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RECREATIVE EVENING SCHOOLS.
UNDER this title a work has lately been begun in London, which has as yet attracted little attention.
Before the public knew anything about it, a representative body of working men, the London Trades Council, had proposed it to the School Board of London, and the Board, almost without variation, adopted the proposals of the Council. Recreative evening schools had been tried in Nottingham, where Dr. Paton, the originator of the scheme, had influence enough to induce the local board to make the experiment, and they had been proved a success.
The scheme was not therefore a castle in the air-it was practical and workable, and adopted at once on this guarantee by the London Board. The thing was settled in principle before the general public had even heard of it. For my own part, when I first saw the circular of the London Trades Council appealing to us all to come and take their young people in hand, and by the means suggested help to complete their imperfect education and gather them in from the streets, I felt overwhelmed. It was too delightful to be readily believed. All our poor little efforts here and there by clubs and institutes had small and partial results ; they left such vast masses outside becoming more and more beyond control, and exercising a great force of attraction on those inside our little folds, that one struggled on against a disposition to despair. It was worse than our work being small, that it could not be thorough in the midst of such a world. The very sense of humour in the people was vitiated ; that which pleased and amused the youths set the nerves of the cultured on edge; vulgarity could go no further. Through such a deflection of taste it seemed hopeless to bring it back. People who thought to do it by a ballad concert or some nice penny readings here and there, no doubt had a reward in themselves; but they might as well try to sweeten the pestiferous concourse of the drains of London at Barking Reach by dropping into it a few rose-leaves. When, therefore, the leaders of the working men, who are apt, some of us fancy, to confine themselves too exclusively to dreams of a millennium politically achieved, and not to try enough what may be done for the people by the people without any Parliament-made laws, suddenly began thus to arouse themselves and to look at home, the world seemed to grow brighter. One had been longing and praying that parents would appear to care a little more what became of their big boys and big girls, and keep a tighter hand upon them and take an interest in bringing them up decently and giving them better education; but at the same time there had been no denying how much excuse was to be made under the existing conditions of London life. But suddenly, after years of working without help or een much apparent sympathy from parents, there arose this voice from the people themselves, demanding what we had longed for, and the antipbon of the London School Board.
The way was opened at once to a great and united movement, in which all men of good-will might and must join to bring back these lost tribes of uneducated children. For the fact confronts us that much of the thirteen millions spent annually on elementary education is barren of results of real value, owing to education coming to a dead stop for almost all children at the age of twelve or thirteen. At that age a child has just mastered the mechanical acquirement of the arts of reading, writing, and arithmetic; it has been entrusted with the keys of knowledge, but does not enter in ; it has arrived at the startingpoint of education, and there it stops—that is to say, education ends where it ought to begin. Thus, at a tremendous expenditure, over which we are always growling, we give the national progeny an education which we allow to be wasted and turned to no account. The enormity of the waste may be gathered from the fact that nearly half a million of children leave school every year and only about five per cent., it is calculated, pursue their education in any way from the point where it is dropped ; and of the two and a half millions who are between the age for leaving school and eighteen, but twenty-seven thousand attend evening schools in the course of the year-many out of this small number only for a short time. Of course we may be met by ignorant optimists with the comfortable assumption that there is much home education and self-education going on; but those who know will say that this is a vain confidence.
Since education became compulsory and the enforcement of school attendance a matter of police ; since the State stepped in between the parent and the child, and made the period of school attendance a sort of penal servitude, it is rarely that study is voluntarily continued or resumed when that period is terminated. An intense reaction sets in. The policeman's hand off its collar, the child naturally runs away ; the parent considers the duty of educating fulfilled. Then the labours of life begin ; and ten hours in a factory tax the child's physical powers to the utmost. There is no appetite for books when the crowd of fagged boys escapes from the long daily bondage, or the girls, cramped up at their work 80 many hours, get out into the streets.
Nor in London, where 84,000 leave school every year, have many of them homes in which, if they were ever so well-disposed, they
could sit down comfortably to study. It is not the exception for parents to be out with the door-keys in their pockets; and these poor children in vast numbers roam the streets, and, instead of continuing and improving their education, are quickly turning aside from all the good they have learned, and losing the grace of their schooldays. For the last four years evening classes have been opening in the Board Schools as they did long before in others; but what can be expected ?-only failure. This is illustrated by the total evening school attendance already stated. We might as well expect a released convict to return of his own accord to prison as for those weary children to go back to school. For the immense majority, education absolutely ceases when they leave school, and the slight impression is soon obliterated. Just at the time when they would acquire a taste for study-when it would cease to be a mechanical drudgery, when they would understand the value of instruction, the whole process ceases, and all that has gone before and for each child cost the country and its parents so much money, is rendered to a great degree, if not entirely, valueless.
True there is a literature specially provided for the vast amount of raw material annually flung out of our schools ready for manufacture. It is to enable the two million and a half of boys and girls in transition to be laid hold upon by this horrible scoundrel-making machinery that we have taught them to read. This kind of literature, of which I see a good deal, represents the world through a distorting medium of false sentiment, infamous hero-worship, vicious love; a world devoted to burglaries, highway robberies, murders, and other crimes of every depth of dye. Instead of teaching anything of sterling worth, this literature depraves and warps the ideas of youths, and makes them long for highly spiced criminal excitements. Surely this is a bad use for the treasure of the country to be applied to, providing a market for such garbage. Regarded simply from the lowest ratepayer's point of view, it is a frightful and intolerable waste of revenue.
