« AnteriorContinua »
must be smoothed ; all impediments must be removed; the high cultiva. tion of a part must be pressed into the service of the whole; the philosopher must labour (and deem it no condescension) for the instruction of the peasant; the highest and brightest wits for the lowest and most obtuse. Tell us not that this is lowering the high estate of genius and knowledge; a more godlike employment was never proposed for human ingenuity and industry to attain.
In addition to the reason resulting from the necessity under which we lie, of imparting to all the blessings which all can be made to attain, there is another more narrow, but still very potent one, for making education universal or general for the mass of the population. Evils may be of such a description that neither the Government, nor an individual, may be able to remedy them; and yet they may be susceptible of remedy from the whole community, or a very large part thereof, acting indivi. dually. For example, excessive population, with all its hideous train of miseries, cannot be remedied by Government; and although any individual, by abstaining from begetting a large family, may keep himself from many encumbrances, yet he cannot, if his neighbours be improvi. dent, prevent them from throwing a large addition into the labour market; and thus, by his individual prudence, he cannot prevent de.. pression in the rate of wages. This can only be properly prevented by a general forethought, which forethought can only be created by a general improvement of the moral and mental condition of the labourers. This of itself is a sufficient argument in favour of Universal Education.
The next subject of inquiry is, admitting these benefits as likely to result from such a provident and sagacious frame of mind, what are the modes by which it may be universally created.
A man's character depends upon the sort of desires to which he is subject, their relative strength, and the modes by which he deems they may be legitimately gratified. If you so educate him, that his desires are numerous, and not to be attained without much difficulty; and if, at the same time, you so frame his mental associations, that he shall repugn all modes of gratifying them, but such as are conducive to the general well-being of society, you have done much towards making the man himself a worthy member of the community. Let us illustrate this by a comparison: An Irish labourer is a being of few wants, and those wants are easily satisfied. What has been the result ?-an improvidence actually unprecedented amid the annals of human thoughtlessness. He marries early, begets a large family, lives on a wretched diet of potatoes, dwells in a cabin inferior to an English pig-stye, is prone to sensual indulgences, and little anxious respecting the canons of a sane morality. Put, in opposition to this miserable sample of humanity, an American peasant, or labourer: we see in him one accustomed to many comforts and luxuries,-comforts and luxuries which habit has made necessaries, He has a nutritious and plentiful diet; he has decent, nay, luxurious clothing ; his house is a clean, comfortable, commodious abode ; he him. self is instructed; he is conversant with the laws and politics of his country, takes an intense interest in her prosperity, and, considering himself and his happiness an important fraction of the whole community, and of the general well-being, he contemplates his position among men with an honest pride ; and, by industrious, honest habits, maintains himself and family in the enjoyment of these comforts and this position, What a miserable difference between these two pictures ! If we were to lower the wants of the American, make him satisfied with a potato
diet, a miserable cabin, and wretched clothing ; if you made his chief pleasure a cup of whiskey and a row ; if you took away his independent proud spirit, taught him to consider himself as an utterly insignificant atom among his countrymen, you would quickly reduce him to the condition of the Irish peasant. On the contrary, make the Irishman a being of many wants, teach him to feel wretched, when badly fed, and badly lodged; teach him to feel humiliated by abject poverty, to be ready to sacrifice his present desires till a decent competency had been obtained ; teach him that he is an important fraction of the state, and you would quickly raise him to the condition of the happy American. We know that it will be said, that the American's comfortable situation springs from the favoured condition of the people generally, from the fertility and extent of their country. For an instant, admitting this, and what is proved ? Nothing. The same result may be obtained for Ireland in a different way. What America obtains, or is supposed to ob.. tain, through the fertility and quantity of her soil, Ireland might attain through the forethought of her people. What is it that America has attained ?-a population well-proportioned to the extent of her capital, and endowed with a high moral and mental character. A careful education of the mass,-an education sedulously superintended by the govern. ment, and by those who are themselves out of the immediate reach of poverty, would quickly procure the same blessing for Ireland. In England, the object is far more easy of attainment. There is among her population, particularly those of the towns, a longing desire for improvement. This feeling exists among a very large number of the town population in an intensity little appreciated, little known by the gentry of England. If education were within the reach of these, the example they would set, in seeking to avail themselves of its inestimable advantages, would soon be followed by the remainder; and then would quickly fol. low that improvement in their habits, that increase in their wants and desires we have described.
