The Education Question

An article which articulates Primitive Methodist objections to the 1902 Education Act, which led to a Passive Resistance Movement

Transcription of an address by Rev. W.C. Haddow delivered Brinkworth and Swindon District Public Meeting

The spirit, if not the matter, of this controversy has its root deep in the past history of the nation. It may be said to date from 1662, when 2,000 clergymen left the National Church that they might preserve the Church of Christ in the nation. They did not conform to the acts of tyranny that became law that year, because their consciences enforced on them obedience to Christ as the Head of His Church.

The history of Elementary Education goes back to the beginning of last century. In the year 1798 Joseph Lancaster founded a school in London. His object was to provide schools and supply teachers for Elementary Education. With regard to religion he wrote: “The grand basis of Christianity is broad enough for the whole of mankind to stand upon.” His schools were so successful that in 1808 his efforts led to the foundation of the “British and Foreign School Society.”

Lancaster’s success brought Andrew Bill on the scene, who sought to establish schools for the teaching of religion and the industrial arts. His first school began in 1811. The cry which the Church raised of ‘Religion in danger” secured many supporters tor Bill’s Schools, and in 1817 the “National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Church of England ” was instituted. It was in the Voluntary Schools of these two societies that in the period preceding 1870 the bulk of the children of the poor were taught who received any education at all.

We must acknowledge the great service done by the Church of England to the cause of Elementary Education. But it must also be remembered that the struggle which the National Society waged with the British Society was not so much a competition in the interests of education as a struggle for its control.

In 1834 the State began to make building grants to Voluntary Schools, with the result that the Church of England schools alone received over a million and a half in 40 years.

Here we see what divides the nation into two classes on this question. The clergy stand for a denominational system of Education. This means that a priestly, proselytising atmosphere, with a Romanising tendency, is introduced. Here is the atmosphere at Dorchester, four miles from Wal., eight miles from Ox. :—
“There will be only two smells in the next world, incense in heaven and sulphur in hell. Of course we all want to go to heaven, and so a part of our education for heaven is getting accustomed to the use of incense here on earth. Those who cut themselves off from the bishop of their diocese by leaving the priest of the parish and by going after some other kind of minister who is not authorised and sent by the bishop are schismatics, and are living in sin; these schismatics are usually called dissenters, chief of whom are the Presbyterians, Wesleyans, Baptists, Boothites, &c.” — (Copied from the “ Liberator,” March, 1903.)

That is pretty teaching to rate the people to pay for!

When the Act of 1870 was passed, and Education became national, the spirit of conflict it aroused was quite as violent as the present agitation.

The Government at that time was Liberal. Liberals, as is well known, are free men, with opinions and convictions of their own, by which they are guided in their action, whereas the Government that passed into law the Bill of 1902 was Conservative, and opposed to the principles of freedom. Therefore in 1870 three main lines of compromise were agreed upon:-

(a) No rates were to be levied except for the support of schools controlled by directly-elected representatives of the ratepayers.

(b) No denominational religious teaching was allowed in rate-aided schools. This part of the compromise is kept in the letter and violated in the spirit where there was a clerical majority on a School Board.

(c) All Elementary Schools were to be maintained half out of local sources and half out of money provided by the State in the shape of a Government grant.

It is well known that the School Boards adhered faithfully and honourably to the letter and spirit of the compromise. But it is also well known that the party in the nation who are the only men who claim to be solely and exclusively Christian ministers, and who, to make good that claim, should show themselves the most honest and upright and straightforward, have utterly violated the third part of the compromise (“that their schools were to be maintained half from local sources”) by removing the principle of statutatory equality. The present Government brought in an Education Bill in 1896, and another Bill in 1901, which had to be withdrawn. Sir John Gorst did not know how to go backward, so Mr. Balfour took the matter in hand. But the Government had no mandate from the country to deal with this question. It was elected on quite another issue.

Yet Mr. Balfour said, in the House of Commons on July 21st, 1902, “that to concede popular control and management of denominational schools would be to betray those who sent us to this House.” What does he mean? I find the “Church Committee for Church Defence and Church Instruction” issued petitions urging the government to consider the position of Voluntary Schools and to include Elementary Education in a comprehensive measure to be brought before Parliament. This petition was signed by 10,000 local Church Defence Societies. Is this the people’s mandate? Is the Church of England the English nation? Have we gone back so far that an English Government must do the bidding of the Episcopal Church? Is this 1903? or is it 1645? – and Charles I., with Archbishop Laud to direct his policy? Are the English people willing to be guided and governed in this most important matter of Education by a Church which, after all, is only a section of the Church of Christ in this nation? The men who have this matter in hand are well trained in the methods of the Jesuit. Silently they work; by subtle processes they work their dark and hidden ways; and honest, honourable, straightforward men know not what they are doing until it is done.

What a pitiable sight is this! A Church which for 360 years has called herself a National Church, unwilling to trust the people – that in theory at least – are called the members of the Church. Is this an Education Act, or is it an Act to further endow the Church of England and place the religious teaching of all English children in the hands of the clergy? Time will show. Free Churchmen have won the degree of liberty they possess by doing two things:

(a) On the one hand, they disobeyed the law and braved its penalties.

(b) On the other, they ceaselessly agitated for the repeal of oppressive and tyrannical laws; disability after disability disappeared from the statute-book until we were fast coming to believe that every Englishman would be a free man in the exercise of his religious and citizen rights.

The Education Act has opened our eyes. We see clearly that ecclesiastical narrowness and tyranny are the same to-day as always and everywhere; in Jerusalem, where Christ was crucified; in France, where Bartholomew’s day was enacted; in England, where Richard Baxter and John Bunyan were imprisoned for conscience sake; and in 1902-3, when, at the bidding of ecclesiastics, we free-born Englishmen are deprived of our citizen rights.

