A Workingman’s Education

It is difficult to see what connection the present “Education” Bill or the outcry regarding it has with education itself. Indeed, the frothy struggle for religious domination almost completely obscures the really important matter beneath.

Most people do not distinguish between education proper, and the mere imparting of information, but the distinction is vital. To educate is not to merely pack the brain with facts or cut and dried formulae, but is to bring out the powers of the mind, to train the faculties for the reception and use of life’s present experience and of the knowledge handed down from the past; to prepare the mind for the first-hand gathering of knowledge, and the co-ordination and right use of it.

To pith children’s minds with facts and dead formula; whose inner significance is not understood, may make excellent parrots, but cannot make thinkers. Such a procedure causes a one-sided, mechanical development, and leads to a taste for snippetty bits. It does not enable the mind to draw useful knowledge from the facts of life; it brings about an incapacity for sustained and logical thinking, and creates a habit of mind that is eagerly receptive of superticials, but in no wise creative.

Mere surface information, however well tabulated, cannot take the place of, and is a poor preparation for, the first hand experience of life. Our personal experience is the foundation of our appreciation of the great works of the world, and our early information ha3 to be recast in the mould of our later experience.

It cannot, be denied that the so-called education of to-day resembles more a packing of the brain than an unfolding of its capabilities, and this defect is but the reflex of the mechanical, specialised and hurried character of modern society.

It is, of course, with the “education” of the working class that we are most concerned, although the defects ol this are reflected to a great degree in the education of the class above. Naturally, also, we lind that the quality of the worker’s instruction is traceable to the demands of the prevailing methods of wealth, production. There is no necessity to the capitalist of a mass of fully-educated, original-minded and high-spirited men as wage-slaves ; they would be in the way, and far too costly. The necessities of the day demand workers who are mechanical, one-sidedly developed, and eminently submissive. It is necessary to the capitalist, not only that the workers be not taught things which anay injure his domination, but also that their .energies (and his wealth) be not used unproductively for him ; that they be trained so far and no farther ; that they be disciplined in routine work, and pithed with just sufficient knowledge to do the master’s work cheaply and fairly efficiently.

Our system of education has, in general, the appearance of being deliberately planned to a sinster end, so well does it suit the master’s interests. A few who may be required as hired captains of industry, instructors and such walks ol life (and the few only), can be sifted from out the mass of the people by means of a sieve of “Higher Education” (save the mark !) which contains a special hole here and there labelled “Scholarship,” through which a fixed and very small number of the more able or more fortunate may pass ; but for the mass there is nothing but the compulsion, under threat of hunger, to go out to earn their bread as soon as they have passed the point, no more no less, at which their masters say they are fit for the factory.

The history of “education” in this country is a curious mixture of cupidity and hypocrisy, being largely the story of the struggle for religious domination. The modern system is the direct descendant of that which was born of rival religious struggles for power, with the various religious bodies competing viciously for a larger number of children into whom to force their dogmas; and on the poor children was inflicted the proverbial pound of Bible to the ounce of useful knowledge.

To-day the squabble in the capitalist camp is almost entirely over religious instruction, the question of education itself taking a quite insignificant part in the controversy. The length and breadth of the land is stumped in the interests of rival religious factions, (representing as they do, the interests of various sections of the master class,) anxious to inculcate the dogma of their sect and interest into a larger number of the nation’s young.

In this question the workers, (who seldom, if ever, go to church) have had impressed upon them the views of sections of the ruling class by means of the newspaper and platform, and have been stirred into a flabby semblance of interest in a question of dogma which, in reality, does not concern them at all.

What does concern them is the fact that they and their children are members of a subject class deprived of light and life by a system of class-domination out-worn.

What does concern them to know is that the associated industry of to-day places it within their power to become masters of their own destiny, and to themselves enjoy the wealth their labour creates, and so prevent the consumption of hard-earned bread by the wilfully idle mouths of others.

What does also concern them is the fact that an education, worthy the name, is a possibility for them only when they have conquered the power of the State, abolished class parasitism, and organized industry, in order that the wealth, health and leisure that form the indispensable foundation for education and happy life may be theirs.

F. C. W.

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