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WORKING MEN IN THEIR PUBLIC RELATIONS.
THE WORKING MAN'S EDUCATION.
OF the many means that have been tried or suggested with a
view to aid in effecting that very desirable thing, the social and moral
elevation of the working- classes, education is admittedly the most important,
and has been the most productive of beneficial results. In all civilized
communities a wholly uneducated man is an imperfect member of society, however
great may be his natural abilities and the self-evident corollary is, that to
give "the masses" such degree of education as the circumstances of
their position will admit of their receiving, and as is best adapted to their
mode of life, is a first and important step towards not only their intellectual,
hut also their social elevation. To cultivate the mind of a man, who with his
family is condemned to live in some den inferior in every essential of health
and comfort to the sty of a prize hog, and compared with which a prison cell
would be a desirable residence, and who would regard prison fare as riotous
living, may seem to be beginning the task of elevating him at the wrong place,
or even to be doing [-2-] him a positive injury. But practically such is not the
case, for though the cultivation of the mental faculties gives rise to a keener
and more painful consciousness of physical degradation, that consciousness is
essentially of the nature of an ardent desire for better things, and the
creation of such a desire is an important step towards its own fulfilment. For
while outside help, the help of those above the masses, the help of wise
legislation and private benevolence, must aid in any elevation of " the
lower orders," it is to their having a thorough and comprehensive sense of
their own position in society, abstractly and relatively, to their having an
earnest desire for a better state of things, and being capable of self-help,
that these orders must chiefly look for any general or permanent amelioration of
their condition. And taking it for granted that education is to be the chief
instrument in qualifying the working classes to achieve their own social
elevation, the questions naturally arise, - Are the working-classes, as a body,
as well educated as they might be, and as their circumstances would fairly admit
of their being? and has the enormous expenditure of money and labour, which for
years past has been bestowed upon the education of these classes, been
productive of proportionately great results? And to these questions the reply of
any person having a practical knowledge of the working-classes, and of the state
of education among them, would be in the negative. It is true that a large
proportion of the working-classes can now read and write, and, thanks to cheap
educational literature, there are not a few men among them who are, even in a
scholarly sense, well educated; but the ignorance, and the want of anything like
real or beneficial education, that still prevails among them as a class, and
which is seen most markedly in those who [-3-] have received all the benefits of
the educational machinery at present applied to their benefit, is unpleasantly
astonishing, and would, I fear, scarcely be credited by the admirers of
"the intelligent artisan."
As this last-named individual is supposed to be the best representative of the education and general intelligence of the working-classes, it would be doing both the working-classes and those who take an interest in their welfare a service if some admirer would favour the world with a plain definition of what an intelligent artisan really is. The phrase "intelligent artisan," like many other well-sounding stock phrases, is somewhat vague, and may mean a variety of things, and have different meanings to different people. The mere fact of being an artisan of course implies a certain degree of natural intelligence, and, in many instances, a certain degree of education also; and used in this broad sense, "intelligent artisan" and "artisan" are of course synonymous terms. Again, if by an intelligent artisan is meant a working mechanic having considerable natural shrewdness of character, and capable of holding his own in the battle of life, the class will still be found pretty numerous, as it will also should an intelligent artisan be taken to mean a working man who, without having any definite idea of their meaning, can talk about "the rights" or "dignity" "of labour," "the tyranny of capital," electoral rights, universal suffrage, and other kindred topics. But if by an intelligent artisan is meant a working mechanic who has acquired a tolerably sound education, who is moderately well read in the popular and standard literature of the age, capable of forming opinions for himself upon those topics of the day that more particularly affect the well-being of his own order, and of expressing those opinions in plain and [-4-] proper language - if you mean a man whose reason must be convinced, or at any rate appealed to, as well as his passions roused, before he will consent to any plan of action pointed out to him by others - if by an intelligent artisan is meant (as many people suppose) a man having such qualifications as these, then intelligent artisans are much scarcer than many persons seem to suppose them to be. They do exist. I have the pleasure of being acquainted with many of them; and, indeed, they may be said to be a numerous body, but, considered in relation to that vast aggregation known as the working classes, they must be regarded as exceptional beings: the exceptions that prove the rule, that the working-classes, as a body, are not as well educated as they might and (taking into account the vastness of the resources that have been brought to bear upon the task of promoting education among them) ought to be, or as, from the manner in which they have been belauded by admirers more ardent than judicious or well-informed, large numbers of those belonging to other sections of society believe them to be. They must be regarded as so exceptional as to make the somewhat prevalent idea, that intelligent artisans are a large and well-defined section of the working- classes, an utterly erroneous and misleading one.
