Wednesday, 20 July 2016
Education and the War
Education and the War
Part V of ‘England in Arms’
By W. Lacey Amy
From The Canadian Magazine, September 1917.
Digitized by Doug Frizzle, July 2016.
You may upset a nation’s electoral system, revolutionize its labour principles, inaugurate a new standard of health—you may even alter its morals and reorganize its methods of trade—without a complete picture of national regeneration. But when the functions and direction of education are disturbed it is safe to conclude that the nation is stirred to its depths. And all these changes, even the last, the war has introduced into Great Britain.
Naturally such a creature of tradition has shifted its ground with a measure of apology, of denial even of that which it was in the very act of doing, but it has, nevertheless, accepted the lessons of experience and set about ordering its house. It is not the manner in which one works that counts, but the quantity one does. “If anyone doubted the value of our elementary schools,” said Mr. H. A. L. Fisher, the new Minister of Education, in his memorable announcement of educational reform to the British House of Commons, “that doubt must have been dispelled by the experience of the war.” And thereupon he proceeds to pull the system to pieces and to build from the ruins a new structure that will prepare the nation still more efficiently for the next war as well as for peace.
Great Britain, even before the war, was beginning to question her system of education as a complete equipment for modern commerce and competition. But with the first few months of the great struggle her gaze became focused on outstanding faults that were looming larger and larger with the ups and downs of the armies in Flanders. Something was wrong. The British soldier was as firm a bulwark as ever, but that which stood behind the perishable flesh and blood of the trenches was not fulfilling its part. German preparedness was demonstrating to a nation which had always had reason for pride that loyalty, a record for unconquerableness, selfconfidence, and determination were poor obstacles to the inventions of modern warfare. As Mr. Fisher put it: Great Britain was discovering that “the capital of this country is not merely cash and goods, but brains and body”. “There is something in your d— board school education after all,” a ship commander, glorying in the service of his men wrote him. But both Mr. Fisher and the House that listened knew the compliment was but an introduction to a practical expression of national dissatisfaction.
“One might have imagined,” said the Minister, “that the war would have so occupied and exhausted the mind of the country as to leave room for no other thought. But is has had quite the opposite effect. Quite naturally, and as it seems to me quite rightly, this great calamity has directed attention to every circumstance which may bear upon our national strength and national welfare. It has exhibited the full range of our deficiency, and it has invited us to take stock of all the available agencies for their improvement.” After such a confession of weakness, the most intolerant critic of the old educational system is content to await that firm stand for reform which is characteristic of the British nation when it sees its mistake.
The English educational system laboured under several disadvantages. First of all, in characteristic fashion, it was constructed like its castles— with an eye to its permanency. It is the British habit to build for all time. But if anything has been revealed by modern progress it is the superior value of adaptability to permanence.
It may seem treason to fly in the face of the hitherto much-quoted tribute of Sir Joshua Fitch to the English system of education. “The public provision for the education of the people of England is not the product of any theory or plan formulated beforehand by statesmen or philosophers; it has come into existence through a long course of experiments, compromises, traditions, successes, failures and religious controversies. . . . It has been affected . . . only to a small degree by legislation. The genius—or rather characteristic habit—of the English people is averse to the philosophical system, and is disposed to regard education, not as a science, but as a body of experiments to be discovered empirically and amended from time to time as occasion may require.” But the new Minister of Education—and he is the first practical educationist in the forty-seven years of compulsory education who has filled the important post of Minister of Education—took issue, and the applause of the country proved that he shocked no sensitive susceptibilities in so doing. “More grant.” he announced, “will be paid to an authority which believes in flesh and blood than an authority which puts its trust in bricks and mortar.” And the House cheered as much at the suggestion of symbolism as at the reforms outlined.
The history of British educational legislation is so closely entangled with another of education’s drags that it seems to demand attention here. In a country where Church and State have never been dissociated it was certain that the most influential institution should be demanded by the Church as its prerogative. And the struggle of the Church to maintain its hold has written a record of educational progress in Great Britain which is not a proud one.
