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Created: By Patrick Augustine Sheehan (18521913) (1917)
Beatrix Färber (ed.)
Benjamin Hazard (ed.)
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This important document,1 compiled by Mr. Cloudesley Brereton, formerly Inspector under the Intermediate Board, is to appear next year; and the Times in its Literary Supplement has deemed it of such importance that it has already published a summary, which gives, we presume, a fair idea of what the Report shall contain. If we are to judge the Report by this Summary, it will be valuable so far as the history of educational movements and changes in Ireland is concerned. But we have a suspicion that, as is quite usual in all such cases, it is only officials, or professional experts that have been consulted; and that the Inspector has not gone down to face the problem and examine it in those places where alone it can be studied and solved, that is, in the schools themselves, and in the lives of the children after they have left school, and passed into the work-a-day world. If our Inspector had taken that trouble, it would have probably saved him the gigantic and useless labour of pouring over worthless statistics in the pigeon-holes of Education Offices; and probably, he could have compressed what we presume will be an elaborate account of the progress and prospects of education in Ireland in the simple words: There is none! That is the verdict of every thinker in Ireland to-day.
The census returns of the number of illiterate persons in Ireland are very misleading. We do not believe there is wilful deception of the officers; but the standard of education is so very low that thousands are returned as capable of reading and writing, who are barely able to spell laboriously through the columns of a newspaper, or scrawl their names in a half-illegible manner on a bank-bill. Most of these semi-illiterate persons have passed through the usual classes or standards in the Primary Schools; but owing to causes, which we shall afterwards specifically
p.50mention, they abandon the habits of reading and writing after leaving school and sink back into a condition of almost absolute illiteracy. Anyone who has ever witnessed a few peasants drawing a bill on a village-bank, or signing a paper for the purchase of land, and seen their mental agony whilst they try to decipher the meaning of the document, and then append their signatures, will testify to this. And what is true of our agricultural districts, is equally true of manufacturing centres, where the young lads and lasses, after two years, have almost entirely lost the faculty of reading and writing. As for a taste for reading anything beyond some light novel or the weekly political newspaper, it is absolutely unknown.
We do not know whether Mr. Brereton has studied this aspect of his subject; but as it embraces the whole subject, being simply the net result of all this elaborate mechanism, with its ever-growing staffs of officials; and as it means, in very plain English, comparative, if not absolute, failure, it may be a useful, although an ungracious task, to cast a little light on the subject. And first as to primary education.
Perhaps, the best manner of elucidating this subject is by comparison of the old and new methods, so far as the attitude of the teachers and the nature of educational work and methods are concerned.
There is a marked difference between the old untrained schoolmaster and the young teachers, who now come out, year after year, from our Training Colleges, and pass at once into our schools as assistants or principals. With the old generation, teaching was something like what Carlyle was always dreaming of and taking about a kind of lofty vocation, a priestly function, which he would not rank lower than that of a Kirk-Minister, or voluntary preacher under the Free Church. The principal teachers then were all old men, who had been trained under fiery discipline, and were rather too anxious that the characters of the young should be annealed, mentally and morally, in the same way. The discipline of the schools was severe. Corporal punishment was administered in a manner, which would send a teacher of to-day into penal servitude. The
p.51hours were long, generally from 10.0 a.m. to 5 p.m. In many places, there were morning sessions from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.; and night-schools were the rule, not the exception. There were no stated times for vacations. The old teachers strenuously objected to such a waste of time; and in many towns in Ireland to-day, weird traditions have come down of desperate attempts made by the boys to bar out the masters, until the latter yielded to the demand of at least a short cessation from school-work.