I have no wish to speak disparagingly or unkindly of the working classes. Very far from it. I am myself a working man, "native and to the manner born." All my relations, friends, and companions belong to the working classes; my life has been spent among them; my best sympathies are with them; and if I appear to speak to their disadvantage in trying to show them as they are rather than as I would wish them to be, or as many of their well- wishers in the higher ranks of society suppose them [-5-] to be, it is in no unbrotherly or recreant spirit that I do so; but rather in the belief that I shall be doing them a greater service by showing to those who are willing to befriend or anxious to understand them, or even to some of themselves who may not have given the subject any serious consideration, where they are weak, and in what matters and in what manner assistance would be valuable to them, than by adding another layer of tinsel to any of the philanthropically or oratorically highly-gilt and embellished pictures of "the working man," which represent him as having virtues and advantages which he really does not possess; and which pictures too often cause those who believe in their truthfulness to feel disappointed or disgusted with him for not coming up to the pictorial standard. Working men as a body have many virtues: they are honest, industrious, and provident, and none but themselves can know with what fortitude they face the hardships incidental to their sphere of life, or how kind they are to each other in the hour of need: and they have a fair share of natural intelligence. But in the sense in which intelligence implies a certain degree of general knowledge and refinement of manners, the working-classes generally are not intelligent. As this want of educational intelligence cannot be attributed to any lack of easily-accessible educational appliances, the promoters or advocates of the systems on which these appliances are based, or by which they are regulated, are naturally prepared with statistics and statements showing to their own satisfaction that the working-classes, the classes for whose special benefit most of the pet educational schemes and institutions of the day have been founded, are, in an educational as well as a natural sense, intelligent. But while believing in the general utility of statistics, I think they should be [-6-] received with reservation when they are brought forward by the supporters of a theory or system, to demonstrate the success of their system ; and at any rate it is admissible in such cases to put the facts sought to be proved to the test, on the principle involved in the text- "By their fruits ye shall know them."
I suppose that it will not be disputed that the workshops of the manufacturing districts, the districts in which artisans are most largely employed, are the best places in which to look for the ripest and best developed specimens of educational fruit among the working-classes; and if such is the case, then the small quantity and unsatisfactory quality of that kind of fruit to be found in workshops, must inevitably convince the inquirer that the system of which they are the best productions must be an unsound one. If the working-classes were, in the educational sense of the term, intelligent, would eight men out of ten in a large workshop habitually use blackguard and blasphemous language in their ordinary conversation, and a still larger percentage of them be unable to express themselves emphatically upon any subject without resorting to the same kind of language, as is the case at present? Would the majority of the jokes and jests current in the workshop, and in many of which there is real wit, be so inextricably mingled with, and dependent for their point upon, indecencies and blasphemies, as to be unfit for repetition? Or would there still be in the workshop an almost entire absence-not of substantial kindness, for that is a marked and general characteristic of working communities-but of those little courtesies and civilities which, while costing nothing, enhance the value even of kindness, and are, in fact, in themselves a sort of kindness, softening the dis-[-7-]agreeableness of disagreeable things, and making pleasant things still more pleasant; and the non-practising of which upon the part of the working-classes, offers a prominent and ready means of unfavourably contrasting their character with that of other classes of society? If the working-classes had in their degree benefited as much as under a wiser dispensation they might have done, in those boasts of our age, "the march of intellect," and "the spread of education," would there still be large bodies of highly-paid artisans notorious for their addiction to drunkenness and to brutal and brutalizing sports, and for an ignorance-except in what pertains to their trade-probably as dense as that which characterized their ancestors in the days when "wild in woods the noble savage ran." And, above all, were they as well educated as the circumstances of their position would admit of their being, would the great bulk of the working-classes still be " led by the nose as asses are," by a number of writers and spouters, who trade upon their weaknesses and passions, and live and thrive by the misery which it is their selfish business to create among the classes whose greatest benefactors they claim to be? Would educated working men be blindly led to their own destruction by frothy professional agitators, whose only qualifications for the office which they assume of "guide, philosopher, and friend" of the working-classes, are a knowledge of the weaknesses and a belief in the gullibility of those classes, a fixed resolution never to do any hard work, an utter want of principle, an unbounded stock of impudence and power of coarse flattery, and the capability of talking an infinite deal of rubbish about the "bloated aristocracy," the "tyranny of capital," and so forth?
