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tem of National Education. By Rev. James Carlisle,
one of the Commissioners &c. 6. Defence of the National System of Education in Ire
land, in reply to the letters of J. C. Colquhoun, Esq.
M. P. By the same. 7. State Education; considered with reference to preva
lent misconceptions on religious grounds. By Rev. Baden Powell, Professor, &c. in the University of Oxford. London: Parker. 1840.
Some of the most perplexing questions that have ever puzzled political educators, have arisen under the school systems of IRELAND, and they have grown, to some extent, out of the peculiar position of parties. There is the anomaly of a Roman Catholic nation under a Protestant government. The Roman Catholics outnumber the Protestants in the proportion of nearly five to one; and in 1837, out of 106,000 children at the public schools, 90,500 were Roman Catholics, leaving only 15,500 Protestants.
Under the auspices of a society incorporated in 1733, there existed for nearly a century a very singular order of schools called Protestant charter schools, to which, from 1800 to 1829 an average grant of $120,000 was made by government. They established day-schools for the education of such children as could be supported at home; and boarding schools, where they were not only instructed, but fed, clothed, lodged and apprenticed.
It is not surprising that such a process, controlled by Protestant influence should wean those who were educated under it, from the Catholic faith in which most of them were born.
Would that Protestant parents in our day were awake to the power of such an influence when brought to bear on their own children in Roman Catholic schools. From 1775 to 1803, a bye-law existed, restricting the advantages of the charter schools to the children of Roman Catholics. For ninety years this society instructed, on an average, one hundred and forty children annually. A parliamentary inquiry instituted in 1825, brought to light so many abuses in their schools that the government grants were withheld.
Our last accounts state that they have still ten schools under their care, in which upwards of five hundred children are trained.
In the year 1786 a school was established in Schoolstreet, an obscure part of the suburbs of Dublin, so regulated
(it was said,) that children, of all classes and persuasions, might be admitted and instructed without offence to religious peculiarities. The Bible was used without note or comment. This school, in process of time, became one of the largest and most popular schools in the country. The exclusion of special religious instruction, (which its principles seemed to make necessary,) was, however, regarded as an objectionable feature: and in 1800 (the year of the Union of Ireland with England) an educational society was formed, called “ The Association for discountenancing vice," the principle of which was that all catechisms should be excluded from their schools save that of the Church of England; and that the scriptures should be read only in the authorized or Protestant version.
This association began to establish schools in 1806, and received aid from the government till 1831; sometimes to the amount of $50,000 per annum.
Four or five years since they had in their schools 10,000 Protestant and 4000 Roman Catholic children.
In 1811, (Dec. 2,) a society was formed “for promoting the Education of the Poor in Ireland,” designed to introduce a more general and acceptable plan than the Association for discountenancing vice" offered. They held their meetings in School-street, whither they were attracted by the famous school just now mentioned, and which they adopted as a model school for the illustration of their principles. These principles were, substantially, that the society should be managed by persons of different denominations; that any person might become a member by paying a guinea annually; that no religious distinction should be made in the admission of pupils, the course of instruction, or the appointment of teachers; that the Bible or New Testament should be read by ALL the scholars who were sufficiently advanced to read it, but should not be used as a school-book, from which to teach spelling or reading, and that all catechisms and books of religious controversy should be excluded. The use of either the Protestant or Roman Catholic version of the scriptures was considered optional with the directors or teachers of the schools.
In 1812, the attention of the government was drawn to the low state of education in Ireland, and it was ascertained that the whole number of children at school was but about 200,000, and moreover that most of the schools were miserably inefficient, and often decidedly mischievous in their VOL. XIV. NO. 1.
influence. It was thereupon determined, that a Board of Commissioners should be established to receive and dispose of parliamentary grants, and have the general control of the educational interests of Ireland. It was admitted to be highly important that among the books to be used, there should be an ample volume of “ Extracts from the Scriptures,” an early acquaintance with which (the scriptures) was declared to be of the utmost importance, and indeed indispensable in forming the mind to just notions of duty and sound principles of conduct; and the study of such extracts was designed to prepare the pupils for more particular religious instruction from another source and at other times and places.
To carry out this scheme seemed to be quite a difficult matter; and hence it was thought best that Parliament should avail itself of an organization already existing, closely resembling that which was proposed in the form of a Board of Commissioners. Accordingly, in the session of 1814-'15, they made a grant of nearly $40,000 to aid the society in School-street to extend their plans. Becoming thus the object of government confidence, the society sought a more respectable location, which they found in Kildare-placewhence the name of the “ Kildare-place” (or street)“ School Society.”