The first state education came in 1832, when treasury grants were given in aid of elementary schools. Naturally at that time the early influences were religious rather than economic. It is in this condition, continuing through the decades since, that lay the strong foundation on which classicism stands, the dead languages being the door to theological learning of that period. Also, being controlled by the theologists. education, from the earliest days, was not conceived as a right to the masses, but as a privilege to those who might increase its power as well as be increased thereby. The baneful influence of the Church was evident in the long struggle that was fought out by old educationists concerning the basis of education. The Grammar School Act of 1840 attempted to improve elementary education without that subservience to its classical branches which had been considered its very essence, but the Church resisted the application of ancient endownments to schools not under its control. Up to the time of the Endowed Schools Act of 1869-1874 educational endowments, unless there was evidence to the contrary, were considered to imply instruction in the doctrines of the Church of England. In 1870 a form of compulsory education was introduced, but not until six years later did Disraeli make compulsion complete. In 1902, the time of the last real change in the educational system and the only one with evidences of permanency—in the light of later years—the pressure of the Established and Roman Catholic Churches for equal treatment with the voluntary and board schools brought about the abolition of the parochial school board and made county councils the local authorities. Two attempts to separate education from Church control were made, in 1906 and 1908, but both failed, the offer of the Government for the Church properties and endowments in the latter year not being considered sufficient.
The danger of Church control is its narrowness, its concern as much for its authority and influence as for the efficiency of its system. But times have changed. No flagrant deficiency, in Church or State, can long survive the opening eyes of the masses.
The third unfortunate influence on education in England is the snobbery of class. Even to-day there is the unexpressed theory that education, in its more advanced stages at least, is not for the common people. It can be taken for granted that every system in England is somewhat under the blot of the existing traditions of class distinctions. The war is overthrowing them in every phase of life, but the instincts are there, even in the proletariat itself. One has only to look at the general system of education to see it at its worst. Elementary education of the masses is conducted at what are called board schools. In a general way they correspond to the public schools of Canada. But they are handicapped by this essential difference—that they are not public schools in the sense which implies the patronage of the general public. In practice they are confined to the lower grades of society. To attend a board school, especially in the cities, is to be socially degraded.
Everyone who can afford it sends his children to private or public schools. The latter are in no sense public. Entrance is as firmly based on certain unalterable rules—and they have nothing to do with intellectual attainment—as is admission to the universities. A certain standard of wealth is evidenced by the ability to pay the fees demanded, and the boy’s outfit is more precisely defined than the requirements of a girl in a ladies’ college in Canada. Indeed, some social status is a necessity in many of the public schools of England, although the depletion of students resulting from the war is putting an end to that in the most effective manner.
Accordingly the system in public schools has followed a readily conceivable channel. Denoting in its initial stages a certain plane for the student, in wealth and often in society, the public school is conducted to further develop an estimate of life’s responsibilities consistent with such an inception. In this I would not be misunderstood. There is nothing finer than the real English gentleman, but there is no Englishman, gentleman or not, whose outlook on life is not coloured by generations of training in exaggerated significances of social levels. The public school does not produce the snob so much as it produces those who appreciate class distinctions without permitting it to make them deliberately offensive. Its aim is to produce a “gentleman”, that peculiar embodiment of virtues which, un-Canadian as it is in some of its opinions, is of a much finer clay than that which comes under the usual English designation, “gentleman”.
To put it more affirmatively: The English public school, while it sends out a grand type of youth, handicaps him in the outside world by developing certain sides of him which are apt to neglect modern essentials and foreign opinions. It goes in for sports as a feature of the curriculum, a mark of the gentleman. It lays such stress on “sportsmanship” that war with the Hun, for instance, is a more perilous and costly operation than it need be. It adheres to certain lines of education in the face of the daily revelation of their inadequacy. It strengthens the disastrous conviction that tradition is the standard of excellence. It narrows even while it makes more indulgent. It builds up a fine fellow at the expense of his future in the world’s competition. And yet the public school boy is imbued with so much of the best that is in the word British that, can he but forget some of his indirect training, he becomes the world-citizen who has built up the British Empire. When he fails there is nothing more intolerable. Remove the stain of the principle behind the public school, and the public school—barring one or two details—is beyond criticism.
An example of the parental attitude indirectly encouraged by the public school is afforded by a letter from a father recently read in public by a headmaster who was much impressed with the spirit of snobbery in its reds, but failed to sense it in its grays. “I wonder if I might ask your co-operation in regard to my son,” it pleaded. “The boy’s extraordinary likeing for what I regard as the most repulsive branch of natural history—newts, beetles, and insects—is a source of much disappointment to his mother and me. Can you, either directly or indirectly, turn his mind to a higher and more refined branch of the subject—birds, trees, flowers I cannot help feeling that the tendency of the present study is degrading.” It was the wail of a parent who was frank enough to acknowledge that public school as the propagation bed for caste education.