What arrant nonsense in the present day is this - [-8-] among the working-classes - yet unexploded bloated- aristocrat doctrine. What do the present generation of working men, or the individuals whom to their sorrow they allow to be their counsellors, know about aristocracy, bloated or otherwise, that justifies them in regarding the aristocracy and aristocratic institutions as being necessarily and specially antagonistic to their interests? Taking that disgrace to humanity, George IV., as the great original bloated aristocrat, the man who in theatrical parlance created the character, there will still probably be found aristocrats as bloated as the spirit of the age will permit them to be. There are doubtless silly and vicious aristocrats, dukes who are duffers, scamping marquises, knavish earls, blackleg baronets, dishonest right honourables, officers who have far greater claims to be considered rogues or blackguards than gentlemen, and younger sons as shameless and impudent spungers as any of the landless, moneyless, long-titled German serenities, who are supposed to fatten upon the loaves and fishes of English "place" or pension. But if among the aristocracy there are, as in other grades of society, bad and worthless members of the body, there are also good and useful ones. In no great national or philanthropical movement for the benefit of the people have some greater or lesser portion of the aristocracy failed to take a worthy part. In the last memorable instance, in which a large section of working men, from no fault of their own, stood in need of the substantial sympathies of all other classes - the cotton famine - did the aristocracy as a body show a less kindly or liberal feeling than others? The subscription lists to the Lancashire distress fund show that they did not. In those lists many of the noblest names in the land will be found credited with amounts as noble as the [-9-] names of their donors; and far larger-making every allowance for their relative wealth-than the subscriptions of the wealthy traders and manufacturers whose colossal fortunes had been made directly out of the labours of the men who stood in need of assistance. And the newspapers of the time prove that their sympathy was not limited to giving individual subscriptions, for they were among the warmest advocates of the cause of the distressed operatives, and materially assisted in securing for them the practical aid which their case required. So far as the working-classes have any real knowledge of the aristocracy, they have no cause to regard them with hatred; and I believe that, as a rule, working men would be treated with more courtesy, consideration, and equality by the aristocracy than by the moneyocracy, the holders of the bulk of the trading and manufacturing capital of the country,-the capital that is, as the professional agitators put it, "wrung out of the sweat and blood" of the "ground-down" labouring.-classes. And though, as an abstract principle, any system which supports a large number of unproductive consumers must necessarily be an unsound one, yet, practically speaking, it is one which, it must be evident to all, save visionaries who believe in the possibility of a system of universal brotherhood, must exist in some shape in all civilized communities; and the English aristocracy, as it at present exists, is perhaps the least offensive form of it. An English nobleman is usually wealthy enough to support his nobility without directly preying upon "the people," and gentlemanly enough to be civil to all men; and he is amenable to the law, and to that perhaps still more dreaded power, public opinion. And if there are noblemen deriving large incomes from landed property who house the labourers on their [-10-] estates in hovels less wholesome and comfortable than piggeries, are there not manufacturers employing large numbers of "hands in unhealthy and laborious occupations, and paying them wages that forces them to live in those filthy overcrowded dens that abound in the poor neighbourhoods of large towns, and in which the poorer orders of the working-classes linger out their miserable and unhealthy existence? - men who neither know how or where their hands live, nor care whether they live at all. In short, as I said before, the working-classes have no special grievance against the aristocracy, yet such is the state of intelligence among them (the working men), that a majority of them give credence to the clap-trap talk of agitators, who represent the aristocracy as though they were still ruthless barons, robbing and killing the people at their own sweet will, and roasting Jews or drawing their teeth whenever they could lay hands on them.
Again, what is the meaning of "the tyranny of capital" of which the professional agitator talks so much? To ninety working men out of a hundred the phrase conveys no definite meaning, while the remaining ten would probably give as many different definitions of it. If it means anything it is, that whatever philanthropic theorists may say about the true interests of capital and labour being identical, those interests are really antagonistic, and that whenever the capitalists are masters of the situation, they make the most of their opportunities for putting the screw on labour. And upon this principle the capitalists might as well talk of a tyranny of labour, as labour is not slow to return the compliment by putting the screw on capital when it has a chance; the great difference in the respective positions of capital and labour in this respect being, that capital being a thing that [-11-] enables a man to bide his time, and capitalists understanding the relations between capital and labour better than the working-classes, capital is much oftener master of the situation than labour. Though were working men sufficiently well-informed and intelligent to rid themselves of the spouting knaves who prey upon and bring disgrace upon them by using their name, and to trust to their own sense and powers of observation for understanding the true relations between capital and labour, those relations would soon be better equalized, and more satisfactory than they are at present.