Now; I. We consider this Education Act a serious step backward in Elementary Education. It, in large measure, takes Education out of the people’s hands and gives it into the hands of the clergy. It is a great mistake to imagine that religion is increased by ecclesiastical domination. The most corrupt period in our nation’s history was when ecclesiasticism was most dominant, viz., in the reign of Charles II. It may, therefore, follow that to legislate in the interests of religion will have irreligious results. Free Churchmen believe that religion is a moral force, and can only be accepted voluntarily through the inworking of the Holy Spirit. To make religious tests a condition of holding civil office is to beget a nation of hypocrites and make-believes.

II. It is well known that the introduction of the Bill was so distasteful to members on the Conservative side that, had it not been for the reign of party discipline, it would have been cast out. One part of the legislator’s duty is to regard the citizen’s right. Mr. Balfour did not do that. He threw the whole of his influence into the scale of the denominationalists against the nation.

III. The Bill itself violates the principles of the English Constitution. The House of Commons stands on the principle of honest representation and free election. But this Act violates the principle of free election. Where the school is provided by the County Council or Urban Council they appoint four managers and the local authority two. Where the school is not provided by the County Council, the management shall be in the hands of four foundation managers, one manager appointed by the County Council, and one by the local authority. Here there is no such thing as free election and direct representation.

IV. It is further a constitutional principle that he who pays the piper shall call the tune. This Act denies that privilege and right to the English citizen. It binds “the managers to carry out any directions of the local authority as to secular instruction,” but it witholds from that authority the power to dismiss the teacher. It enjoins the local authority “to maintain and keep efficient all public elementary schools within their area which are necessary,” but never allows it to act as if the denominational schools were its own. While is bound to pay rent for the house of a teacher it did not appoint. Here, I repeat, are the Clergy Of a Church which has been a National Church for 360 years, with a rooted distrust of the people who are that Church.

V. How will the development of Denominaional education affect the progress of Education? We have had 32 years’ working of the two methods in this country. Which of the two systems has desired the progress of education? Which system has promoted educational progress? Is it not true that the citizens’ schools have developed the education of the country, and denominational schools have limped along after them as best they could?

A denominational school exists for denominational ends, which are narrow and sectarian. A national or citizen school exists for national ends, which are as wide as the nation. Therefore, if England is to keep place in the van of progress she must sink narrow and sectarian interests and encourage progressive and free principles. A truly national system of Education would stimulate education. A denominational system will depress and limit, hinder and cramp, educational progress.

VI. Further, we may compare the efficiency of the two systems as they affect the teachers. The State is bound, in its own interest to appoint the most efficient teacher to its schools. How does it work out when the schools are denominational? Suppose, e.g., a young man has taken the highest mathematical and classical honours in the university, and he is known to be an excellent teacher. He is employed as a master in a denominational school. Can he become head master? No. Why? It is not because he is not an efficient teacher; he may be the best teacher in the county, but he is a “Non-Con.” That is the fatal barrier. A man of the highest efficiency cannot be head-master in a school supported by the people’s rates because he is a dissenter. That is what English ecclesiastics and an obedient Government and Parliament have brought upon free English citizens. The best teacher cannot get the best place because he will not yield his freedom into the hands of the priests. The following will show the depressing and vicious effects of denominationalism. In England only 22 per cent. of the teachers in Voluntary schools have been trained in Training colleges, but in Board-schools 42 per cent., a proportion almost double; while in Scotland, where Board-schools are universal, the teachers trained in Training colleges are 80 per cent.

There is no need to further labour the point of proving that an efficient system of Elementary Education must be a national system, truly free and representative. The repeal, then, of this mis-named Education Act, the manifest intention of which is to perpetuate the vicious and inefficient system of priest-governed, schools, is our urgent duty.

VII. But some will object – Is there nothing good in this Act? Yes; there is something good in it, but it is vitiated and rendered almost useless by the evil intention that permeates the whole. What about secondary schools?” Is not that a real advance and gain in our Education system? Yes, because this Act, for the first time in the Educational legislation of this country, opens the way from the Elementary School to the University, a way which has been open and free in Scotland for more than 200 years. .

But then the same purpose could have been served in large measure by raising the standard in the Elementary School and securing the greater efficiency of the teaching staff.

Dr. Fairbairn tells us “that in a county in the north of Scotland which has not one secondary school, as the term is understood in England, in a town of 7,000 inhabitants there is a Board-school which in twenty years has sent up 82 boys as bursars or scholars to the University, and the social effect of the success is even more remarkable than the success itself, for the knowledge of it goes everywhere, permeates every family, elevates the lowliest, and makes the peasant feel akin to the most distinguished of the land.”

Mental power is not the endowment of one class, though the English educational system has treated it as if it were the monopoly of one class and of one church. We earnestly hope that the time has come when the English clergy, by their ambitious and overreaching policy, will be made to feel that they have roused a spirit in England which will not be quieted until we have a system of Education truly national, unhampered by religious and denominational tests, which will give the best positions in the best schools to the best men, where no English child will have to bear odium and insult and be called a little infidel because its parents refuse to let it learn a denominational catechism.

At present we have this Act to deal with. How shall we treat it?—
Since this Act violates the sacred realm of conscience, we, as Nonconformists, cannot and will not pay rates to teach doctrines we do not believe.

We, as English citizens, believing that the highest interests of the nation are involved in this issue, are resolved, at the earliest opportunity, to return to power those, who, convinced as we are of the rights of this great question, will deal with it in a comprehensive national spirit, and secure for the nation that on which its vitality in the future depends, a free, progressive, national, and efficient system of Elementary Education.


Christian Messenger 1903/247

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