THE SCOPE OF CONTINUATION SCHOOLS
Not only in Prussia but throughout western Europe there was a more or less active intellectual renaissance, but, whether because the times were not ripe or the peoples were not worthy, the high ideals of the early days of the century were superseded by the utilitarian motive.
When the ‘Continuation School’ movement revived, envy of the commercial and manufacturing successes of England actuated the new effort; and already in 1829 a Pavarian statesman had announced that if you would have the fruit you must sow the seed, that is, manufacturing success is to be had only at the cost of technical education.
We all know the result in the great Munich schools where first-rate organisation and admirable teaching have produced an appreciable effect upon German industries. But the best German minds have long been aware that “an education which has powerful economic interests behind it is apt to become too narrowly utilitarian in motive and to lose that ideal element which gives all education its chief power over character.” As Mr. Lecky has said concerning morals, “the Utilitarian theory is profoundly immoral.”
And what was the note of this new gospel of education?
…a utilitarian education should be universal and compulsory; child and adolescent should be “saturated with the spirit of service, provided with the instruments of effective self-direction.” Behold, Utopia at hand! every young person fitted, body and soul, for the uses of society; as for his own uses, what he should be in and for himself—why, what matter?
It is not that the eminent educationalists I have referred to would willingly sacrifice the individual youth to society; on the contrary they would raise him, give him place and power, give him opportunity; place his feet on the rungs of that ladder we used to hear about; but we have all been misled by mistaken views as to the function of education. We have believed that knowledge may be derived from sensation, that what we have seen with our eyes and our hands have handled affords us the nutriment our souls demand. . No doubt a boy uses his mind to some purpose when he makes, for example, an ingenious model; and, seeing mind at work, we run away with the notion that food and work are synonymous terms; for the body they may be so in a certain sense, for work brings pay and pay buys food, but no such indirect transaction is possible to mind; a mind perpetually at heavy work is a sort of intellectual navvy [a labourer, manual work], whose food must be proportioned to his labour.
We begin to see that mind, the mind of all sorts and conditions of men, requires its rations, wholesome and regularly served. As things are we shall have to see to it that everybody gets fed; but our hope is that henceforth we shall bring up our young people with self-sustaining minds, as well as self-sustaining bodies, by a due ordering of the process of education. We hope so to awaken and direct mind hunger that every man’s mind will look after itself.
What is the proper food of mind, has already been discussed but we may assume that education should make our boys and girls rich towards God (we remember the fool of the parable who failed because he was not “rich towards God”), rich towards society and rich towards themselves. I will not press my point by urging the moral bankruptcy which has been exposed to us during recent years as co-existent with, if not caused by, utilitarian education; for the catastrophe has been accelerated by the sort of moral madness of which we too have had our seasons in the past…
“Where there is most life, there is the victory,” said he, and the immediate way to an access of life he saw in “A Danish High School accessible to young people all over the land,” a school which should inspire “admiration for what is great, love for what is beautiful, faithfulness and affection, peace and unity, innocent cheerfulness, pleasure and mirth.” Observe, there is no word of ‘efficiency’ in this poet’s dream,
All of these High Schools bear the mark of the genius of their “Father”—whose pupils have known how to sum up his teaching in three sayings,—“Spirit is might; Spirit reveals itself in spirit; Spirit works only in freedom.” We are able to trace the source of these sayings, and indeed this movement seems to have been from the first profoundly Christian—Christian in no narrow sense, but sharing the wide liberality of that Allegoria filosofica della Religione Cattolica conceived by the ‘Angelic Doctor’ and pictured by Simone Memmi on the walls of the Spanish chapel in Santa Maria Novella (Florence): the several teachers commemorated were themselves illustrious pagans but not therefore the less under Divine teaching. Here, it seems to me, is an educational credo worth reviving in these utilitarian days, and some such creed seems to have been Grundtvig’s, though probably independently conceived. His great hope is that “above all, some acquaintance with popular literature, especially with the poetry and history of one’s own country, will create a brand new world of readers all over the land.”