The whole tone of workshop life is a practical protest against the belief that working men of the present day are in point of educational intelligence equal to the age they live in. There are still large numbers of them unable to read or write, while many of those who can read and write only do so in a merely mechanical sense: it would be putting it mildly to say that fifty per cent, of them are unable to write a decently readable letter, and that eighty per cent, of them have no knowledge at all of the literature of the country. Many of them who can read, but whose reading is confined to the police intelligence of their weekly newspapers or the leading tales of their halfpenny or penny serials, are ignorant of the meaning of many of the common words in the language, and of the point or source of the most hackneyed of the quotations that are daily coming under the notice of "the general reader." They have no knowledge beyond the vaguest hearsay of the history of their country or its great men, or of those topics of the day a proper understanding of which would conduce to the welfare of themselves and the class to which they belong. A working man who is moderately well read, [-12-] who is capable of expressing himself in proper and appropriate language, of writing a well-phrased letter, or drawing up an address or the heading of a subscription-list in suitable terms, is a rarity in a workshop, and is regarded and honoured as such by his fellow-workmen, who speak of him as a great "scholard," refer to him to decide disputes upon general matters, ask him to write for them, or tell them how to write their most particular letters, put their grievances into addresses or petitions, act as secretary to their meetings and associations, and be their spokesman when occasion shall require. Yet such a working man as this ought not to be the comparative rarity that he is, and is only an average specimen of what the bulk of working men might be.
Unsatisfactory, however, as is the state of education among artisans, it is still more deplorable among the lower-paid orders of the working-classes, many of whom are totally uneducated-never having as children enjoyed those opportunities of gaining that little education of which artisans have generally had the advantage, or else they were sent to work at such an early age as to make them speedily forget any little rudimentary education they may have previously received. Artisans are sometimes the sons of men slightly higher in the social scale than themselves, and as a rule they are the sons of artisans or the better kinds of unskilled workmen - of men who have a far-off sense of education, and who, setting a high value on it, determine to give them the best instruction in their power, and - the smallness of their incomes considered - spend large sums of money in carrying out their determination. They send their boys to school at an early age, keep them at it till they are fourteen - when of course they must leave to be "bound pren-[-13-]tice"- and then send them into the workshop fine scholars, according to workshop ideas of fine scholarship. That is to say, the boys will be able to read and write, work the great horseshoe-and-nails sum, repeat whole chapters of the Bible "off book," and tell the names of the great personages and places of scripture history; will be able to give a list of the sovereigns of England from the time of the Conquest, with the names and dates of the principal battles that took place during their reigns; give the names of the highest mountain and longest river in the world; tell the distance of the sun from the earth; and even speak a little of what they are pleased to call Latin and French. But boys on leaving school soon forget the fine things that they "knew by heart," or could "say off book," and on becoming men the majority of these fine scholars will be found to be ill-informed members of society, with little legitimate claim to be considered intelligent in any save the primary and natural Sense of the term.
It will naturally be asked, How comes it, then, that educational and general literature being so cheap and abundant, educational facilities so wide-spread and easy of access, and artisans endowed with a considerable share of natural intelligence, they should, as a class, be ignorant and ill-informed? The answer to this question is, in my opinion, that the system of education applied to the working-classes is a thoroughly unsound one. The great fault of it is that it attempts too much-attempts to make scholars of children, instead of merely trying to pave the way to their becoming intelligent men, that it is a sort of Jack-of-all-trades-and-master-of-none system, touching in a dry and elementary manner upon a great many branches of education, without going far enough into any one of [-14-] them to make it sufficiently interesting to the pupils to make them pursue it for the sake of the pleasure it gives after they have left school; and one that sacrifices the cultivation of the higher faculties to the development of a mechanical and comparatively useless power of memory.
