an easy relief, and the surrender of individual shares in the conduct of the national concerns is made without compunction. Thus I have briefly sketched the course which a community follows when influenced by two puissant causes. 1. A condition of great wealth, raising as it does the standard of “performance” throughout the functional scale; and 2, this same wealth engendering an inordinate appetite for enjoyment, which is incompatible with the discharge of gratuitous, obscure, and laborious services to society, or “civic functions.” Centralization, in short, to my view, is a symptom of social decline in a free, active, and healthful community; but whether it be destined to enlarge its operations over the English people, or whether they will offer timely resistance to its progress, must chiefly depend upon the conduct of our political teachers in and out of Parliament. In comparison with an able “platform” speaker, even good writers exercise but a secondary influence. Ishall be told that the step taken by Government,in assuming the direction of the enormous expenditure voted for purposes of education, was prompted by the annually augmenting evil of its maladministration by the parochial and other resident managers. But I demur to the expenditure itself. It is out of all proportion with its objects. And I am persuaded that less than one half of the sum voted by Parliament out of the taxes, in aid of the teaching of poor children, would suffice to impart so much elementary education as the State ought to be called upon to assist in supplying to the working classes. However, these speculations have extended to a length which obliges me to conclude, after remarking that an undue portion of the wealth of this country seems to be, at the present time, employed in teaching the poor to rely on the rich for obtaining many things which they ought properly to aim at obtaining by their own labour and their own virtues.