Our upper and middle classes, professional and other, are singularly stable folk, and they are so, not because of their material but of their intellectual well-being; in this sense only they are most of them the ‘Haves’ as compared with the ‘Have-nots.’ The reason is not far to seek. Are there not agitators abroad whose business it is to sow seeds of discontent in the gaping minds of the multitude? The full mind passes on, but that which is empty seizes on any new notion with avidity, and is hardly to be blamed for doing so; a hungry mind takes what it can get, and the baker is apt to be lenient about prosecuting the starving man who steals a loaf. I do not hesitate to say that the constantly recurring misery of our age, ‘Labour Unrest,’ is to be laid at the door, not of the working man, but of the nation which has not troubled itself to consider the natural hunger of mind and the manner of meat such hunger demands.
That the People’s High Schools of Denmark are worthier of our imitation than the Continuation Schools of Germany.
That they are so because character and conduct, intelligence and initiative, are the outcome of a humanistic education in which the knowledge of God is put first.
This particular gift of time must be dedicated to things of the mind if we believe that mind too requires its rations and that to use the mind is by no means the same thing as to feed it.
What we may call the ‘academic’ doctrine assumes that mind like body is capable of development in various directions by means of due exercise. Profounder educational thought, however, reveals mind to us as of enormous capacity, self-active, present in everyone and making but one demand—its proper pabulum. Feed mind duly and its activities take care of themselves. As the well-fed workman is fit for all his labours, so the duly nourished mind knows, thinks, feels, judges with general righteousness. The good man and magnanimous citizen is he who has been fed with food convenient for him.
Such a view of education naturally includes religion, not only “for his God doth instruct him and doth teach him,” but because we may take knowledge roughly as of three sorts,—knowledge of God, to be got first-hand through the sacred writings, knowledge of man, to be arrived at through history, poetry, tale; through the customs of cities and nations, civics; through the laws of self-government, morals. One other great branch of knowledge remains. Every youth should know some thing of the flowers of the field, the birds of the air, the stars in their courses, the innumerable phenomena that come under general observation; he should have some knowledge of physics, though chemistry perhaps should be reserved for those who have a vocation that way.
Here are we on the verge of that new life for our country which we all purpose, faced with infinite possibilities on either hand,—the vast range of knowledge and the vast educability of mind. Another certainty presents itself, that we have not time for short cuts: the training of muscle and sense, however necessary, does not nourish mind; and, on the other hand, the verbiage of a lecturer is not assimilated. There is no education but self-education and only as the young student works with his own mind is anything effected.
But we are not without hope. An astounding field has been opened to us; thousands of children in Council Schools are doing incredible things with freedom and joy. They have taken in hand their own education and are greedy of knowledge for its own sake, knowledge in the three great fields that I have indicated.
The fact is that a great discovery has been vouchsafed to us, greater, I think, as concerns education, than any since the invention of the first alphabet.
I am anxious to bring this idea of a discovery before the reader because our methods are so simple and obvious that people are inclined to take them up at random and say that extensive reading is a “good idea which we have all tried more or less” and that free narration “is a good plan in which there is nothing new.” It is true that we all read and that narration is as natural as breathing, its value depending solely upon what is narrated. What we have perhaps failed to discover hitherto is the immense hunger for knowledge (curiosity) existing in everyone and the immeasurable power of attention with which everyone is endowed; that everyone likes knowledge best in a literary form; that the knowledge should be exceedingly various concerning many things on which the mind of man reflects; but that knowledge is acquired only by what we may call “the act of knowing,” which is both encouraged and tested by narration, and which further requires the later test and record afforded by examinations. This is nothing new, you will say, and possibly no natural law in action appears extra- ordinarily new; we take flying already as a matter of course; but though there is nothing surprising in the action of natural laws, the results are exceedingly surprising, and to that test we willingly submit these methods.
… minds nourished at the lips of a teacher have not the stability of those which seek their own meat.