Public schools—there are 110 of them, with 35,000 students—are, of course, not officially recognized, although thirty-four of them receive grants and thirty-six are inspected.
In their upper grades they come under the general educational classification of secondary schools. And it is officially and popularly admitted that in secondary school education Great Britain has failed dismally, not alone in the snobbery it is inclined to encourage, but in the low educational standing of its teachers. Mr. Fisher declares that, in no other country is there such a proportion of secondary school teachers without a university degree. This is largely due to the small salaries paid. There are, it is well known, a comparatively small number of public schools whose standing cannot be questioned, but being out of Government control the majority have developed methods and standards of efficiency not conducive of the best results.
The secondary schools, whether official or private, failed, too, because of the multiplicity and lack of uniformity in their examinations. There are more than a hundred examinations demanded by the different callings and professions for which education directly prepares a boy. In every way there was discouragement for the lad forced to consider advanced education as a means to a livelihood. Thus there are three times as many pupils between the ages of fourteen and eighteen receiving systematized education in France as in England, and in Prussia six times as many.
In the universities conditions were not so bad, but still unsatisfactory. England has taken to itself great credit for the remarkable response of its universities to the call to arms. It is a fact that the great Universities of Oxford and Cambridge are almost empty, their examination rooms given over as hospitals, their laboratories to the inventions of war. But if the higher development of a nation’s education does not breed patriots sad indeed is the lot of that nation. If education does not teach the true place of loyalty to one’s country it has missed its greatest mental stimulation. It is to its universities—to its more intelligent classes—that any country must look for its salvation.
But the older universities of England had fallen into the national habit of conservatism, of settled lines of learning too slow to adapt themselves to the requirements of modern progress. This was especially evident in the prominence of classics at the expense of science and moderns, and what has come to be called the humanities. Based on the past, on the English reluctance to change, young men entirely unsuited for classical education, others to whom such training could be of too little value to merit its grind and time, were forced to devote themselves to Greek and Latin, when any modern language would have assisted materially in fitting them for the struggle of life ahead. And science was comparatively neglected. This light attention to science has exacted its penalty during these grim days. While the German was directing his perverted, but well-trained, mind to the production of the engines of war, Great Britain was forced to rely for counter-attack and protection upon those acute individual brains which have been the foundation of Britain’s position in science, including its medical branch. Until the misdirected brains of the country could be switched from that form of development which tended only to the effective in oratory and literature, in abstruse dissertation and “intellectualism”, the interests of the warring nation were subject to the attainments of those who had rebelled against a standard mould for the Englishman.
To be sure there had often struggled to the light rebellion against an unworthy appraisal of science, but the disadvantages of such a campaign are that its backers are obviously revolutionists, and their uncultivated weapon of publicity is dull compared with that wielded by those whose accomplishments are verbal, not practical. In 1889 the Technical Instruction Act supported technical or manual instruction, and a Department of Science and Art promised good results. But the Board of Education Act of ten years later swallowed up the new Department. And science became a study without direct usefulness, since it was insufficiently developed to adapt it to the needs of industry. Through mal-nutrition, too, even when it was productive it failed to meet the educated Englishman’s demand for intellectual stimulus. And in English industrial life there was small reward for the scientist, a good works chemist before the war receiving a paltry six hundred dollars.
But protest and warning were coming from many sides. A number of new universities—Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, and latterly, Bristol—had sprung up to cater to the crying need for a more practical education. Even Oxford was looking about for some plan of organized training in science that might be accepted as in conformity with its high standards. The universities were pricked into introspection by the clamour of the large industries that faced the competition of the outside world. Reverent as these industrial firms were towards the English university—their heads were usually university educated — they were the immediate sufferers from its inherent weaknesses. The head of one of the largest ship-building firms declared the other day that he preferred the university man in his works, but “when I go up to Oxford to look round I do not pick the fellow who has been first in Greek and first in History, but the fellow who would have been first if he had worked”. It was a subtle pronouncement against the final aim of Oxford education, while applauding its general influence. He wanted the man with the Oxford brain, but not with the Oxford honours—might I say, ideals.
Several organizations were at work to introduce remedies. The Educational Reform Council intelligently attacked the administration. The Association of Directors and Secretaries for Education urged a number of reforms for continuation schools, pointing out the advantages of compulsory education for a limited number of hours a week for young people between fourteen and eighteen, whether in employment or not. The Oxford Association for the Improvement of National Education, the Departmental Committee on Juvenile Education, and the London Education Committee were striving for improvement.
