Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/57

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By the Right Hon. Sir JOHN E. GORST, F.R.S.

THE invitation of the British Association to preside over the Section of Education, established this year for the first time, has been given to me as a representative of that government department which controls the larger, but perhaps not the most efficient, part of the education of the United Kingdom. The most suitable subject for my opening address would therefore seem to be the proper function of National Authority, whether central or local, in the education of the people; what is the limit of its obligations; what is the part of education in which it can lead the way; what is the region in which more powerful influences are at work, and in which it must take care not to hinder their operation; and what are the dangers to real education inseparable from a general national system. I shall avoid questions of the division of functions between central and local authorities, beset with so many bitter controversies, which are political rather than educational.

In the first place, so far as the mass of the youth of a country is concerned, the public instructor can only play a secondary part in the most important part of the education of the young—the development of character. The character of a people is by far its most important attribute. It has a great deal more moment in the affairs of the world, and is a much more vital factor in the promotion of national power and influence, and in the spread of Empire, than either physical or mental endowments. The character of each generation depends in the main upon the character of the generation which precedes it; of other causes in operation the effect is comparatively small. A generation may be a little better or a little worse than its forefathers, but it cannot materially differ from them. Improvement and degeneracy are alike slow. The chief causes which produce formation of character are met with in the homes of the people. They are of great variety and mostly too subtle to be controlled. Religious belief, ideas, ineradicable often in maturer life, imbibed from the early instruction of parents, the principles of morality current amongst brothers and sisters and playmates, popular superstitions, national and local prejudices, have a far deeper and more permanent effect upon character than the instruction given in schools

  1. Address of the president of the Educational Science Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Glasgow, 1901.