Many of these children, doing children's work, when they grow up will be without trades. Instead of developing in them-in this middle term when they are practically working for others, not for themselves—aptitudes which would conduct them to well-being, if not to fortune, and create new elements of productive force, and of future prosperity to the country, we allow them to relapse into almost total ignorance. We do not bring them on far enough to take advantage of technical education, even if it were offered them free. With the immense advances of knowledge, there are processes in every industry for which much intelligence is needed to make a thorough workman. In all the subdivisions of trade a general insight is not acquired save by those who are educated enough to obtain it for themselves. Without it the individual is helpless and at the mercy of others; he knows only his own minute part of a puzzle which he cannot put together. Nor can he, without a knowledge of principles, improve on old methods.
So the farther invention and discovery go ahead, the farther the ignorant workman is left behind, and reduced to a state of impotency. His ignorance becomes intenser ignorance as light and knowledge increase. Some change of process which affects his minute subdivision throws him out of work and reduces him to pauperism. The industrial mechanism acquires an extreme delicacy when this is the case; it is disorganised and reduced to helplessness by the slightest change as it could not have been in primitive times, when each mechanic was master of a trade--not merely of a small portion of it. He could formerly, as he cannot now, adapt bimself to altered circumstances.
The material loss is great, but the political and moral loss im. measurable. These are the future electors who will exercise so much influence on the world's destiny. The constituents of an imperial race, they ought to be educated with a view to the power they will wield. Every Englishman ought to know something about the dependencies of England, as one of the heirs of such a splendid inheritance ; he should understand English interests, something about her commerce, her competitors, the productions and trade of other lands. He ought to know his country's historical as well as her geographical position. He cannot, with safety to the empire, be allowed to be so ignorant as to be unfit for his political trust, like loose ballast in a vessel, liable, in any agitation that may arise, to roll from side to side and so to destroy national stability.
For the individual those years are decisive between thirteen and eighteen. They form the character; they regulate the habits of a lifetime; they stamp the features. Nevermore can those years be overtaken. Each year half a million cross the rubicon of life and leave behind the power to change. We speak and write about the residuum' and scum'-mixed in metaphor and ideas—throwing the blame on this last' whose educational opportunities have been but as one hour to the twelve of his betters; and we forget it is to our own shame that, in a day of great enlightenment, intenser shadow falls upon the masses. The Education Act of 1870, which was looked upon as the Abolition of Ignorance, has failed to achieve its object; it has left darkness grosser by the revolt of those educated under compulsion. The education it has enforced is worthless; it is like a fair woman without discretion—as a pearl in a swine's snout, this mere capacity to read which leaves its possessor brutal and uncultured. How is this shortcoming to be remedied? We have gone as far as we dare in the direction of cramming the greatest amount of teaching possible into the shortest span of a child's life. The question of overpressure is one about wbich doctors and educational pundits differ; but I can testify that I have seen children driven dull by overwork. At this moment, as I write, a woman bas called with her little girl, who has got St. Viper's Dance' from working and worriting before the examinations; it is a fact that children's sleep is disturbed by the nightmare pressure which makes them cry out in their dreams; and I have stated elsewhere that one of my
teachers was sent for lately to calm the agony of mind of a little girl, on her death-bed, at being absent from the impending school inspection, that she might, as her mother said, die in peace. Considering the miserable results we do get up to the age of thirteen, the listless progress, in spite of driving, that children of a languid temperament, from under-feeding and other sanitary causes, make, it is hard to see how we can diminish aught of the tale that is exacted; but the responsibility would be perilous of crowding more than is already imposed upon it on that narrow ledge of childhood. We cannot ask less, and we dare not ask more.
There are strong objections to other expedients—to making school attendance compulsory to a more advanced age, or evening-school attendance compulsory, as in Switzerland and in certain of the German States. The former would be bard on the parents, the latter harder on the children. There is a demand for cheap labour; and at the present moment, when the number of men unemployed is so formidable, the wages of their children are the only support of multitudes. It
may be true, if they were driven to school there would be more work for men ; but, on the other hand, it is by children's labour that a good deal of work is kept in the country which would otherwise go abroad. The working man is perhaps fortunately—inconsistent in this, that while he will not himself work below a certain standard he considers fair for a man's labour, he will allow his boys to do the same work for a much less
wage. But however this may be-whether in the long run it would, or would not, be better for the working man if his children were kept at school to fourteen or fifteen, instead of being sent prematurely to labour, and, though bringing in a few shillings, cheapening the whole labour market—there can be no doubt that there are many poor women dependent on their boys' earnings. Even as it is, magistrates are loth to convict in such cases.
Among the working lads with whom I associate, no few are the chief support of their mothers : and the lives of self-denial led by many of these poor fellows—unattractive, perhaps, in exterior, rough in manners, often far from choice in language-must, where sterling and unconscious merit is weighed, be deemed noble. The effect of taking away such innumerable props from humble life would be to considerably increase the pauperism of the country and aggravate the distresses of the poorer classes. Certainly it is no time to do this.
But to compel school attendance after all those weary hours imposed on the young toiler, for whom Nature has intended youth as the playtime of life-mental drudgery coming upon the top of bodily