It is rather an interesting speculation why these old men were so much averse from granting periodical holidays, or lessening the hours of daily school-work. There really is no explanation of such an attitude, so totally different from everything we are accustomed to in modern life, except that those men had conceived a perfect passion for work, that solitude was unbearable; that they were never happy without the book and the ferule, and the daily worship of a crowd of awe-stricken and reverent pupils. It must be remembered that at that time travelling was almost unknown except amongst the wealthier classes. No teacher would think of wasting weeks by the seaside, much less of going abroad. And, a very important factor in their monotonous, but singularly useful lives was, that they were all deeply conscientious men, and that in addition to their obligations to the State, they had, owing to the then prevailing system of school-fees, a sense of personal duty to the pupils, and a corresponding interest in their educational advancement. There never was a bolder or wiser plan, from their own standpoint, than the attempt of British ministers from time to time to subsidise the Irish Catholic clergy; and never a wiser policy than that adopted by these latter in thwarting and rejecting such attempts. And for the same reason, there never was a greater, and alas! more irremediable mistake than that made by the National Board of Education in abolishing school-fees. It converted the teachers into State officials, and destroyed all personal interest in their pupils. And it broke up that sympathy, arising out of mutual assistance, that existed between the teachers and the parents of the children. It turned the schools into Government Lycées,
p.52controlled by penal laws; and whilst it removed from the consciences of the teachers that sense of commutative justice that arose from the personal obligation of giving value for the stipends received, it took away at the same time from the minds of the parents that keen interest in the educational progress of their children that naturally is felt, where it is well paid for. Hence, to-day we find, in the few voluntary schools of the country, which are not under the management of the National Board, and where fees from one penny to twopence a week up to ten shillings a quarter are paid by the pupils the attendance is cent per cent; whereas, in the National Schools, where no fees are paid, and where very often, as in the case of Convent Schools, books, papers, slates, pens, etc., are supplied gratis to the children, the attendance seldom reaches beyond 65 per cent of the pupils on rolls.
Under the old system again, a great deal of initiative, or voluntary work was permitted to the teachers; and with their extraordinary zeal, they eagerly availed of the permission. The subjects marked on the Time-Tables were very limited in number; and the educational capacities of the teachers did not reach beyond them. But what they knew, they knew well; and they had the talent to impart it thoroughly. The inspection was loose and unmethodical. The Managers rarely visited the schools; the Inspectors came once a year for the annual examination. There was a certain freedom permissible in the arrangement of lessons, so that if boys or girls had a fancy or an aptitude for a particular subject or science, they were allowed to exercise it without molestation. And if a class, interested in geography, or mathematics, seemed to covet a few minutes more in that class, no objection was made. We remember one clear instance where two young lads, aged 12 to 14 respectively, were permitted by the master to spend the seven hours a day for the last two years of their course in working out problems in algebra, or exercises (or as they were called cuts) in Euclid to the exclusion of every other subject. This gave them an extraordinary power of mental concentration, that made all succeeding subjects comparatively easy.
The results of this old system were at least twofold:
As we have already said, the subjects were limited. They embraced:
And all of these, with the exception perhaps of reading (the comparative unimportance of which we shall discuss hereafter), were taught in a manner which is now impossible.
And the teachers had the singular and unique success of implanting in the minds of their pupils a sense, that, on leaving school, they were but commencing their life's education, which would end only with life. Hence they turned out generation after generation of reading men, eager to supplement the elementary education of their childhood by the larger reading of after life. The very fact that so much liberty of initiative was allowed that studies were not altogether taskwork, that there was a kind of sympathy between teachers and pupils arising out of a mutual love for kindred subjects, would go far to account for this. The eye of the pupil was upon his master; the eye of the master on his pupil. The Inspector was not much considered. If he choose to give an unfavourable report, the master's pocket did not suffer too severely, if the parents thought their boys were treated well.
All this is now changed. The personnel of the teaching staff has undergone surprising modifications; and the methods of teaching have been revolutionised. The principals and assistants in all National Schools to-day are comparatively young men, most of whom have been recently trained at some recognised College here and there in the country; but with no further experience. They have learned to teach scientifically. Many of them have no idea of making teaching a profession. Conscious of much ability they determine that that school shall be a stepping stone to something higher a little pause in the race of life
p.54before striding on to the final goal. The little children are no longer the sons and daughters of friends, who are to be watched over with more than paternal vigilance; and whose futures are an object of as much solicitude to the teacher as his own. Unlike the old teachers, he does not look forward to the time, when that brilliant young barrister will call to his school, and thank him publicly for all the wise counsel, all the sage admonitions that he received; or the young priest or minister, flushed with the glory of ordination, will steal in and greet his old master and give him his blessing; or that young girl, who has made a prosperous match, will roll up in her carriage, and place a bunch of violets on the master's desk without a word. All that has gone; the pupils are now so many units, who have to be worked up into decimals to prove to Treasury officials that there has been a certain number of wild Irish in attendance at that school; and that there is no loophole, alas! for escape. His salary, even to the decimals, must be paid.