But what if all were for all, if the great hope of Comenius —“All knowledge for all men”—were in process of taking shape? This is what we have established in many thousands of cases, even in those of dull and backward children, that any person can understand any book of the right calibre (a question to be determined mainly by the age of the young reader); that the book must be in literary form; that children and young persons require no elucidation of what they read; that their attention does not flag while so engaged; that they master a few pages at a single reading so thoroughly that they can ‘tell it back’ at the time or months later whether it be the Pilgrim’s Progress or one of Bacon’s Essays or Shakespeare’s plays; that they throw individuality into this telling back so that no two tell quite the same tale; that they learn incidentally to write and speak with vigour and style and usually to spell well. Now this art of telling back is Education and is very enriching. We all practise it, we go over in our minds the points of a conversation, a lecture, a sermon, an article, and we are so made that only those ideas and arguments which we go over are we able to retain. Desultory reading or hearing is entertaining and refreshing, but is only educative here and there as our attention is strongly arrested. Further, we not only retain but realise, understand, what we thus go over. Each incident stands out, every phrase acquires new force, each link in the argument is riveted, in fact we have performed The Act of Knowing, and that which we have read, or heard, becomes a part of ourselves, it is assimilated after the due rejection of waste matter. Like those famous men of old we have found out “knowledge meet for the people” and to our surprise it is the best knowledge conveyed in the best form that they demand.
To-day we are in this position. We realise that there is an act of knowing to be performed; that no one can know without this act, that it must be self-performed, that it is as agreeable and natural to the average child or man as singing is to the song thrush, that “to know” is indeed a natural function. Yet we hear of the incuria which prevails in most schools, while there before us are the young consumed with the desire to know, can we but find out what they want to know and how they require to be taught.
Humanistic education, whether in English or Latin, affects conduct powerfully; knowledge of this sort is very welcome to children and young persons; a good deal of ground may be covered because a single reading of a passage suffices; this sort of humanistic work has been tried with good effect; and if our Continuation Schools are to be of value they must afford an education on some such lines.
By using this curriculum we were enabled to see that the slum child in a poor school compares quite favourably with the child of clever or opulent parents who had given heed to his education.
No cost whatever is attached to the adoption and continued working of this method except the cost of books and of these, young wage-earners would no doubt buy their own, so that by degrees each would form his little library of books that he has read, understands and knows his way about. I should like to quote a few sentences from Professor Eucken on the education of the people:—
“By education of the people it must not for a moment be supposed that we mean a special kind of education. We do not refer to a condensed preparation of our spiritual and intellectual possessions, suitable for the needs and interests of the great masses; we are not thinking of a diluted concoction of the real draught of education which we are so kind and condescending as to dispense to the majority. No!…. there is only one education common to us all.” “We can all unite in the construction of a spiritual world over against that of petty human routine. Thus there is, in truth, a possibility of a truly human education, and therefore of a true education of the people.”
What we desire is the still progress of growth that comes of root striking downwards and fruit urging upwards. And this progress in character and conduct is not attained through conditions of environment or influence but only through the growth of ideas, received with conscious intellectual effort.
We can give to the people the thought of the best minds and we can secure on their part the conscious intellectual effort, the act of knowing, which bears fruit in capability, character and conduct.
Now a common ground of thought is inestimable in what may be called its cohesive value; and what we desire to afford to the nation at large is such another background of thought, sketched in like that of the Public School man from the books men and women have read at school, books which made them intimate with Pitt and Fox, ‘Dick Swiveller,’ ‘Mrs. Quickly,’ with daffodils and clouds and nightingales as the poets have seen them, with a thousand promiscuous and seemingly purposeless scenes and sayings which somehow combine to serve the purpose of a background throwing the thoughts and incidents of to-day into clear relief. For this reason we, like the Public Schools, all read the same books, with such an intensive single reading that for the rest of the lives of these young people phrases or allusions they come across will kindle in their eyes that ‘light which never was on sea or land.’ We may hope that Public Schools will presently add this modicum of English to their classical studies; then the candidate for election will have something to appeal to other than the desire to better himself, which is supposed to dominate every man. By the way, is the paucity of literary or historical allusions, not in Latin, to be heard in the House due to the fact that the audience cannot be counted upon to rise to a reference not included in the well-known school books? If so, we shall change all that; once the masses read, the classes must read, too, and the Peace will be signalised by a new bond of intellectual life in common.
“There is no more dreadful sight,” says Goethe, “than ignorance in action,” and is not this the sight that is at the present time dismaying us all? Demos is king to-day, and who may dispute his right? But let us all give him the chance to become that philosopher-king who according to an ancient dream was to be the fit ruler, or rulers, of the people. The hopeful sign is that Demos himself perceives his lack, and clamours for the humanistic education in which he sees his salvation.