Popular Science Monthly/Volume 66/January 1905/Educational Problems


By the Right Rev. the Lord Bishop of HEREFORD, D.D., LL. D.,


WE hear much more than formerly about the public schools being the best training-place for good citizenship. Therefore, say the critics, it is reasonable to inquire how far their educational system, their ideals, their traditions, their fashions and the pervading spirit of their life fit the mass of their pupils intellectually and otherwise for the duties of citizenship and for grappling in the right spirit with the problems that will confront them. 'Any careful observer,' says one of these writers, himself a loyal public-school man, and intimately acquainted with school life, "any careful observer, who has studied the political moods and opinions of the middle classes in this country during the past few years, can hardly have failed to notice two obviously decisive influences: an ignorance of modern history and a want of imagination. For both of these defects the public schools must bear their full share of blame. It may be doubted whether any other nation teaches even its own history so little and so badly."

The result is that 'to the average public school and university man the foreign intelligence in his daily paper is of less interest than the county cricket; and though events of far-reaching importance may be happening almost under his eyes he is in the dark as to their significance.' "As regards the duties and aims of citizenship in all the various affairs of his own country, political, social, economic, he goes out from his school almost wholly uninstructed by the lessons of history, or by any study of the life and the needs of our own times. Again, as it is urged, the lack of imagination is hardly less dangerous to us than lack of instruction in the lessons of history and the social conditions and needs amongst which we have to live and work. No doubt the gift of imagination is a natural gift,—it can not be created. But, given the thing in the germ, it can be stimulated and developed, or starved, stunted, or even crushed out. No system of education that neglects it is even safe. For, without it, principle becomes bigotry and zeal persecution. It is conscientiousness divorced from imagination that produces Robespierres. Now, it is precisely here that we should expect the public schools to be most helpful, for it is through literature that the faculty is most obviously cultivated, and they all profess to give something of a literary training. But though the intention is excellent the performance is often terribly meager." ever may be thought of such criticisms as these, which come from within our public-school life, it is, I imagine, generally agreed by those who know both our national needs and the work and influence of our public schools, that there is much room for improvement in regard to methods of teaching, the cultivation of intellectual interests and tastes, and the stimulating habits of thought in the majority of their pupils. In close connection with these considerations there are two questions of practical importance which deserve a prominent place in any study of our public-school education.

The first of these is whether it is good for all boys alike to continue their life at school, especially at a boarding school, up to the age of eighteen or nineteen; and the other is whether more encouragement and pains should not be given to developing the best type of day school, or, to put it somewhat differently, whether the barrack life of the boarding school has not, through fashionable drift and class prejudice, become too predominant a part of our English education at the expense of the home life with all its finer educational influences.

As regards the first of these questions, it will be remembered that Dr. Arnold considered it a matter of vital importance to expedite the growth of a boy from the childish age to that of a man. In other words, the boy should not be left to grow through the years of critical change from fourteen to nineteen without special regard to his growth in intellectual taste and moral purpose and thoughtfulness. His education during these critical years should be such as to rouse in him the higher ambitions of a responsible manhood.

Does, then, the actual life of a public school really conduce to this early development in the majority of cases? My own experience has led me to the conclusion that it can not be confidently held to do so. The boys in any of our public schools may be said to fall into two classes—those who in due course reach the sixth form, and during their progress through lower forms have an ambition to reach it; and, on the other hand, a numerous class who do not expect to rise to the sixth, don't care about it, and never exert themselves to reach it.

For the first class, I doubt if any more effective preparation for life has been devised than that of our best English schools; but the case of the second class is somewhat different. Many of these come to the end of their school time with their intellectual faculties and tastes and their sense of responsibility as men to a great extent undeveloped. From sixteen to eighteen or nineteen their thoughts, interests, and ambitions have been largely centered in their games and their out-of-school life, with the natural results that their strongest tastes in after life are for amusement and sport. Some of these boys, after loitering at school to the age of eighteen or nineteen, go to the university as passmen, some begin their preparation for the work of a doctor or a solicitor, and many go straight from school into city life as men of business; and nearly all of them suffer from the lack of intellectual and moral stimulus during these later years of their school life.

Now many of these boys could without difficulty pass the entrance examination to the university at sixteen or seventeen, if well and carefully taught; and I have long held the view that such boys would greatly benefit by going to Oxford or Cambridge at the age of seventeen, or even sixteen, if suitable arrangements could be made. It was with this conviction in my mind that I published a scheme showing how this experiment might be tried about twenty years ago. The interval has confirmed me in the opinion that it would be a distinct gain to many boys to take advantage of such a scheme if made available. They would go out into the world from the university at the age of twenty far better equipped and prepared for life, both as regards knowledge and interests, tastes and character, than by going straight from school at nineteen.

And looking to my own University of Oxford, I see no reason why such younger students should not be safely received. There are at least three colleges in that university which would find it easy to adapt their arrangements so as to secure this. Each of these colleges has a hall in connection with it, well suited for the residence of a college tutor who might have special charge of these younger students, residing in the hall during their first year with somewhat stricter rules as to ordinary discipline and liberty, but in all other respects exactly on a par with the senior undergraduate members of the college.