It would be the gravest injustice here, if we let it for a moment be supposed that the modern teacher is indifferent, or careless about his pupils except in so far as they help him to his salary and increments. But, in view of the fact, that there is scarcely a teacher in the country, who has settled down permanently in his locality, without hope of a better school in a more comfortable place; and, in view of the fact, that so many Irish teachers are flying away to England, or seeking situations in the Civil Service, and in view of the fact that there are no longer those mutual relations between teachers and pupils that arose from the payment of school fees, it is no exaggeration to say that the calling of a National Teacher in Ireland has sunk down from the Carlylean idea to one of mere officialdom the paid hireling of the State.
The modern methods of education tend to accentuate this. The teacher is now bound, hand and foot, without the slightest power of initiative. The manager, generally a clergyman, visits the school once a week or oftener. The manager's eye is on the Time-Table, lest perchance the Inspector may come in, and find a class out of order, and a prompt, and perhaps peremptory, message will reach him
p.55from Dublin. The Inspectors (Senior, District, and Assistant) visit the schools at all times; and a few days after the annual examination, a visit of surprise may be in variably expected. That visit is promptly begun by a prompt examination of Rolls; a comparison between the Rolls marked and the number present; a sharp survey of the names that might be stricken off the rolls; an elaborate examination of decimals along frightful columns of figures; the abstract of each day's work, of monthly summaries, of yearly reports, etc., etc. The efficiency of the school is nowhere in comparison with the neatness and accuracy of Roll-Books. And so, too, the least divergence from the Time-Table, which to the uninitiated at least, is as puzzling as Bradshaw, is instantly reported to head quarters. Let a class be never so interested in a subject, let a boy or girl be never so engrossed in some problem of physics or mathematics the clock strikes, and the book is shut and the interest of that young mind in that subject vanishes, never to return.
This abuse arises in great part from the multiplicity of subjects that now form the curriculum of primary education. Let it be remembered that it is of primary education alone we are speaking now. For, one of the worst abuses that prevail in Ireland is the unhappy tendency to foster the foolish ambition and pride of the people, by allowing primary education to overlap Intermediate studies; and these latter to encroach upon the University curriculum. We have heard Analysis taught to little girls in the Fourth Standard in a manner that might suit young graduates in a Scotch University; and the higher grades of Tonic Sol-Fa taught to girls who would much prefer the latest music-hall chorus from London or Liverpool. There are two truths that seem never to have been grasped by Irish educationists. The first is that they rate the average intelligence of Irish children altogether too highly; the second is, that education should also be adaptation, that is, in the great majority of cases, the preparation and training of children for their positions in after life.
The present idea appears to be that children's minds should be, made not only repositories of universal information
p.56but should also be trained to a degree of mental efficiency that is only attained in the grand climacteric of life. The question really is, whether the child's mind is to be made a storehouse like a doll's shop, full of all small but pretty things; or whether, the tastes and talents of the child shall be cultivated towards something higher to be acquired in after life. This latter is an opinion; and that is the reason we insist so strongly on the right of allowing some originality or initiative in the selection of subjects by teachers or pupils.
A simple example will suffice to show how in one department alone immense trouble is taken in one manner of handling a very common subject which practically is of no utility whatever in after life, except to a chosen few; and no trouble whatever is taken in teaching the same subject in that manner, and under that aspect when it might be universally profitable.
