Page images
PDF
EPUB

Religious and moral teaching.

427

matter.

should possess any given piece of useful information, or should have had his understanding trained in a particular way. But this does not at all imply that you should give in a school lessons on ethics and religion corresponding in length or number to your sense of the importance of those subjects.

Many of the best teachers feel that right moral Two views guidance can only be had by direct didactic teaching, functions by the learning of formularies of faith and duty, and of a school by lessons consciously directed to the enforcement of in this theological truths. Other teachers, with a no less profound sense of the importance of these things, have grave doubts as to the usefulness of school lessons on such subjects. They distrust the practice of teaching children in the sphere of religion to do what they would not be asked to do in any other department of their studies—to affirm what they do not understand. They dread, above all things, exacting from a young child vows or professions of religion which cannot possibly correspond to his actual convictions and experience. Such teachers would be disposed to rely more on the habits which were formed in school, on the spirit in which its work was done, and on the sort of moral and religious principles which may be learned indirectly in a high toned school, and are seen to penetrate all its corporate life, than on formal lessons in divinity. I shall not attempt here to pronounce an opinion on a controversial question which divides some of the most religious and high-minded teachers. Two considerations only shall be offered on this point.

The first of them is that the expediency of giving direct religious instruction depends a good deal on the character of your school, and on the life your scholars lead out of it. In a boarding school, where you have

the whole control of the scholars' leisure and are in loco parentis, you will feel bound to provide for the religious instruction and worship, both on Sunday and on other days, which are usual in a well-constituted Christian family. And if you have the supervision of a Primary school, you cannot leave out of view the fact that many of the children come from homes in which the name of God is seldom heard, and in which the parents feel it no part of their duty to convey religious instruction to their children or to accompany them on Sunday to the house of worship. You will feel here that the only glimpse your scholar will have of the unseen world, the only teaching about his relation to a Divine Father, and the only introduction even to the morality and the poetry of the New Testament, are to be had in the school. On the other hand, if your school is a day-school of a higher kind, and the scholars have parents who are accustomed to concern themselves about the religious training and conduct of their children; or even who deliberately object to the inculcation of dogma at so early an age, your responsibility is greatly lessened. There is in such a case no moral obligation on a master, unless he is required to do so by the governors, to make the school a propaganda for his own or any other distinctive religious tenets. The principle of a 'conscience clause,' I may remind you, is not only recognized in all recent University legislation ; it is embodied in the Endowed Schools Act, in the Elementary Education Act, and is in fact enforced on all schools to which public legislation has yet been extended in this country; it is founded on essential justice, and deserves to be yet more widely applied. It has certainly not proved in any way incompatible with the just influence of Christian teachers nor with the maintenance of the religious character of English schools.

Moral teaching in school exerciscs.

429

Nor must we too hastily conclude that a school is a godless school, because for any reason no direct didactic religious lessons are given in it. Some of the weightiest lessons which we can learn in regard to the formation of our own character are not learned by way of direct instruction, but they come to us incidentally in seeing how religious principle shapes the conduct of others, and what it is worth when tested by the exigencies of life. The ordinary history of a school presents many such exigencies--many opportunities for effective moral teaching. Cases of misconduct arise which if dealt with calmly, seriously, and by a reference to a true and high standard of duty, have a very great effect upon the tone and feeling of the school. You will not be satisfied always to employ mechanical remedies for moral evils; but will direct attention from time to time to principles of conduct which have been illustrated or violated within the knowledge of your scholars.

When such incidents occur in the school life, they The moral should be utilized. But they will occur rarely, and they

lessons

taught by will be all the more impressive if they are rare. in the explicit didactic form in which older people expect

discipline

of a school. to see ethical truths and maxims expressed, that moral duties can be best made intelligible to a young scholar, and binding on his conscience. Much more effective work is done in his case by taking care that his surroundings are right and healthful; by watching carefully, though without actually removing them, such temptations to evil as come within his reach, and by seeing that his daily life gives due scope and opportunity for the exercise of boyish virtues. And the school-master, who has a high sense of responsibility in this matter, will often ask himself “ Are the arrangements of my school calculated to promote truthfulness, manliness, the sense of honour, the

It is not the daily

feeling of moral obligation ? Are the relations of my pupil to me such as to encourage him to treat me with confidence? Do they furnish him with occasions of being helpful to others? Does he take advantage of such occasions? Is he being trained in my school not merely to obey when the pressure of authority is upon him, but also to use freedom aright when he is a law unto himself? Is the virtue of courage taught not as an abstract lesson, but silently in the discipline and habits of the school ?” For we may not forget what Aristotle has taught us that courage is, in one sense, the first of all virtues, because it is the one virtue which makes all others possible, without which indeed, many others are well nigh impossible. For all untruth is traceable to cowardice. All idleness, desultory reading, extravagance, self-indulgence-nearly all in fact of the faults which you most desire that schoolboys should avoid,-come from lack of boldness to say 'No' when the temptation comes, and to make a resolute effort to do what is known to be right. Trace out the consequences of a nerveless soft and too indulgent discipline, when it comes to bear fruit in afterlife. Consider what a man is likely to be worth who has not resolution enough to resist the public opinion of his class, to refuse to pronounce the Shibboleths of his party, to abstain from display and expense which he cannot afford, to emancipate himself from usages which he feels to be narrow and selfish, in his profession or trade. And when you think of these things you will see that in the microcosm of a good school there should be real training in courage and self-restraint, and that such training is often as effective when it is connected with the actual difficulties and temptations of school life, as when it forms part of a formal scheme of ethical or theological teaching.

Moral teaching latent in School-lessons. 431

Further, it must be borne in mind that every one of The ethical the departments of secular teaching with which we deal teaching

embodied in schools carries with it its own special ethical lessons, in School holds them in solution, so to speak, and concerns itself lessons. in its own way with some important aspect of human character. We saw in considering the practice of simple arts, and in all the mechanical drill which they involve, how the scholar learned obedience, exact attention to rule, self-subjugation, deference for others, and the habit of losing sight of his individual claims, while working towards the attainment of results in which others besides himself had a common interest. The study of Language too, when rightly conducted, is essentially a discipline in veracity, in careful statement, in abstinence from exaggeration, in thinking before we speak. Chaucer's

host says:

“Eke Plato sayeth, whoso can him rede

The wordes moste ben cosin to the dede;" and George Herbert,

“Lie not, but let thy heart be true to God,

Thy mouth to it, thy actions to them both." And the ideal in the mind of both poets you see is the perfect correspondence in a man's character between the thing thought, the thing done, and the thing said. There is no truer test of a consistent and noble type of life than this ; and there is no intellectual training better fitted to develope such a type, than wise discipline in the use and meaning of language. In like manner Mathematical science has its own special moral lessons, none the less real because they are learned by implication only and are not formulated in precepts. It is a discipline in exactness, in perfect honesty, in patience. And of natural science and of all the studies pursued by

« PreviousContinue »