But the most effective spur to reform came from the Workers’ Educational Association. Mr. Fisher admitted that “our popular system of education is popular in one sense only”. He saw that the schools of the people had not behind them the support of the working classes. The activity of opposition from the working classes came as a war result. Higher wages were bringing higher aims, a clearer perception of the possibilities of improved status. The workingman was ceasing to accept the doctrine that higher education should be reserved for the upper classes. And the Workers’ Educational Association represented this movement, one of the most important, Mr. Fisher admitted, for the promotion of higher education among the workers. It ridiculed as entirely inadequate the eight hours a week suggested by the Departmental Committee, claiming that the hours of labour should be limited and the hours of education the real consideration.
The small salaries for teachers was an active issue even before the war, but with the increased cost of living and the growing demand for reformed education the teachers took a firm stand. In London they even went on strike against the miserly pittance allowed them as a war bonus.
The scale of salary of the English teacher reads like the record of Quebec Province a few years ago. In England and Wales there are 160,000 teachers, of whom 60,000 are uncertificated and 40,000 without training college experience; and almost none of them have university education.
Five certificated masters—two of them head-masters—and 219 certificated mistresses received less than $250 a year, twenty thousand (certificated) less than $375. A headmaster. after thirty years, had improved his pay from $435 to $480, another in forty years from $350 to $475. In one school in a large English county nine teachers (all in the school) receive less than the caretaker. The average salary for a certificated head-master is $880. for a certificated assistant $645. and for an uncertificated teacher $340. And women receive only two-thirds those amounts. In many counties the maximum salary for a certain grade of head-master is $15 a week; and the average salary for an uncertificated assistant is $325 for men and $280 for women. Yet the war bonus, with food one hundred per cent, higher, was sometimes as low as twenty cents a week.
Into conditions like these there was projected the first educationist to hold the Ministerial position; and in his choice Lloyd George made one of his many demonstrations of irreverence for tradition. Mr. Fisher knew the state of affairs from practical experience. Better still, he was uninfluenced by political or personal considerations. Starting with what he knew himself, he sought only what affected education. And he found it out. The result is educational reform that would never have come from the most honest politician such as those who have hitherto invariably filled the Cabinet positions.
Elementary education he first stroked, then admitted its deficiencies by granting an additional $17,000,000, chiefly as teachers’ salaries. “An embittered teacher is a social danger,” he declared. And the extra money is to be allotted by inverse ratio to the wealth of the district.
Secondary schools, “which are the key of the situation,” are favoured with an extra two million dollars, the principal objects being higher salaries. more teachers, and encouragement for advanced courses. A strenuous effort is to be made, too, to drive out the caste system, so that “the son of the manufacturer, the son of the foreman, and the son of the workman should be educated side by side”. Five years ago such a principle would have been killed at birth. For this purpose well-to-do parents are to pay for their children, while the Government comes to the assistance of the poor. The multiplicity of examinations is to be modified, although already a concerted attack has been made by narrow head-masters of some of the smaller private and public schools, who fear that candidates from uncontrolled schools might be discriminated against. This simplification of examination has been placed in the hands of a committee of eighteen, composed equally of elementary and higher education representatives.
A pension scheme for teachers is proposed.
Little has been done with the university system as yet, although action promises in the not distant future. Probably the Minister considered that he was undertaking a sufficiently large proposition for the present in reorganizing the less advanced forms of education. His tendencies with regard to the universities were expressed in a demand for “ample provision for the prosecution of free and independent post-graduate courses, and also for scholarships in science, technology, and modern languages”. His attack on tradition consisted of a desire “that every child in this country should receive the form of education most adapted to fashion its qualities for the highest uses”. He contended, too, for greater unity in the universities.
Without the war education in England would have proceeded along the old lines until the dire straits of inability to compete forced a change. While the record in England of the years immediately preceding the war showed a waning commerce in the markets of the world, only the very fight for existence revealed to the nation some of its weaknesses. To be forced for two years and a half to its limit merely to meet the war inventions of the enemy, without freedom to develop its own originality, has been gall and wormwood to the Briton. To look about him and see the ordinary conveniences of life missing because their supply had crept into the hands of practical Germany while England was advancing eagerly in philosophical and philological directions has opened the eyes of the nation to something lacking.
Therefore, when the new Minister proposed a drastic alteration in the very foundations of national life, instead of the customary outcry from the admirers and convention, Mr. Fisher is met with eager support. Education in England is being democratized, as is everything else. And therein lies the future of the Empire.
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.