How many children in any National School in Ireland will be called upon in their after lives to read aloud either to an individual, or some select gathering? How many will become professional elocutionists? One boy out of five hundred will be a clergyman, and must read distinctly and with a certain grace. One girl out of ten thousand may be a companion to a lady who may require her to read to her at night, or during illness. The remaining legions will never as a rule be called upon to read distinctly, pronounce correctly, or understand the proper emphasis of words or phrases. Yet, what time, what labour, what pains are expended on an accomplishment which, will seldom or never be requisitioned in after life. Let it be remembered that we are not making light of the accomplishment. It is a very beautiful one; but we are speaking now of educational methods in their application to the utilities of after life; and there, in the vast multitude of cases, the accomplishment is practically useless. On the other hand, reading in the sense of creating a passion for reading and a knowledge of what ought be read, is never taught. The minds of young lads and young maidens of sixteen and seventeen are fed with the crumbs and pills of scrappy literature elegant extracts, bits of poetry, dissertations on
p.57political economy, etc., in which, because they are task work, the children can take no interest whatsoever. The beauties of English literature, the vast treasures that have been accumulated for centuries by the rich and prolific authorship of great and enlightened men; the hoard of precious thoughts that lie hidden there beneath the covers of books which modern competition has made available for the slenderest purse all are unknown and concealed from eager and inquiring spirits, who then go out into the world to feed their minds on the only pabulum of which they have ever heard the garbage of London flimsies, or the poison of party political organs, where there is neither truth, justice, or judgment. A taste for reading I mean reading anything wholesome or elevating is almost unknown in this country. A young Englishman, or a young Scotchman, will be found to have a pretty fair idea of the English Classics a pretty fair idea of what books are worth reading, and what books are worthless. And, considering the fact that really half the joy and pleasure of most lives is to be found in books, is it not pitiable that our children's minds should be so starved that, in after life, they cannot distinguish food from poison the great thoughts that elevate and refine from the pitiable trivialities that weaken the intellect, lower the standards of ethical and moral worth, and create an effeminate and thoughtless people swayed by passion, and regardless, because ignorant, of the higher principles of reason and public morality.
This is only one instance of the irrational manner in which the minds of our children are formed. How this may be remedied, I shall point out when treating of Intermediate Education. A few brief suggestions on the general question must suffice here.
And first, with regard to the personnel and the training of teachers. I doubt if the educationists of Ireland have ever realised the dignity and importance of the office of teacher. They are so accustomed to consider teaching as a mere means of livelihood, and teachers as mere Civil Servants, that it must be difficult, if not impossible, for these latter to rise to a higher conception of their profession. In fact, it is only once or twice in a generation that some profound
p.58and reverent thinker seizes on the idea, that, next in dignity and honour after the sacred professions, comes the very exalted and honourable vocation of training the young minds of the country. It is difficult to see why the profession of teaching should be regarded as less honourable than the legal or medical professions. If we judge by its importance, and not by its emoluments, it should rank far beyond them. If we are to judge by its services to the State, there is no comparison. If we are to judge by its influence on humanity, it stands out the premier secular profession. Probably it will take many generations to understand this. But it should be said at once that in our Training Colleges, especially those under the management of religious guides, this view of the sacredness and solemnity of the teaching office should be kept before the minds of the pupils in season and out of season. They have got to deal not with human decomposition and disease; not with human crime and folly and dishonesty; not with mechanical contrivances and dull, inert matter; but with human souls, which are placed in their hands for formation; and which receive at their hands that bias towards good or evil that must influence all their after lives; and make them a burden and a curse, or a blessing and help, towards the entire community.
Hence I am of opinion that at once the material interests of the teachers, their salaries and pensions, should be placed in such a position of adequacy and proportion as would liberate the minds of teachers from all anxiety about their futures, and leave them absolutely free to devote themselves to the more spiritual side of their exalted calling. I do not think therefore that the salary of a teacher should be made dependent on the size of his school, or the number of his pupils. For thence arises the deadly temptation of regarding himself as a mere bird-of-passage, who has not and never can have an interest in his pupils, but is ever looking out in the daily paper for an advertisement for principal in some more populous place, whence again he is to migrate when the opportunity offers. On the other hand, reason, justice, public opinion and common sense demand that, when a teacher has honestly and conscientiously
p.59devoted his life to the services of the State, he should be protected by the State by adequate pensions from any hardship of poverty or sickness, when incapacitated from work by old age or infirmity.