For two or three years they applied the grants they received to the establishment of two model schools,-one for males and the other for females,—with apartments for teachers who should repair thither for instruction; and also a ware-house, sale-rooms, &c., for their books, stationary, and school requisites. They took possession of these premises in 1817, and date their efficient operations from that period.
It is not our purpose to trace these operations through succeeding years, except so far as they directly involve the question of religious or scriptural instruction. And, on this point, we may observe, that though they supplied gratuitously, to schools connected with them, (and to all purchasers at cost prices,) the school books and requisites, they did not supply the only book that was required to be used under all circumstances in all the schools, viz. Bibles or Testaments. This remarkable fact is a key to many mysteries in the succeuling operations of the society.
As the reading of the scriptures without note or comment was the only source of religious instruction, it was naturally
enough a topic of discussion, to what extent it answered the purpose. One gentleman connected with the society declared his conviction, that any degree of acquaintance with the scriptures was of inestimable value to the peasantry. “I do not suppose," he says, “that we can expect any very decidedly religious effect to be produced upon children, while they are prevented from having any explanation given them; but I am satisfied that great advantage will arise from making them know that the book in which they read is the word of God; that when in future life they are suffering under illness, or affliction, or any other chastening dispensation of the Almighty, they may be enabled to take
up that book in which they will be sure to find consolation. I think it is also of great importance that they should know that the book, on which they are so often called to take their oath, is the word of God. I am perfectly satisfied that they are not acquainted with that fact. I know of many instances in which the lower classes have mistaken other books; and a friend of mine, who was lately at Loughrea, told me that a poor man in that neighbourhood supposed the Bible was written by Luther for the use of Protestants."*
Mr. Donelan, a Roman Catholic inspector of the Kildarestreet Society's schools, was asked whether, in his opinion, the peasantry could, in most instances, distinguish between a testament and any other book of the same size, upon a religious subject, which might be put into their hands ? “Upon my word,” he replied, “I think they could scarcely do it, except where the exertions of the Bible Society have succeeded; but in many parts of Connaught the peasant does not know what a Bible or Testament is.”
To the question whether they generally understood that the Bible contains the word of God, the history of the creation, the life of our Saviour, and the plan of redemption, he replied, " I think we may say in general that they do not.”
The prevalent ignorance of the scriptures being thus established, it became important to know to what extent the Kildare-street Society was likely to remove it. And on this point we agree substantially with the Archbishop of Dublin, " that a child may, by reading a certain portion of the scriptures, be rendered tolerably familiar with the words and sub
We know that the impression is very general among the lower class of Roman Catholics in this country, that the Protestants were without any religion till Martin Luther helped them to one !
jects, so far as respects a matter of history, or exceedingly plain instruction. At the same time there will be, of course, à kind of undefinedness in the minds of young persons, even as to the meaning of simple sentences, that will mislead them if left entirely to themselves.” It might be apprehended, moreover, that if Bibles and Testaments were left to be procured or not, at the option of the teacher or pupils; and if, when used at all, they were merely read off, once a day, with an air of stiff reserve and superstitious awe, the religious influence of the exercise would be as unhappy as the exercise itself would be unintelligible. This, however, was the basis of the compromise.
As to the result, there is very instructive, though conflicting testimony. The commissioners of Irish education reported concerning it, that "while from necessity there had been a strict observance of the exclusive principle, the terms of the compromise have never been perfectly realized ; and even if realized, would not have been completely satisfactory.” Lord Stanley, in a letter to the Duke of Leinster, (Oct. 1831,) says, " His Majesty's present government are of opinion that no private society, deriving a part (however small) of their annual income from private sources, and only made the channel of the munificence of the legislature, without being subject to any direct responsibility, could adequately and satisfactorily accomplish the end proposed; and while they (the commissioners) do full justice to the liberal views with which that (Kildare-street) society was originally instituted, as well as to the fairness with which they have, in most instances, endeavoured to carry their views into effect, they cannot but be sensible that one of the leading principles of that society was calculated to defeat its avowed objects, as experience has subsequently proved. The determination to enforce in all their schools the reading of the holy scriptures without note or comment, was undoubtedly taken with the purest motives; with the wish at once to connect religious with moral and literary education, and at the same time not run the risk of wounding the peculiar feelings of any sect by catechetical instruction or comments that might tend to subjects of polemical controversy. But it seems to have been overlooked, that the principle of the Roman Catholic church (to which, in any system intended for general diffusion throughout Ireland, the bulk of the pupils must necessarily belong) were totally at variance with this principle; and that the reading of the holy scriptures