Take the case of a well-to-do mechanic's son. Having been taught to read in a woman's school, or a national infant school, he is at seven or eight years of age removed probably to one of those schools known as British schools; in which the general body of pupils pay from fourpence to sixpence a week each, and an "upper class" a shilling a week each in consideration of learning "extras." On the day on which he is to enter his new school, the hope of the Joneses, attired in the cloth suit which up to the previous day has done duty as his "Sunday clothes," and with hands and face as clean as water and soap can make them, and hair carefully oiled and brushed, is taken to the school by his mother, it being necessary that one of his parents should have an interview with the master. On coming into the master's presence, Mrs. J. makes her best curtsey, and explains that she wishes her boy to be enrolled as a pupil in that school; whereupon the schoolmaster having taken a look at Master Jones, and blandly asked him whether he is a good boy, proceeds to take down his name and age and the address of his parents. He next asks whether he has been to school before, and if so, where; and then tests his powers by putting him to read a few sentences aloud; after which he assigns him a class. The boy being thus disposed of, the master addresses himself to the mother, telling her in the first place that they are very strict as to the personal cleanliness and regular attendance of their pupils, and she having expressed [-15-] her approval in these matters, he goes on to inform her that "our course" consists of reading, writing, arithmetic, grammar, geography, including the use of the globes, the Scriptures, astronomy, composition, history, elocution, singing, and elementary science; in addition to which, French, Latin, and geometry are taught in the upper class, for admission into which, however, Master Jones will not be qualified for some time to come. Mrs. Jones listens to the recital of this numerous and high-sounding list of studies respectfully but appalled - wondering why the master should enter into all these details with her; but she is speedily enlightened upon this point by his going on to say that they find some of the books, but that her son will also require a number of books which they do not find, but with which he will be happy to supply her at the same price as the booksellers. Mrs. J. of course takes and pays for the books, which are duly handed over to her son, who may then be considered fairly established in his new school. And now let us look at the plan of education followed in the school. The hours of attendance are from nine in the morning till four in the afternoon, with an hour and a half for dinner, and half an hour-a quarter of an hour morning and afternoon-for play; besides which each pupil has "night lessons," the preparation of which will take from one to two hours, according to the length of the lessons and powers of memory of the learner. The pupils are divided into from seven to ten classes, irrespective of the upper class; and taking it that our illustrative school has ten classes, we will suppose that our new pupil is placed in the fifth. This class will he "taken" by pupils from the first class, or the younger "pupil-teachers," boys destined for the teaching profession, but who as yet are mere schoolboys, [-16-] whose inaccessibility to the corrupting influence of marbles cannot be relied upon, and many of whom, it is well known in schoolboy circles, are given to secretly eating the toffee that has been taken from pupils who have been detected devoting greater attention to it than their lessons; and who openly make favourites of some pupils, and take "picks" at others. One of these boys will in the morning "take" the night lessons and sums, this operation consisting in examining the sums, and seeing that a certain percentage of them have the right answers, and listening to the repetition of the lessons, passing those who are tolerably perfect in them, and making those who are very imperfect or totally ignorant "stand on the line," in order that the master may deal with them. After the taking of the night lessons, come (say) the scripture lesson, which consists in the reading-each boy in the class taking a verse in his turn-of one or more chapters in the Bible, and the asking of a number of questions by the teacher to test the memory of the boys concerning what they have been reading. When this has been gone through, it will be time to go into the playground. On assembling in school again, the whole of the pupils are formed into one large class for a singing lesson, at the end of which they break up into their ordinary classes for their writing lessons, which last till dinner-time.
After dinner, the time up to the hour for going into the playground will be occupied by grammar and geography lessons, which in the fifth class will be taught, the former by the pupils' repeating in a monotonous sing-song tone after the teacher, "There are nine parts of speech - article, noun, adjective, pronoun, &c.; and the latter, by their repeating in the same tone and manner, that the Earth is divided into [-17-] two hemispheres and four continents; that an island is a piece of land entirely surrounded by water, and a peninsula a piece of land almost surrounded by water. On returning from the playground, the remainder of the afternoon will be taken up by the reading lessons, consisting, in the fifth class, of "moral lessons in words of two syllables," and the setting of the night lessons, which last will, in the case of our young friend, be confined at this time to the working of half-a-dozen sums, and the learning by heart of a table of weights and measures, and a column of "spellings." But even with this limitation in the matter of the night lessons, Master Jones's scholastic task will be a tolerably heavy one for an eight-year-old boy, fond of play, and having to go to bed at eight o'clock in the evening. This, however, is only the beginning of his educational sorrows. We will suppose that he is a moderately good and intelligent boy, that he does not get "put on the line" with unusual frequency, that he never gets sent home for having dirty shoes or face, that he does not occasionally spend his school wages, play truant for a week, and bring a forged note of excuse for his absence; that when he gets a caning he grins, or howls, and bears it, and does not go home crying, and bring his mother with him on the following morning to indignantly state in the face of the assembled pupils, "which her boy is as good a boy as ever breathed, and she ain't a-going to have him beat black and blue to please any nasty puppy of a teacher;" - we will suppose all this, and that he gradually rises from class to class, and takes prizes at the half-yearly examinations, until, at twelve years of age, he reaches the first class, and the full force of the cramming system is brought to bear upon his devoted head. His night sums will now be in the higher rules of [-18-] arithmetic, which he finds exceedingly difficult, from his having been forced through the earlier rules without being taught the principles of their application; and the lessons will embrace half-a-dozen different subjects besides. These and his day lessons tax his powers of memory to an unnatural extent, while leaving his other faculties dormant. But still the system enables him to shine at the heavily-crammed and oft-rehearsed half-yearly examinations, to take prizes at them, and to cover himself and his master with glory in the presence of the parents of the pupils and others who attend such examinations. Having so distinguished himself, it is considered advisable by his proud and gratified parents either to remove him to a "finishing school" (generally a "genteel academy" at from one to two guineas per quarter), or place him in the upper class of the school he is already attending; this latter being the plan most usually adopted. In consequence of this proceeding, lessons in mathematics and a couple of languages are added to the boy's already cruel mode of educational misery. He will now have little or no time for play; his memory will be strained to a stupefying degree; he will begin to sincerely hate school and all pertaining thereto, and urge his parents to send him to work; and when he is sent to work his sense of relief at being freed from the thraldom of lessons will give an additional zest to the general feeling of joy and importance which all boys feel on first going to work.