With regard to the time devoted to education in Ireland, we find that 200 days is the minimum exacted by the National Board. That is to say, the working days in our schools are little more than half the days of the year. Setting aside Sundays and holidays, there should be 306 working days at least; and allowing the 40 days, which is the maximum of vacation allowed by the Board, there should be 266 working days in the year. Yet a minimum of 200 days is all that is required from teachers or pupils. And each working-day means but four hours. Now, considering the multiplicity of subjects required by the Board and the very limited time that is imperative and obligatory on the teachers, it follows that only the most superficial education can be imparted to the children of the country. Add to this the number of days that are lost by individual pupils, who are absent through sickness, epidemic or otherwise; by agricultural requirements; and through the thousand and one excuses that are made by negligent and ignorant parents; and it will be seen how impossible it is to create in Ireland a body of youths of both sexes who may be said to leave school even fairly equipped for the responsibilities of life. There seems to be no reason why (except in the case of infants) the school hours should not be extended to five; there is no reason why, as in former times, Saturdays should not be half-holidays; there is no reason why a uniform standard of vacation allowing a fortnight at Christmas, ten days at Easter, and four weeks at summer should not be rigidly maintained.2 The Night-Extension Schools was an admirable idea. It failed; and it failed because the youth of the country were not already prepared by the day-schools to recommence their education. They were never taught that education meant anything but task-work without design or object but to help the teacher to live; and they had no notion of commencing such task work again, when weary after the manual labour of the day.
With regard to the programmes of Primary Education, let it be again insisted upon that the systems should not be allowed to overlap each other; but that each, Primary, Intermediate and University, should be kept rigidly within its own limits. Hence, what are called accomplishments, the frills and decorations of education should be absolutely excluded from Primary Education, for the object of Primary Education is not to discover talent, not to help on a favoured few, not to create reputations for clever teachers or pupils; but to extend the blessings of an elementary training amongst the vast masses of the population. To raise these masses up from their frightful ignorance in which they now spend their lives; to introduce into their homes something of the sweetness and light of modern civilisation; to show them, the poorest of the poor, and the humblest of the humble, that human life has higher issues than are involved in mere drudgery for daily bread; and, in a practical sense, to show them how to avail of the vast utilities that lie beneath their hands, and which only a fairly educated people can adequately develop this is the sole object of Primary Education in Ireland. It may be fairly said, that 90 per cent of the children frequenting our schools will have to earn their bread by manual labour. It would seem reasonable, then, that whilst technical education should hold a primary place, everything that savours of mere accomplishments, or that belongs to a higher and secondary course, should be rigidly excluded. How does the National School Programme meet these demands?
The entire programme in an ordinary girls' school embraces the following subjects:
This is an extensive programme for two hundred days at four hours a day; and one wonders whether it is possible for the pupils to obtain more than the merest superficial and elementary knowledge of these many subjects.
As mere accomplishments, such subjects as Freehand, Geometrical and Scale Drawing, Analysis (which is only fit for University students), Tonic Sol-Fa, Staff-Notation, Fancy Work, Mathematical and Physical Geography might be struck out at once. Imagine a class of grown girls staring at a blackboard, crowded with geometrical figures, and knowing all the time that in a few weeks they will be milking cows and washing clothes. Or a class struggling through the intricacies of Tonic Sol-Fa, when we know that every girl there will discard all that in a few weeks and pick up the latest music-hall song from London! And imagine little children in a 4th Standard puzzling their poor brains over subject, predicate, qualifying predicates, and objects when we have known young philosophers in Colleges torturing their intellects about such things. Surely, so far as mere literary training is concerned, it should be quite enough for working boys and girls to know how to read, and what to read; to write a decent legible hand; to compose an interesting and grammatical letter; to speak distinctly and clearly without mouthing, mumbling or slang; to know how to tot up figures and keep accounts, and understand the intricacies of buying and selling; for boys, some technical training should be made indispensable; and for girls, cooking and laundry, and for both, some elementary knowledge of hygiene.