On the subject of the day school, as compared with the boarding school, a subject which has not hitherto received the attention it deserves, I may venture to repeat here what in substance I have said on other occasions. Many parents are so situated that they have no choice in the matter; but to the educational inquirer it is a question of much interest and importance. The boarding school is admitted to excel in turning out strong, self-reliant, sociable, practical men of affairs, men who have learned by early experience not to think or make too much of small injustices, to rough it, if need be, with equanimity and cheerfulness, and to count it a man's part to endure hardness in a manly spirit. It is a fine type of character which is thus produced, at its best; but the best is not always seen in the result, and the system too often produces an undue deference to public opinion, a spirit of moral compromise and a loss of moral enthusiasm. The human soul in its finer parts is a very sensitive thing, and I do not think the barrack life of an average boarding school is always the most favorable for its healthy growth.

As I look back over the school days of my own pupils I feel that those of them had, on the whole, the best education who grew up as day boys in good homes at Clifton College. There they enjoyed all the advantages of the cultivated home, which I need not here enumerate, and at the same time, through the arrangements we made for them, all the best elements in the life of a great boarding school. In the upper school of 500 boys, we had about 160 day boys living at easy distances from the school. These boys were divided into two houses—North Town and South Town—about eighty boys in each house, and they were treated for school purposes just as if they were living together in a boarding house. They were under the same rules as boarders in regard to hours of locking up, or the bounds beyond which they might not go without a note from their parents giving express leave. Their names were printed in a house list, a master was appointed as their tutor, whose duty it was to look to their educational needs and progress, to their reports and conduct, just as if they had been boarders and he their house master. Each house had its own room or library on the college premises, with books of reference, and so forth, for spare hours, and took its part with the boarding houses, and held its own in all school affairs, games and other competitions. And my experience of this system compared with others has led me to the conclusion that the form of education which may on the whole claim to be the best is that of a well-organized day school, in which it is clearly understood to be the duty of the masters to give their life to the boys in school and out of school, just as if they were at a boarding school, and in which the boys are distributed into houses for school purposes, just as if they were living in a boarding house. Under such a system they get the best of both worlds, home and school.

From the public school we pass naturally to the universities, and the first question that meets us is the influence they exercise on school education, through their requirements on admission or matriculation and the bestowal of their endowments and other prizes. On this part of my subject I have seen no reason to alter or modify what I said at Glasgow three years ago, and therefore I merely enumerate and emphasize the suggestions which I put forward on that occasion for the improvement of education both at school and college. I hold that it would be equivalent to pouring a new stream of intellectual influence through our secondary education if Oxford and Cambridge were to agree on some such requirements as the following:

1. In the matriculation examination (a) candidates to be free to offer some adequate equivalent in place of Greek. (b) An elementary knowledge of some branch of natural science, and of one modern language to be required of all candidates, (c) A knowledge of some period of English history and literature also to be required of every candidate, and ability to write English to be tested, (d) The examination in Latin and any other foreign language to include questions on the subject-matter of any prepared books offered, some questions on history and literature, and translation of easy passages not previously prepared, (e) Marks of distinction should be given for work of superior merit in any branch of this examination, as, indeed, of every pass examination conducted by the university. Candidates should not be excluded from residence before passing this examination, nor should they be required to pass in all subjects at the same time; but the completion of this examination would be the necessary preliminary to entry for any other examination required for a degree.

2. On the question of endowments and the minimizing of waste in the administration of them there is much to be said, and I would suggest for consideration: (1) That, as a rule, open scholarships and exhibitions might be reduced to free tuition, free rooms and free dinners in hall, or thereabouts. (2) That every holder of an open scholarship or exhibition, whose circumstances were such that he needed augmentation, should, on application, receive such augmentation as the college authorities considered sufficient. (3) That care should be taken to discourage premature specialization at school.

For this end it should be required that no scholar should enjoy the emoluments of his scholarship until he had passed the matriculation examination described above; and a fair proportion of scholarships should be awarded for excellence in a combination of subjects. The universities might also do good service in the way of stimulating secondary education, if some small proportion of their entrance scholarships were distributed over the country as county scholarships, on condition that the county contributed an equal amount in every case. In this way some equivalent for the endowments, so cynically 1 confiscated by the education act of 1902, might be recovered and used for the benefit of poor and meritorious students.

Other reforms, which would, as I believe, be productive of valuable results, are the requiring from every candidate for a degree a knowledge of some portion of our own literature and history, and the encouragement of intellectual interests and ambitions by abolishing all purely pass examinations. A pass examination, in which the candidates are invited simply to aim at a minimum of knowledge or attainment, is hardly worthy of a university. The opportunity of winning some mark of distinction in this or that portion of what is now a pass examination would frequently rouse some latent ambition in an idle man, and transform the whole spirit of his work. Thus a modest reform of this kind might be of practical benefit to the nation by helping in its degree to intellectualize the life of a great many of our young men, and draw out unsuspected interests, faculties and tastes.

My observations have run to such a length that I must, perforce, conclude, leaving untouched other aspects of university education and training, whether in the old or the new universities, as also the whole subject of the higher education of women, and its proper relationship to traditional systems of instruction and study, framed and intended for men. And my last word is a word of practical inquiry. How is this section to be made of most value as an instrument of educational progress? I leave the answer to this question to those more competent to give it, merely putting on record my own feeling that it may do a valuable service and supply one of our special educational needs, if the working committee of the section, enlarged by the addition of various representative persons, makes it a duty to collect and publish year by year in succession a series of papers, the best that can be written by recognized authorities, on the chief branches of our English education, dwelling on its immediate and pressing needs, and how best to supply them. To do this the committee should set to work systematically, commencing in October with monthly meetings, and formulating, without delay, the scheme or series of papers to be prepared and presented to the next meeting of the association.