Nor is it at all surprising that such a system as I have attempted briefly to describe should produce a hatred rather than a desire for education in the minds of those who suffer under it. In the first place it attempts too much. A moment's consideration must make it evident that boys of from twelve to fourteen [-19-] years of age, and of only ordinary strength of mind, cannot simultaneously study ten or twelve subjects - several of which really are, and all of which as they are taught to them appear to be, wholly distinct - with any reasonable probability of attaining a useful proficiency in them all; while the distraction of mind consequent upon this multiplicity of studies makes it very improbable that they will learn any of them well. The mode of teaching practised under this system, and indeed necessitated in order to secure its apparent success, is also utterly objectionable. Its chief aim is to produce prize pupils and organize showy public examinations, rather than to lay the foundations of a good education. By this mode only the barest and driest outlines of each subject are taught no attempt is made to interest the pupil in his studies by teaching him the broad principles or general applications of the various branches of knowledge which those studies embrace, or to amalgamate or generalize such of the studies as admit of it. Under this system of teaching, proficiency is sought to be attained by cramming the pupils to bursting-point with definitions, dates, and figures, all of which, though of the utmost importance as parts of the subjects to which they pertain, and essential to the thorough understanding of them, are wholly uninteresting and practically useless to students having no further knowledge of those subjects. Let any person look, for instance, at the class-books from which history and geography - the two most interesting branches of an ordinary English education - are taught in those schools more particularly devoted to the education of the children of working men, and they will find that the best of them are little better than chronological tables recording the dates of the births and deaths of sovereigns, and the names and dates of [-20-] famous battles and sieges, and catalogues of the principal countries, rivers, and mountains of the earth. These books are a good illustration of the striving-to-do-too-much feature which disfigures the system to which they belong, for they profess to give a detailed history, or geographical description of the world, in a small volume of about a hundred and twenty pages. That a knowledge of the physical sciences and the ancient and modern languages is a highly desirable thing there can be no doubt, but the circumstances of working men do not admit of their boys being taught these branches of education, and the attempt to teach them during the last year or two at school is a mere waste of time. The smattering he gets (and that is the utmost he can hope to gain) is not sufficient to induce him to continue the study after he has left school, and the smattering itself is speedily forgotten.
Speaking from experience, I have no hesitation in saying that considering that the children of the working-classes must under the most favourable circumstances leave school at fourteen years of age, and many of them much earlier; it is a mistake to attempt to extend their school studies beyond the plain foundations of reading, writing, and arithmetic. But these, and more especially the first of them, might be taught in so comprehensive a manner as to embrace a useful general knowledge of a variety of subjects. Working men cannot be made scholars, but by reading they may gain knowledge, and to create and direct a taste for reading should be the chief aim of their education. Under a system having this object in view, the education of the working-classes would be continued after they left school; for literature of all kinds is so abundant and easy of access that no youth or man who has a taste for reading experiences much difficulty in gratifying it.
[-21-] The merely mechanical power of reading must be taught in some more or less mechanical manner; but as soon as the pupil is able to read sentences intelligibly the work of interesting him in his studies might be commenced. Let there be a "first reader" consisting of short fables and tales selected - and if necessary altered - from AEsop and the fairy histories. Let the next "reader" consist of stories of travels and voyages, in connexion with which the study of geography might be incorporated, by the teacher pointing out on the globe and map the various places referred to in the readings, showing in what position a ship would be whose latitude and longitude are given, and explaining other geographical points that would necessarily arise. Indeed, in the hands of a judicious and well-informed teacher such a series of readings would supply texts not only for the teaching of geography, but also of some of the most interesting features in astronomy and navigation. These might be followed by an "historical reader" and " scientific reader" for the higher classes; the former consisting of selections-with short explanatory head notes-from the works of Gibbon, Robertson, Macaulay, Froude, Strickland, and other celebrated historians, and the latter of dialogues, in the style of Joyce's "Scientific Dialogues," and allegories illustrating in an interesting manner the principles of science.* [-* Of the thousands of reading lessons which I had during a five years' pupilage in a large school which is still famous as a working-class school, only two left anything like a lasting impression upon my mind, or were regarded with feelings of real interest, and not as mere task-work. The first was a tale called "The Three Giants," in which, under the guise of a pleasant story, the powers of air, water, and steam were explained and exemplified; though it was only in after years, when I had acquired a practical knowledge of the nature and operation of these natural forces, that I discovered [-22-] what a really valuable lesson in physical science "The Three Giants" contained. But had the teacher under whom I read the tale pointed the moral of it- a s under a more rational system of education he would have done - he might have taught me more science in a few hours than I learned in the course of two years in the "finishing school" to which I was sent to complete my education, and in which "the sciences " were among the too-numerous. to-be-mentioned subjects taught - or rather supposed to be taught. The second of these long-remembered reading lessons was a story of Irish peasant life, called, if I remember rightly, " The Foster Parents," in which one Mickey Flood was a prominent and favourite character. Both stories were contained in a "class-book" issued by an Irish educational society; and I can still remember the thrill of joy which ran through the class, and the smile which lit up the countenance of every pupil, whenever it was announced that either of these had been selected in preference to the "moral" and other dry lessons which usually formed our reading exercises.
A copy of Joyce's "Scientific Dialogues" was the prize that fell to my lot at one of the half-yearly examinations at the working-class school of which I am speaking, and I remember that I read it during the holidays that followed the examination with as much pleasure as I did "Nick of the Woods," which I read during the same holidays ; and I established quite an enviable reputation as a conjuror, by performing some of the simple experiments explained in the book before a number of my schoolmates whom my parents had invited to take tea at our house. The book made an equally favourable impression upon several of my school friends to whom I lent it - and one of whom, of course, failed to return it ; and there can be no doubt that such a book would be a valuable class-book, and, aided by such experiments as might be easily and inexpensively conducted in a school-room, would do much to popularize science.-]
And these might be supple-[-22-]mented by a "general reader" made up of selections from the works of the most eminent British poets, essayists, and novelists. I leave it to be taken for granted that a knowledge of the Scriptures would form part of this or any other system of English education, but a much higher knowledge of them would be conveyed to the pupil if, instead of setting him to learn chapters of the Bible by way of punishment, or cramming him with the genealogies of the Patriarchs and Apostles just previous to examinations, he was shown [-23-] the geographical positions of the various countries mentioned in Holy Writ, and told the changes they have undergone, and their present social position among the nations of the earth; and had pointed out to him the glorious poetry and wisdom of such parts as the Psalms, the Proverbs, and Christ's Parables and Sermon on the Mount, and the applicability of many of the lessons contained in them to the affairs of everyday life at the present time.
That some such educational system as this, administered by competent teachers - teachers qualified to do something more than stolidly listen to their pupils repeating the lessons they have "learned off book," and count the number of mistakes they make-would be more beneficial to, and better suited to the circumstances of the working-classes than the high-pressure system at present applied to them, no person having a real knowledge of those classes can for a moment doubt. It is true that scholars would not be produced under it, nor would the pupils be perfected in any single branch of education, but they would gain a considerable amount of general knowledge, and gain it in a manner that would create a desire for further knowledge, in the shape of a taste for reading; and thus induce them to continue what would be practically their education, after they had left school, instead of regarding it as completed when they walk out of the school-house for the last time. Such a system as this might be still further developed, by having attached to each national or other large school attended by the children of the working-classes, a library, consisting of such works as "The Pilgrim's Progress," " Robinson Crusoe," a selection of Scott's, Cooper's, and Marryat's novels, books of voyages and travels, works upon natural history, interesting biographies, historical works, [-24-] popular books of science, and any works of general interest that might be considered likely to attract and instruct youthful readers. The privilege of borrowing these books could be granted as a reward for diligence in their studies to the boys of the first and second classes, and the condition of each borrower writing out some sort of an epitome or criticism of each work lent to him might be attached to the privilege; and thus, by making it an incentive to application and a means of exercising pupils in composition, the library would be fairly converted into an educational engine, and be quite consonant with the system of which it would form a valuable part. The cause of education among the working classes might also be materially assisted, if in large towns a number of memberships, varying in length from one to five years, of local mechanics' institutions or literary institutions were given as prizes at school examinations. This form of prize need only be given to boys in their last year at school; and, under a rational system of competitive examinations, they would fall to the cleverest boys, who would thus be in a position to immediately follow up the work of education commenced at school.