It seems incredible, but it is a fact, that the ordinary people who form the bulk of our population, do not know, have not even the faintest idea of how their bodies are constituted
p.62what are the organs of the body and how placed; what are the natures of specific diseases, how they are contracted, how they may be prevented, or cured. Many children have the most fantastic notions of the organs of the body and their location; whilst the processes of circulation, respiration and digestion are sealed mysteries to them. Most of the diseases of middle life are the results of the indiscretions of youth; and many of these indiscretions are the results of ignorance as well as misdirected passion. I once heard a young man, who in the very springtime and promise of a useful and even distinguished life, was suddenly stricken by an hereditary malady, curse bitterly the parents who had brought him into the world. How many young men and women have reason to resent bitterly the culpable neglect of parents and teachers, who through false shame, or more often through indifference, allowed these young and unprotected creatures to enter upon the solemn duties of life without a word that could guard them from bodily disease, or spiritual corruption! Surely, one of the very first things that should be taught the young of both sexes is to protect the temples of their bodies and save themselves from the years of agony and the premature deaths that are the result of the neglect or the indifference of their inexperienced years. A good deal of attention is now given in some schools to the care of the teeth and the eyes, and the hair; and some progress has been made. But there are deeper and more radical problems which ought to be faced. I have heard that in some high-class Protestant Institutions the matrons pay enormous attention to physiological development of their pupils; and when leaving school, the young ladies are carefully instructed as to how they are to maintain their physical health as well as to protect themselves against dangers that may arise from social corruption. Would that this system were extended to our Primary Schools; and that our young boys and girls, who are flung into the very teeth of temptation, might be taught how to safeguard health and virtue together.
I regard their instruction in elementary physiology and elementary pathology as absolutely necessary in our primary schools. And for girls, a knowledge of the science of nursing should be made equally indispensable. Nursing
p.63of infants and of the sick is the natural duty and calling of young girls. Apart from argument, the eagerness and zeal with which the profession of nursing has been taken up of late years by hundreds of young ladies throughout the land is a proof of this. If there were not some natural instinct, some divinely-planted calling in this direction, these ladies, many of whom have been delicately reared, could never face the hardships and the painful surroundings which are inseparable from the sick-room. This instinct should be fostered and encouraged in our young girls, so that in their own homes and families they may be able at any time to render their parents or their brothers and sisters such help as can only come from trained and experienced hands. Practical education of this kind would make our young people more studious about themselves, more intelligent helpers to others than if they could draw circles with the genius of a Giotto, or could analyse the longest sentence in Ruskin and I have but faintly understood the teaching of this artist and philosopher, if these are not also his ideas. Just now, too, an opportunity is afforded by the establishment in many districts in the country of the Victoria Jubilee Nurses. The Local Committees where these nurses are placed find it extremely difficult to collect the requisite funds for the maintenance of the nurse, and the appliances she requires for the homes of the sick. A small fee given by the National Board to these ladies for special lectures on Hygiene in the schools of their districts would help local committees, and advance the cause of education.
Finally, there just now arises a temptation that must be promptly met. The Irish people are particularly prone to be caught by catch-words, which are passed on from mouth to mouth, carrying no sense, but like a
Tale of little meaning, though the words be strong.
One of these catch-words is just now flying from lip to lip in connection with University Scholarships. We hear a great deal about the poor man's son, and the necessity of giving clever boys a chance of developing undoubted talents in the halls of some University. It is a specious cry because it holds an elemental truth that it is a deordination in nature to have splendid talents allowed to run
p.64to waste; and to see brave young geniuses who might be Newtons or Lavaters condemned for life to the spade and mattock. But the temptation lies in this that ambitious parents, confident of their children's ability, or ambitious teachers, anxious for the honour of their schools, might be induced to demand and give special time and attention to some favoured few to the detriment of the many. If a teacher thinks he has discovered a particularly clever lad, who will probably take a scholarship, and if he is willing to devote special time to his development, by all means let him do so; but it must be outside school-hours. It would be a crime to take away from ninety pupils the teacher's care and attention for the purpose of developing one case of talent. For again let us repeat, and it cannot be repeated too often, the crying evil of our country and our time is the lack of ordinary decent education amongst the masses of the people; and that the object of the National and other systems of Primary Education is not to discover or develop the genius of one pupil, but to diffuse throughout the entire community a sound elementary education that will qualify them to act the part of intelligent and responsible citizens. How necessary this is in the rapid development through which the country is now passing should be evident to the most superficial thinker. For good or ill, the processes of successive Reform Bills have eventuated in manhood suffrage. Every individual therefore is part and parcel of the administration of the country. To commit that administration into the hands of an unthinking, unlettered, and therefore irresponsible population would be to pledge the country to disaster. Yet this is what we have to face, unless some revolutionary methods be adopted which will bring the means of education within the power of every citizen, and the blessings of a liberal education into the homes of the humblest cottier or labourer.