Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

with the close air exhausted of its oxygen, and unfit for the purpose of comfortable or healthy respiration, under any long continuance in the school intolerable to a person unaccustomed to it. The systems of instruction adopted are of the most imperfect kind; the general principle of by far the largest number is that of requiring the child to commit to memory a certain quantity of matter, without any attempt being made to reach the understanding.... In only 29 out of the whole 177 schools of this class, do the teachers profess to interrogate the children on what they read and learn; ...8 out of the 29 who do interrogate their children, admit that it it only done occasionally, when time and opportunity permit. As in the dame-schools, corporal punishments form almost the whole of the moral training of these establishments."*

The Manchester schools are described thus :—"In the great majority of these schools there seems to be a complete want of order and system. The confusion arising from this defect, added to the low qualifications of the master, the number of scholars under the superintendence of one teacher, the irregularity of attendance, the great deficiency of books, and the injudicious plan of instruction, or rather the want of any plan, render them nearly inefficient for any purposes of real instruction.” † According to the reports, the schools of the same class in Liverpool, Salford, and Bury, are very similar to those of Birmingham and Manchester.

From the answers uniformly made to my inquiries on this subject among persons acquainted with the poor, I judge that the great majority, both of dame and common schools, in the Lancashire towns, answer to these descriptions; and the very few which my time enabled me to visit did not contradict that conclusion. In one of these dame-schools I found 31 children, from 2 to 7 years of

age. The room was a cellar, about 10 feet square and about 7 feet high. The only window was less than 18 inches square, and not made to open. Although it was a warm day, towards the close of August, there was a fire burning; and the door, through which alone any air could be admitted, was shut. Of course, therefore, the room was close and hot; but there was no remedy. The damp subterraneous walls required, as the old woman assured us, a fire throughout the year. If she opened the door the children would rush out to light and liberty, while the cold blast rushing in would torment her aged bones with rheumatism. Still further to restrain their vagrant propensities, and to save them from the danger of tumbling into the fire, she had crammed the children as closely as possible into a dark corner at the foot of her bed. Here they sat in the pestiferous obscurity, totally destitute of books, and without light enough to enable them to read, had books been placed in their hands. Six children, indeed, out of the 30, had brought some twopenny books, but these

Birmingham Report, p. 34.

+ Manchester Report, pp. 9, 10.

also, having been made to circulate through 60 little hands, were now so well soiled and tattered as to be rather the memorials of past achievements than the means of leading the children to fresh exertion. The only remaining instruments of instruction possessed by the dame, who lamented her hard lot, to be obliged, at so advanced an age, to tenant a damp cellar, and to raise the means of paying her rent by such scholastic toils, were a glass-full of sugarplums near the tattered leaves on the table in the centre of the room, and a cane by its side. Every point in instruction being thus secured by the good old rule of mingling the useful with the sweet.*

Not far from this infant asylum I entered a common school. It was a room on the ground-door, up a dark and narrow entry,

and about 12 feet square. Here 43 boys and girls were assembled, of all ages, from 5 to 14. Patches of paper were pasted over the broken panes of the one small window, before which also sat the master, intercepting the few rays of light which would otherwise have crept into the gloom. Although it was in August, the window was closed, and a fire added to the animal heat, which radiated from every part of the crowded chamber. In front of the fire, and as near to it as a joint on the spit, a row of children sat with their faces towards the master and their backs to the furnace. By this living screen the master, though still perspiring copiously, was somewhat sheltered from the intolerable heat. As another measure of relief, amidst the oppression of the steaming atmosphere, he had also laid aside his coat. In this undress he was the better able to wield the three canes, two of which, like the weapons of an old soldier, bung conspicuously on the wall, while the third was on the table ready for service. When questioned as to the necessity of this triple instrumentality, he assured us that the children were “abrupt and rash in their tempers," that he generally reasoned with them respecting their indiscretion, but that when civility failed he had recourse to a little severity.

There was no classification of the children; and the few books in the school were such as some of the parents chose to send. Under such circumstances the poor man had an arduous task to accomplish ; and, not knowing what situations might not be in our gift, he informed us that he would gladly avail bimself of any opportunity of quitting an employment to which extravagance alone had caused him to descend.

Schools so conducted can answer few of the purposes of education. They may teach some of the children reading, writing, and arithmetic; while occasionally a favourite scholar, who pays well for it, may learn the elements of grammar, or read a few pages of history. But the mass of the children cannot there learn their duties, nor obtain any useful knowledge, nor become observant or

* Omne tulit punctum qui miscuit utile dulci.—Horace.

[ocr errors]

reflective, nor acquire the habit of self-government, nor be prepared to be wise and good men in after life.

Nearly the whole, therefore, of the number attending these schools must be subtracted from the numbers supposed to be receiving sound instruction.