It may be urged against any system of this kind that it would produce a desire for light reading rather than solid education; but then, what is generally understood by a solid education cannot, under any system, be completed between seven and fourteen years of age; and among the working-classes it is only those who have a strong natural liking for some particular branch of learning, or men of more than ordinary strength of mind who have resolved to rise in the world, and are determined to educate themselves as an essential means to that end, who will devote their leisure time to direct study, or who could do so profitably. [-25-] And as it seems to be a law of nature that boys who do read will read fiction, it would be much better to turn them out of school eager to run riot among the Waverleys, and ready to smuggle candles to bed in order to finish the enthralling adventures of Hawkeye or Mr. Midshipman Easy, than to send them forth hating all books together, and with minds so uncultivated in all save the rudimentary technicalities of a cut-and-dried education that when a reaction sets in - if it ever does set in - they first become readers of that pernicious thieves' literature which the legislature, in its wisdom, still allows to be sown broadcast throughout the land; and finally settle down as "constant readers" of The Weekly Denouncer agitation newspaper, and The Three Farthings Miscellany sensation serial. Besides, this universal inclination of boys for works of fiction, which such a system of education as I have been speaking of would merely guide, becomes, like the Juvenile taste for tarts and toffee, moderated as the boys advance in life, and in the meantime it paves the way to more general or solid reading. Whatever disciples of the Gradgrind school may think or say, there can be little doubt that one of the working-classes who has gone through the Waverleys and the Cooper, Marryat, and Mayne Reid series of novels during the first two or three years after leaving school, read the works of Dickens and Bulwer at a later period, and learnt to appreciate Thackeray by the time he reaches manhood, has had a good preparation for profitably reading and reflecting upon those graver subjects which affect the constitution and well-being of society. The reading of good fiction almost necessarily gives rise to a large amount of incidental reading. Few persons can read Scott's novels without being led to read historical works relating to the same periods as the novels; and [-26-] the allusions to, and quotations from, standard works, contained in modern novels, often lead to the reading of those works; while the delineation of character, powers of description and satire, and other valuable literary qualities that characterize the higher works of fiction, enable the reader of such works to appreciate those qualities when he meets with them in the current literature of the day. And it should be borne in mind that as a working man's actual experience of society is almost exclusively confined to his own class, it is principally to reading that he must trust for gaining a knowledge of other classes of society and the relative position of his own class: and were it for this reason alone, the importance of developing a sound taste for reading among the working classes must be apparent.
These remarks upon the state of education and intelligence among the working-classes apply chiefly to the artisan section of them, the section of them on whom the highest efforts of the system under which the working-classes are at present educated are expended, and the want of general intelligence among whom is one of the most conclusive proofs that the system is an unsound one. But while its defects must be held to account for a great deal of the want of general intelligence amongst working-men, there are other causes that materially contribute towards it. Many of the children of the working-classes, children of very poor, very ignorant, or drunken parents, are never sent to any kind of school; while others who are sent to school have to leave it at such an early age to go to work, that any little glimmer of education they may have received during their brief period of schooling is almost entirely forgotten long before they attain manhood; and of course among the working-classes, as [-27-] in other ranks in life, there are some men so stupid or debased that no kind or amount of instruction would ever make them intelligent. That there is an abundance of natural shrewdness, and what is generally called rough common sense, among the working- classes, there can be no doubt; and all who have any considerable personal acquaintance with them are aware that there are numbers of well-informed, really intelligent men among them; but these are so few in number compared with the general body, that they are totally inadequate to the leavening of the mass, and in any question affecting the relations between their own and other classes of society, their influence is utterly swamped by that of the many-headed multitude who acknowledge the sway of the professional agitators. No system of education could produce a state of society in which all men would be intelligent; but, under a system specially designed to suit the circumstances of their position and develope the natural powers of mind which they undoubtedly possess, a large majority of them might be made really intelligent members of society, and a decided tone of educated intelligence given to the whole body. That a system capable of producing such highly desirable results could be constructed and successfully carried out by educated, liberal-minded men having a practical knowledge of the working-classes, there can be no reasonable doubt. And though the working details of any such system could only be decided upon by actual practice, and would have to be varied with varying circumstances, I think the general principles of it should be such as I have indicated.
The vast national and private means furnished for promoting education amongst us have undoubtedly been productive of good. But it is certain that they [-28-] have not effected anything like the amount of good that they might have done. The general result of the present state of things is to place a large number of working men in a position to affirm-as I heard a mechanic doing the other day when asking a shop-mate to write a letter - that they were very good scholars once, only they have forgot all their education; and to send forth a number of boys capable of' performing a number of surprising but for practical purposes useless feats in educational gymnastics. There are means in plenty; what is wanted is that those who are interested in promoting the welfare of the working-classes should try to bring about the substitution of another and a better plan of using them.
[-nb. grey numbers in brackets indicate page number, (ie. where new page begins), ed.-]