Much of the misery now existing among our labouring population is mainly attributable to a mode of proceeding diametrically opposed to this. Such persons as have attempted to educate the poor, have invariably commenced by lowering their pride, by making them believe humility a virtue, a lowness in their desires as the great business of their moral training. This, doubtless, in many cases, has been well meant, but has been attended by disastrous consequences. The error has, in great part, arisen from the want of a proper distinction between spiritual and worldly humility. Teach men, if you will, that they should feel humbled, on comparing their imperfections with the exalted and ineffable excellence of a supreme Creator. This humility is not only not incompatible with self-dignity and proud feelings, but never properly arises in the mind of a man not highly cultivated, not possessed of a high notion of his own importance, amid the varied productions of the great Creator. The mild, intelligent, self-respecting patriarch of the American woods, is far more likely to feel humbled in contemplation before the excellence of a sublime and Almighty God, than would the half-savage, roaring, brutalized, and thoroughly-degraded, humbled Irish peasant. This last can make, can understand no comparisons between divine excellence and himself; while the intelligent, thoughtful, virtuous, and, to man, proud peasant of America, can acutely feel his own unworthi. ness, when tried by such a standard. To true spiritual humility, a conscious self. dignity is absolutely requisite. Those people are most truly humble before God, who are most proud and independent towards men. Ilow can we make men believe that the Creator is solicitous about the immortal welfare of those whom they every day are accustomed to see treated after the fashion of beasts of the field ? Nothing but a powerful stretch of the imagination, and a steadfast exercise of the intellect, could make a man disconnect the ideas of worthlessness here, and worth. lessness hereafter. But such efforts of the intellect are beyond the capacity of the ignorant and degraded. The trained, cultivated, and obedient imagination of the educated man may console him, even under actual distress, by its pleasant anticipations of the future. Self-conscious of worth, he depends not on the mere opinions of others for his estimation of his own excellence. The bad may assail, the proud and arrogant, neglect and despise him, but he hath that within which enables him to bear up against contumely; he knows himself to be pure in his intentions, moral in his conduct, and therefore worthy of esteem though he obtain it not. This man can turn to his God, and believe, that from a heavenly and just distribution of happiness, he may receive that portion which is his due ; and this expectation may to him be a source of great and permanent consolation. This, however, is not the process of mind in the uncultivated. They have not this stay on which to rest. They are weak in intellect, and weak in moral resolves. They sink under the ill-treatment of their fellows, despairing and broken-hearted. The joys of heaven present to them no consolation, no alleviation of their wretchedness. The effulgence of a glad futurity waxes faint and dim to eyes blinded by continual tears; and the soul borne down and “ embruted” by worldly sorrow, and thorough ignorance, hath no aspirations beyond escape from present suffering. Let no man fancy this picture of despair over-wrought. He who doubts, let him win the confidence of the thoroughly wretched, and then will he learn the sad lesson which suffering humanity alone can teach.
Many who have assisted in the instruction of the poor too many alas !) have acted in complete defiance of the rule which these circumstances teach us to frame. They have improperly humbled the minds of the poor, the weak, and the wretched, and thus most actively contributed to render them miserable. This is not asserted in any spirit of angry complaint, or with the desire of persuading the poor to refuse the aid of the rich in the business of education, or of inducing jealousy between the various classes of society. Our observations are addressed to the rich themselves, and our intention is to point out certain evils for their consideration, in the hope that a remedy may by them be applied. We are not of that class of the friends of the people, who, under the name people, include only a very small portion of the nation. The people is the whole body of our countrymen ; it is their general welfare we seek, and that assuredly cannot be promoted, by creating jealousy and hostility between various sections of this great whole. Of these various sections, some are placed in more happy circumstances than others; they are not for that reason less deserving ; their happiness is net to be disregarded because they are rich, any more than that of the poor because they are poor. All alike are of importance; and that the welfare of all should be increased, we here signalize certain evils, which militate sorely against the general good. We wish to change the method adopted hitherto by the rich who have aided in the education of the poor, not to drive them from participating in that great work. All important ameliorations must come from the more instructed ; and it is only by their assistance that we can work the reformation we are here attempting. Their service is invaluable—if well directed.
If the preceding observations be correct, we may now deduce from them some extremely important conclusions respecting the mode of educating the mass of the population.
Since the immediate object would be to frame the minds of the people generally after the fashion or model of the most highly educated, it is clear, if such course be practicable, the right mode of attaining this object would be to pursue, with the mass of the population, precisely the same methods that are pursued with those best educated persons; and the practical matter of inquiry is, in how far is it possible to pursue this course, and what are the difficulties or obstacles in the way of doing so.
The training called education, as we have already observed, consists partly of a training of the moral, partly of the intellectual being. They both, of necessity, reciprocally influence one another; they, nevertheless, must be kept in view as two distinct matters of consideration.