The next item in the total of 122,758 reported to be under instruction in the five towns, is 48,966 who receive Sabbath instruction only. The whole number of Sunday-scholars in these towns is 79,299, who are gathered into 270 schools, and are taught by 7,518 teachers, the great majority of whom are gratuitous.* It is not a little remarkable that so many children and young persons, engaged for the most part in factories, for 13 hours each day through the week, should be willing to devote their Sunday hours, not to recreation, but improvement. It is yet more remarkable, that in these towns above 7,000 persons, generally young, and often themselves laboriously engaged during the week, should devote their leisure on the Sabbath to this work of benevolence. Nor can I doubt that their labours are of immense value. Many of the children learn to read who would have been without that attainment. Some, by means of the evening-schools attached to Sunday-schools, learn also writing and arithmetic. Numbers of them who, to attain the art of reading, stay long in the school, confirm the habit of attending Divine worship, and of consecrating the Sabbath to religious objects. These, by forming friendships for other well-behaved young persons at school, learn to dislike the society of the coarse and profligate ; while some, regarding their teachers with affectionate gratitude, receive their Christiau counsels, become devout communicants, conduct themselves respectably in after life, and at length are chosen to be teachers themselves. In the Sunday-schools connected with St. Paul's, Manchester, about 200 teachers and scholars are communicants. At Bolton, a class was pointed out to me in the Sunday-school of the old church, nearly all the members of which attend the Lord's Supper. In the adult school belonging to St. Paul's, at Preston, 71 young persons, either grown up or nearly so, and most of whom could read fluently, were being instructed by eight teachers in the truths and duties of religion. And in several large schools I was assured that nearly all the teachers had themselves been laught in the school.

But, on the other hand, it is to be feared that the mass of children attending these schools are far from obtaining all those great and permanent advantages which are thus reaped by many. Some of these schools are exclusively Roman Catholic, in which the reading of the Scriptures forms no part of the school exercises. Others are devoted to the doctrines of Unitarianism. In some the Sabbath hours, which should be occupied with religious

* Appendix VI.

instruction, are partly spent in learning writing, arithmetic, grammar, secular history, and elocution. In some the majority of children attend no place of worship; and in others, there being no gratuitous teachers, their whole business is to assemble for church, or to go through some reading lesson with the master and the monitors, much as they would do on any other day of the week.*

There are also very serious obstacles to the usefulness of all the remaining schools. More than half of them are in operation for less than four hours in the day ;t and much of this time is necessarily occupied in opening and closing the school, registering the names, and putting such vast machines into motion. Many of them have scarcely any discipline with respect to attendance, and the children come or stay away at pleasure. With many of the scholars the main object of coming to school is to learn to read; and in some cases the teachers seem to forget that they ought to ha higher ends in view. When this is not the case, many of the teachers, being very young, and having never been at any day-school, may themselves be very ill qualified; since they very rarely are instructed in the art of teaching either by the superintendents of the schools, or by their ministers.

But the deficiencies of the teacher must materially affect the class; and the more so because the method and course of instruction are often left wholly to his discretion. Often, too, it happens that the scholars working in the same factories with their teachers, and obtaining perhaps nearly equal wages, fail to regard them with that respect which superior station, age, and attainments, would command: further, whatever impressions may be made upon the children's minds in the four hours during which the school is in operation, must in various cases be obliterated by the opposite impressions made by their intercourse with the promiscuous crowds of the factories during 75 hours of weekly labour; and should this influence fail to be sufficiently corrupting, some of the children have the additional misfortune to receive bad counsel and to witness bad example at home. When, on the other hand, parents are prudent and well-principled, their influence is sometimes fatally counteracted by the early independence of the children. Should they, as is frequently the case, be deriving much of their income from their children's labour, it would require more resolution than they may possess to exercise any moral discipline; and the dread of their leaving home, or the certainty that they will despise their counsels, is said to render many the helpless spectators of faults in their children which they have not courage to correct.

Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that teachers should occasionally complain that their best efforts are often frustrated : and that many of the children whom they instruct become, on leaving the schools, both immoral and profane. Instruction so superficial

* Appendix VII.

* Appendix VIII.

cannot properly be termed education ; nor can the children who are taught in Sunday-schools alone-destitute as they are of all secular instruction, untrained by any moral discipline, and, on the contrary, exposed to the most demoralizing influences through the six days of the week-be rightly said to be educated. But of the 79,299 Sunday-scholars in the five towns, 48,966 attend Sundayschools only. These must, therefore, be subtracted from the number under instruction, if we wish to ascertain the number who are educated. But when to this number is added 36,033 who are taught in dame and common schools only, and both numbers are subtracted from 122,758, who are reported to be under education, there remain only 37,759 of whom it can be said that they are receiving education.

In the next place, as my inquiries extended only to schools for the working classes, I must divide this reduced number into two parts; since 10,236 of these children belong to superior schools, which did not come within my inquiry. When these also are subtracted, there remain only 27,523 children collected into all sorts of public schools for the children of the working classes.

These schools are of three kinds—infant, juvenile, or evening : the infant-schools receive children from two years to six and seven ; the juvenile-schools receive those who are above six or seven; and the evening schools are opened for those children or young persons who, being engaged during the day in manual labours, cannot attend the daily schools : 4,273 infants attend the first class of schools ;* 20,004 children attend the second class; and 3,246 young persons are instructed in the third.

Infant-schools, if they only rescued young children from an exhausted atmosphere and a wearisome confinement, from their own fretfulness and the irritation of their gaolers—if they did nothing but contribute to their health and cheerfulness--if they were only safe and comfortable asylums when their parents are obliged to leave home for their daily employments—would be most merciful institutions : but they do much more than this ; since many of their little inmates learn the first rudiments of arithmetic, acquire the art of reading, are taught to observe and reason on what is around them, and receive the first lessons of religion and morality. The evening schools also are useful to those young persons whose education, having been neglected in their early childhood, are anxious to add to the art of reading the power of writing and the knowledge of the first rules of arithmetic. But infant-schools can only be regarded as the commencement of education, since children leave them at seven years of

age,

while they are still infants; and the evening-school, which only affords instruction for four hours in the week, and that when the scholars

* This number includes 68 children in three private infant-schools at Birmingham.

+ Appendix IX.

« ElőzőTovább »