Page images

experience, that can maintain these virtues and destroy the vices which are their opposites. An ethical system which, whatever regard it may profess for these authorities, practically destroys them, is plainly unfit to be taken for the regulative agency of human society. If nature or past experience had left us no stronger moral system than this, we should have had forthwith to invent one ourselves.




HE main object of this Paper is to exhibit a sketch of

a scheme of religious instruction such as might be given with fairness and advantage to the children of parents of all Christian denominations, in which term I include all parents who profess to make the teaching of Christ the guiding principle of their lives.

It can hardly be asserted that the possibility of giving such religious instruction has ever yet been temperately discussed as an educational problem.

On the one hand the opponents of the secular system have been too ready to brand those who differ from them with the titles of infidels and atheists, and to threaten the judgments of God on the State and prophesy the downfall of morality if God be not recognised as King in the way they desire and if morality have not the sanction of religion in the school.

In their mistaken zeal those who argue in this way are apt to forget the cardinal precept of Christ that we should do unto others as we would they should do unto us, and to do disparagement to the attributes of God whom they represent as acting in a manner unworthy even of a chivalrous man. They underrate also the value of other influences, apart from the hours given to religious instruction, on the character of the pupils. To the formation of this the presence of the teacher, his acts, words, and tones, the habit of discipline and of deference to authority, and the renegation of self entailed on children by their living


together in numbers, all contribute. Moreover, education tends to make children realise clearly, and by thus enlarging their sympathies will develop in them a more active regard for the feelings of other human beings, and even of animals. We usually find criminals callous as well as uneducated, though of course there are exceptions, many of which can probably be accounted for by considerations

of race.

On the other hand the advocates of the secular system have regarded the question rather as a political than an educational one, have been biassed by a natural jealousy of a predominant Church, or with praiseworthy religious earnestness setting before their minds an ideal and it is to be feared impracticable picture of an organisation for religious instruction outside the ordinary day-schools, have scmetimes been led to throw an undeserved slur on the religious qualifications of the ordinary school teacher, even going so far as to assert, or at least to imply, that he is not a fit person to give religious instruction.

I desire to make a warm protest against this assumption. Elementary teachers have small opportunity themselves of rebutting it. They do not appear much on platforms, and if they did they could not with delicacy discuss their own religious qualifications. No doubt the strong feeling fre

. quently exhibited against the treatment of religion by the secular teacher has its source in many minds in real religious earnestness; but the danger to the cause of religion that must follow from the preachers setting themselves in array against the teachers should surely make the former rause before they assert their right to a monopoly in religious teaching.

That there is an increasing number of conscientious men who do not accept the old forms of stating religious truths, and whose opinions are not fixed, is quite true.

quite true. But it is also quite certain that in the essentials of religion, in devotion to the interests of truth and of the race, in the disciplined use of their faculties for the advancement of both, many such men may compare very favourably with those who have uninquiringly accepted

and retained the traditional beliefs of their childhood. As far as I know, it has never been shown that such men have sought to give negative instruction to their pupils. It is likely that such positive teaching as they give will have a more enduring influence coming from the habitual teacher than could be asserted by any unsystematic teaching given by an amateur imported into the school. Practically, as was recently said by a writer in the Spectator, such men are content to enforce the precepts of religion, as far as they themselves honestly agree in and adopt them, and to exert as high a moral and spiritual influence as they can, keeping silence on subjects on which they cannot speak with real advantage to their pupils.

Moreover, the notion that the teacher is not a fit person to give religious instruction ignores the elementary fact of human nature strenuously and more than once insisted on by Christ, that the contact with children has a tendency to foster the religious sentiment. So that we might expect that the giving religious instruction to children would be more likely to foster a religious character than almost any other calling

And experience here fortifies the speculations of theory. Two of the most popular and influential lives of the Founder of Christianity have been written by schoolmasters; an episcopal schoolmaster planned and executed in the metropolis the most gigantic scheme of Church extension we have known in our time; the great English Commentary on the Fourth Gospel is written by an ex-schoolmaster; sermons delivered by Head Masters in their school chapels form a literature in themselves. If religion gain by the exposition of its documents and the practical enforce

ment of its precepts then have schoolmasters a claim to be spoken of as religious teachers without disparagement by their fellow-religionists apart from the fact that they are called upon to exhibit the Christian virtues by a life of service to the weak, a mode of living which we are told met their Master's especial approval.

But I may be told that all this refers to the teacher of first grade schools, whereas it is the elementary teacher, a person of inferior capacity and tone, whose fitness is denied. I answer I cannot recognise, such a division of the Profession.

The fact is, those who would deprive the elementary teacher of the opportunity of giving religious instruction, disparage the work of the schoolmaster, as such, for lack of full sympathy with it.

But what is the work of the elementary schoolmaster? He may be regarded as an official paid to produce results in percentages. Those who regard him in this light are perfectly justified in assuming that he is a being without religious sentiment; but they are not justified in grumbling that he exhibits a low tone. But if this is all he is, the ratepayer is an illused individual. I venture to think, however, that the view is a false one, and those who entertain it belong to an age of cynicism that is fast becoming fossil, and may be defined as the age of the licensed victuallers. I think the more

. earnest age of the future will regard the elementary teacher in a different light. He has daily to struggle for the redemption of the waifs and outcasts of society from the results of vice, improvidence and ignorance, and he has a claim to the use of every available means to accomplish the task society has delegated to him. Other members of society may make speeches about the task, rhapsodise in connection with it on the vague, the vast, and the vehement; but he has to do it as soon as they leave the stage clear to him. They are the glorified, he is the

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »