index = Butt, Isaac

Mr. Butt and National Education [1]

From The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Volume 1, 1865.

No Irish Catholic can examine the system of National Education without being filled with alarm for the safety of our faith in Ireland.

The tendency of the national system is to give a full control over the education of the rising generations in Ireland to the English Government, thus affording them an opportunity of undermining true faith, and of effecting by favours, promises, gifts, and influence, what they sought in vain to obtain by penal laws, by confiscation of property, and by fire and sword. The system also tends to weaken pastoral authority, to deprive the successors of the apostles, who were sent by Christ to teach all nations, of their lawful influence, and to separate priest and people. Such consequences necessarily follow from the operation of model and training schools, and from the vast powers given in all educational matters to a body of commissioners appointed by the government, and dependent on it--commissioners, many of whom are openly hostile to the religion of the people of Ireland, whilst others have given proof that they are either unable or unwilling to defend it or support its rights and interests. But even if the commissioners were most anxious to do justice to Catholics, the nature of the system which they have bound themselves to carry out would frustrate their good intentions. The mixed system proposes to collect into the same school teachers and pupils of every religious denomination, Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Jews, and to do nothing and to teach nothing in the school, and to publish nothing in the schoolbooks, offensive to any of them. Hence all prayers, the catechism, all teaching of the special doctrines and practices of the Catholic Church, must be banished from the school during the hours of teaching, and the books placed in the hands of children which are calculated to exercise great influence on their after life, must be compiled in a style of indifference to every religion. Indeed, we could not expect to find anything good or religious in books composed by a Protestant archbishop of rationalistic and latitudinarian views, who does not appear to have believed in the Trinity or the Divinity of Christ, who raised himself to the episcopal dignity by publishing the Errors of Romanism, and who terminated his career by admitting that his object in compiling some of the books introduced into the national schools was to dissipate the darkness in which the Irish people are sitting, or, in other words, to spread among them his own dangerous principles, and to undermine their faith.

Whilst the national system is beset by so many dangers, we cannot but be anxious that its character and tendencies should be accurately examined, and the objections to which it is liable fairly stated to the public. We are now happy to be able to say that all this has been done by a Protestant barrister, Mr. Isaac Butt, late M.P. for Youghal. This learned and eloquent gentleman has just published a treatise entitled The Liberty of Teaching Vindicated, in which he gives the history of the system of National Education, and discusses its merit. The writer appears to have studied the subject with the greatest care, and to have made himself acquainted with all its bearings. His treatise is written with great clearness and moderation; his views upon education are liberal and accurate; and his arguments against allowing the education of Ireland to pass into the hands of a hostile government, are most powerful and unanswerable. Mr. Butt has rendered us an immense service by publishing so valuable a treatise. We recommend all our friends to provide themselves with it, and to peruse it most carefully.

We shall now give some few extracts from it to show the spirit in which it is wiitten. The treatise is dedicated to Mr. Gladstone, and in the dedication Mr. Butt calls on that great statesman to apply to Ireland the principles of justice and liberality, which he had so often advocated in the case of other nations, principles unhappily ignored in the management of Irish affairs by those who have the reins of power in their hands.

"Most of our departments are managed as if the chief art of Irish government consisted in a dexterous thwarting, or, at least, ignoring of all local and national wishes, as they are represented by the class with whom the department has to deal. In no country in the world, not even in the Austrian provinces of Venetia, are national feeling and sentiment so completely excluded from any control over the management of national affairs"--(p. viii.)

Applying what he had stated to the question of national education, he adds:--

"The House of Commons, with an almost prodigal, but a wise liberality, has placed at the disposal of the Irish Government large and ample funds for the purposes of national education. These funds are administered on a plan opposed to the feelings of all creeds and all classes of the Irish nation. Ninety-nine out of every hundred Irishmen condemn it. There is not an Irish constituency from Bandon to Derry in which any man could be returned as an advocate of the national system, if the question were purely one of its approval or disapproval. There is not a parish in Ireland in which the inhabitants, if they had their choice, would adopt it as the system of their parish school. Right or wrong, the present system is one forced, by official coercion, on the Irish people. It is a national system, maintained and supported in defiance of the sentiment of the nation"--(p. viii.)

Looking at the national system in a religious point of view, Mr. Butt adds, that it is in antagonism with the wishes and feelings of all classes of the Irish people.

"There is no nation on earth who cherish religious feelings with a more deep and enthusiastic devotion than do the Irish. They are the very last people among whom the experiment of an education, which excludes the fulness of religious teaching, should be tried. The result of the experiment has been, that by all creeds and classes of Irishmen, the 'national' system is condemned. All who avail themselves of it do so grudgingly and of necessity. It is a system forced upon the people by their rulers. .... It is for the Irish nation themselves to judge of the education which is suited to the wants of the Irish poor. The system which is condemned by the universal suffrage of the Irish nation, is unfit for Ireland, because it is so condemned--(p. ix.)

"If we are driven to justify our opinions, we have only to refer to the example of England. In England, every school that receives aid from the funds of the State, is a school avowedly teaching the doctrines of some religious body. Pull and unrestricted religious instruction is made an essential part of national education in England. In Ireland, a school which adopts that instruction as its rule, is consequently placed under a ban, and denied all assistance from the national funds. It matters not whether the instruction be Protestant or Catholic, it equally condemns the school in the eyes of our rulers"--p. x.

Treating of the difference between the systems prevailing in England and Ireland, Mr. Butt adds:--

"In point of principle, no reason can be assigned for the difference between England and Ireland. If it be wrong in Ireland to endow and aid a purely Roman Catholic school, it is equally so in England. The difference established between the two countries can neither be justified nor accounted for upon any rational principle. It fosters the belief in the mind of every Irishman that his country is treated as an inferior. In many Irishman it promotes the belief that religious instruction, which is free in English schools, is placed under restriction in Ireland, because the faith of the majority of the Irish people is proscribed"--(p. xi.)

And may we not ask has not the Irish Catholic sufficient grounds for adopting this opinion? Has not all the legislation of the country for centuries been directed to the destruction of Catholicity?

The question is next referred to of the tendency of the national system to throw the whole education of the country into the hands of the government.

"I do not shrink from inviting your consideration to the complaint --that the Irish national system, as now constituted, is one gigantic contrivance for bringing the whole education of Ireland under government control. I appeal with confidence to you, as an English statesman, against the attempt to 'Anglicise' the education of the Irish people--against the project of bringing up, in government academies, an army of schoolmasters, who, in school, and still more out of school, are to form for government a moral and intellectual police--against the system of lavish bribery by which it is plainly proposed to attract all talent in the humbler classes of Irishmen into the service of an anti-Irish Board--against the institution in our country of a great system of universal education, subject to influences that are not Irish, and administered in a spirit of distrust of the whole Irish people, their national prejudices, and their religion"--(p. xii.)

In the course of the work, proofs are given of the way in which it was sought to establish government influence. In the beginning, according to the letter of Lord Stanley, only one model school was to be elected in Ireland, and the minor schools through the country were to remain quite independent. In 1835, the commissioners began to manifest more extensive designs, and in a report to Lord Mulgrave, it was proposed to establish a model school in each county, to take the training of all the teachers of the kingdom into the hands of the Board and, at the same time, the plan was adopted to introduce books treating of common Christianity, and compiled by Dr. Whateley, and, in fact, to make the authority of the commissioners paramount in everything connected with the education of the future generations in Ireland. On this Mr. Butt observes:--

"In no country ought such a system to be tolerated--least of all in Ireland, where--it ought not, it cannot be disguised--there still exists the antagonism between the English government and the thoughts and feelings and sentiments of the nation. I would not write the truth if I did not say, that any one who knows Irish affairs must expect the administration of such a system to be anti-national. He would be informed, without surprise, that from the lessons of history there was carefully excluded all that would remind Irishmen of their distinctive nationality--that the whole tone and tendency of the literature were English--and that, in drawing up the lesson-books in which Irish children are to be taught, Englishmen and Scotchmen were the only persons worthy of the confidence of the Irish National Board.

"I am content to be accounted of narrow and provincial feelings when I thus point to the anti-national character of the system. From the invasion of Henry II. to the present time, English rulers have been engaged in one device or another to destroy the distinctive nationality of Irishmen. The attempt is as unwise as it is unjust. It can only be effected by the destruction of public spirit and the demoralization of the country. The empire in which we are associated gains no more by the destruction of the individual nationality of its component parts, than society would gain by the destruction of all distinctive character in those who compose it. If even the Irish people are to be taught to love England, they must be taught to love Ireland first, and to feel that there is no inconsistency between the most intense Irish feeling and attachment to the empire of which Ireland forms a part. There is a waste of energy in every attempt to extirpate national prejudices and feelings, which makes the attempt a blunder as well as a crime. Russia has not yet Russianized Poland, and the Irish are as far from being West Britons as they were in the days of James I.

"It must be remembered that the effect of such a proposal was to substitute for the varying forms of individual energy and local exertion one great uniform system. While the education of the people was eked out by the sacrifices of the people themselves, or supplied by the desultory efforts of individuals, there was always room for the play of national and local feelings. So far as a plan like that propounded in this report was successful, it destroyed all other industrial energies among the lower orders. The old hedge schoolmaster could no longer make out his bread. The poor scholar could no longer wander from house to house, teaching the old history of Ireland in return for the food and lodging he received. All the lower orders of the people were to be taught by masters trained in a government college, and drilled in a system from which all national feeling was excluded--masters, of whom it was put forward as their chief merit that they would be political and moral agents of the government, inculcating order on a lawless, and teaching civilization to a barbarous, people.

"The report of 1835 suggested, of necessity, the question of religion. The masters, according to its proposal, were plainly to be indoctrinated in matters from which religion could not be separated. They were to be instructed in mental philosophy by a professor, specially appointed for that purpose. This training must be given them that they may be qualified to direct 'the thoughts and inclinations of Irish children in a right direction'. Would it have been unreasonable, is it unreasonable now, that the guardians of the faith of any portion of the Irish people should feel anxious to have some security for the character of the 'mental philosophy' in which the teachers of the people were trained?

"Comparing the plan announced in Lord Stanley's published letter with that which was carried into effect, under the joint operation of the interpolated passage and the report of 1835, it is obvious that those who might be perfectly satisfied with the arrangements of the first, either as to religious or national feeling, might yet be wholly dissatisfied upon the very same points with the second.

"Under the covert and guarded language of the report of 1835, we can clearly trace the inauguration of a new system--a system wholly unlike anything that had preceded it or had ever been recommended-- a system which was to establish in every parish a government agent, under the name of a national schoolmaster, and which was also to become a great government university for the teaching of the middle classes.

"This last was to be accomplished by the medium of the model schools. One of these was to be established in each county. The master was to be a person of superior attainments, with a salary very far above that of any curate of the Established Church, and in these schools a superior education was to be conveyed. We shall see how steadily the plan, first broached in the annual report of 1835, has been carried out.

"In 1837, the report tells us that 'they had added to their normal establishment in Dublin a scientific department and a school of industry, in the immediate neighbourhood of Dublin, with work-rooms and a farm of from forty to fifty acres attached to it'. In the same report they propose to appoint a superintendent for each of twenty-five districts--residing at the model school, and having £125 a-year, with apartments and allowances. The head master of each model school was 'to be authorised to receive a limited number of boarders at such charge to their parents and friends as the commissioners might think proper, having regard to local circumstances'.

"At the same time, they stated their intention to establish, generally, schools termed secondary, in which 'scientific instruction' and `instruction in manual occupation' should be given;--a portion of land for garden husbandry to be an indispensable adjunct to each secondary school.

"In 1839 they modestly announce a model farm, near Dublin, as only in its infancy, with twelve agricultural pupils, 'deriving much benefit from the judicious system of farming which they see practised there'.

"In 1840 they determine to establish twenty-five agricultural model schools--each of them, in connection with an elementary national school. They subsequently establish twelve pupil-teacherships in their central agricultural institution--scholarships, in fact, which are competed for by the most promising students in their rural agricultural schools.

"I have referred to these establishments in proof of the assertion that the national system has been gradually expanded into a vast educational institution, absorbing and controlling the education of the poorer classes, and, to a great extent, that of the middle classes of the country.

"The extent to which this has proceeded will be understood by a reference to the last report of the Commissioners, that for the year 1864.

"It appears by this report that there are at present in operation twenty-six model schools (classing the three metropolitan schools as one establishment). The expenditure within the year upon these model schools amounts to nearly £25,000.

"In addition to the Albert Model Farm at Glasnevin, near Dublin, there are in connection with the Board thirty-six agricultural schools; nineteen of these are under the exclusive management of the Board--seventeen partly under local control.

"The sums expended on this agricultural department amount in the year to more than £10,000. It will complete this statement to add that in the same year, 1864, the training institution of Dublin was maintained at a cost, in its several branches, of £4,500.

"The cost of the inspection department of the institution amounts to no less a sum than £23,000.

"The cost of the official establishment in Marlborough Street is £15,457.

"In addition to this, a very considerable sum, amounting, probably, to nearly £10,000, appears to be annually distributed, at the discretion of the Board and its inspectors, in the shape of gratuities of one kind or other to the persons engaged in the teaching of the national schools.

"It appears from this report (excluding the item last mentioned), that upon the official staff of this great educational institute there is annually expended a sum of £49,000; and upon model and agricultural schools, wholly foreign from the original objects, a further sum of £33,000, making an expenditure of £82,000, one shilling of which does not reach one of the schools, to support which the grant for Irish education was originally made.

"The whole of this immense sum, amounting to nearly one-third of the grant, is really spent upon a machinery for bringing the education of the people under the entire and absolute control of the Board.

"I do not stop to argue whether £15,000 be not an extravagant expenditure for official expenses. That which is of importance to observe is, that the tendency and effect of the costly, but most effective, system of inspection is, in reality, to convert inspection into superintendence, and to extend the direct influence of the Board over all the schools in connection with them. The training or normal establishment is instituted for the express purpose of indoctrinating the masters in the views prescribed by the Board. But the influence does not end here. By a system of examinations, conducted in connection with the inspection, the Board contrives to direct the studies and mould the train of thought of the masters. Their salaries are increased at the pleasure of the Board. A graduated system of promotion and a scale of rewards are established, dependent entirely on their recommending themselves to the inspectors. Under such a system the power nominally left to the local patrons of selecting the schoolmaster, in reality does not give to these patrons any substantial control. Every national schoolmaster adopts, or professes to adopt, the opinions of his real masters, and learns to reflect the opinions which he knows to be in favour with the Board.

"The model schools are established partly to complete the training of the masters, and partly to force upon the country the entire system of the Board. Of these schools the commissioners themselves are the patrons, and in these they have full power of enforcing their own views. What they 'earnestly recommend' to others, they are able to adopt in their own schools. Money is lavished upon these model schools, so as to make them establishments of a superior order. The model school in Marlborough Street is maintained at an expense of £3,500. One in Belfast costs very nearly the same sum. Most of this money is expended in the salaries and maintenance of pupil teachers, so that these model schools are, in effect, colleges, with their exhibitions to attract students. Over these model schools the commissioners have absolute control, and through them, and by means of them, they exercise an almost absolute influence over the whole system of education in connection with the Board. This is, in effect, the carrying out of the plan indicated in the report of 1835. Centralization is secured by an array of schoolmasters, trained under the Commissioners. No man can attain the rank of a first-class national schoolmaster who has not gone through a training in an establishment conducted after the most approved fashion of the Board--a training by which he becomes thoroughly indoctrinated in all the maxims of that fashion. He is not sent to a model school merely to see the best mode of arranging classes or maintaining the discipline of the school. He is sent there to reside as the student of a college, to learn various departments of knowledge. He is taught, in his training, history, political economy, mental philosophy, and scriptural history--and he learns them all in lesson books prepared to order for the Commissioners, and by catechetical instruction, in which he is drilled by professors and inspectors appointed at their sole nomination.

"I pass, for the present, from this part of the subject, with this one observation--that this sum of £80,000 is annually expended upon a portion of the system with which local exertion or local influence has nothing whatever to do. It is wholly, absolutely, and unreservedly under the direction and control of the central authority.

"In England, I may observe, the state assumes no such power. The training institutions for schoolmasters are left entirely under the control of the authorities of the respective denominations. In Ireland, the rule is that the masters should be trained by government, and accept at once their theology, their morals, and their science of teaching at the hands of the officials of the state. It is only the resolute opposition of the Catholic prelates that has prevented this project from being completely carried into effect"--(p. 87-96.)

We regret that our space will not allow us to give more copious extracts from the book now before us. But again we recommend our leaders to read and study the whole treatise. It will open their eyes to the dangers with which mixed education, falsely called national, menaces our Church, and our country.


[1] Mr. Butt's work is entitled The Liberty of T'eaching Vindicated, Reflections and Proposals on the subject of National Education. Dublin. Kelly, Grafton Street, 1865.