Now, it is of the highest possible importance, that the morality of all men be alike. The same necessity does not exist for a similarity in their knowledge or intellectual acquirements. We will consider these two subjects in succession.
It is of the greatest possible importance, that a man, no matter what his position in the community, be of a benevolent, gentle, firm disposition ; that he be active, industrious, and provident : with these qualities, he will be a good son, a good father, a good husband, a good friend, a good citizen; in other words, a good man. If we look closely into the condition of every man, we shall find, no matter what may be his position, that his moral relations are, for the most part, like those of other men ; that, consequently, most of the moral qualities which he needs, must be like those of other men also. The poor man who is a father, needs, for the proper fulfilment of the duties of a father, the same qualities which a rich man in the same condition requires; and so of all the other social or moral relations. The rich man and the poor man have to meet and resist temptations; and although the temptations be different in their kinds, still the peculiar frame of mind requisite to resist them is the same in all cases. If the frame of mind should be similar in both cases, the training which is to produce it should be similar also.
The case is different in the matter of intellectual acquirement. A distinction must here be taken notice of, between what is termed knowledge, and the capacity of acquiring it. It is necessary that all men should have a capacity of acquiring knowledge ; and the greater this capacity, no matter what may be the position of the individual, the better for bimself and the community. But seeing that one man cannot attain all knowledge, “ so great is art, so narrow human wit," it is necessary to make a partition of the labour of acquiring it—one man must learn one thing, one another. But so long as they all are being trained merely for the purpose of producing the capacity of acquiring knowledge, that capacity being the same thing in all, so long the mode of training should be alike in all; but when the time comes for the acquiring of knowledge, as the knowledge is different, so, then, the training becomes different also. The education of different men begins then to diverge ; and as the knowledge needed differs in part, in consequence of difference of condition, the education of persons differing in condition, becomes dissimilar in consequence of their difference of position.
For the present, we will keep out of consideration the subject of expense, and conceive, upon the principles here laid down, a scheme of general education.
The good of the community requires that there should be diversity of pursuits, consequently diversity of knowledge--identity of sagacity in the acquirement of knowledge, consequently identity in the mode of producing that sagacity-identity of moral habits—therefore, again, identity in the mode of framing such habits—this is a short re-statement of the principles upon which we are to frame our scheme.
Every plan of universal education must draw a line between the modes of conducting the education, and the modes in which the persons conducting it are controlled or governed. This latter subject, fraught with appalling difficulties, we reserve for discussion after the former has been disposed of.
The plan of general education which we should propose, would consist of a gradation of schools—from infant schools in every parish, up to all. comprehensive universities. As one chief concern at present, however, is respecting the mass of the population, our attention will be, for the most part, directed to the first portion of the scale of graduated schools, and the modes of conduct to be pursued therein.
We would propose, then, that throughout the whole of the country, there should be established, Ist, Infant Schools ; 2d, Schools for chil. dren leaving the infant schools. These two sets of schools ought to be so numerous, that every individual in the State might receive his early education therein. They would receive the whole population, from their infancy up to the age of fifteen.
No one, assuredly, will be called on to prove that the infancy of all should be passed in similar training. At that tender age, the chief object is, or ought to be, to preserve the body from disease, and the mind, such as it then is, careless and happy. Indelible impressions are made in infancy. To us, indeed, it appears, that all the great foundations of the character are then laid. But the treatment, therefore, of the rich and the poor need not be dissimilar. These foundations are chiefly mo. ral; and in so far as they affect the intellectual character, it is only as respects the capacity of acquiring knowledge, not the knowledge impart. ed. Little is then learned in the ordinary sense of the term. Habits of mind are framed, indelibly traced, but all specific acquirements of that age may be considered as nothing. The National Infant Schools would have for their object the training of the children in their habits—the framing of their young minds, so that the foundations of a good and vir. tuous character might then be efficiently laid ; and all pastimes, all exercises needful for this, and applicable to that tender age, should there be practised. To describe what these should be, would be to write a detailed treatise on education. This is not exactly the task which we have here proposed to ourselves, our present object being no more than the giving a general view of a scheme of National Education. We would here also remark, that this detailed treatise has yet to be composed : the proper scheme of Infant Education has yet to be framed ;-however advanced we may deem ourselves to be in civilization, we have not yet arrived at a knowledge even of the mere rudiments of education. The importance of the discipline of the first years of our lives is not yet properly appreciated; neither have the modes of framing the right habits in those early years been at all sufficiently investigated. Rousseau is almost the only writer who has conceived the difficulty and importance of the task ; but, unfortunately, Rousseau is a sealed book to