Captains and Guides
The National Union of Teachers has been in existence for 35 years. It has three representatives in Parliament, a membership rivalling in numbers the great Trade Unions, each member a “captain and guide of the democracy.” An Archbishop sends greeting to its latest Conference, Vicar and Major, Ex-Cabinet Minister and M.P„ all unite to “welcome” and patronise the delegates assembled at said Conference. All are greeted with rapturous “applause,” and all is as well as well can be in this best of all possible educational worlds.
And yet—and yet—the career of a “captain,” the lot of a “guide,” is still like unto the policeman’s life “when constabulary duty’s to be done.” List to the plaint of the President. “A career inadequately remunerated, passed under harassing conditions, practically in many cases, the servants of officials who rule with an iron hand, depending for their livelihood on voice and brain, and, if these fail, cast aside without remorse.”
Every “elementary” teacher will agree with this picture. Who can say who will be the next to swell the scrap-heap which the present state of Society is ever tending to increase? In case of breakdown, his service to the State entitles him to a pauper’s dole, his old age is rewarded with little better. He is a little higher than the artisan, and a little lower than the bank clerk. In any case, he is absolutely dependent upon wages for his subsistence. He is, in short, a proletarian. Does he ever seriously consider that, for class purposes, he is ever busily employed in manufacturing better material for the merchant and sweater, sturdier stuff, mayhap for “cannon fodder,” obedient tools to shoot their own kith and kin if necessary. Does his ever-increasing dread of inspector and “organiser,” his anything but dignified scramble for “promotion” ever give him time to reflect that a proportion of his scholars will inevitably join the ranks of the unemployed, that a Social System which he (for the most part) accepts as “ inevitable.” but which is merely rendered possible by his mental inertia, and the mental inertia of his fellow-workers in all walks of life, will condemn some of the scholars to join the army of shame in our great city?
I rejoice that there are faint gleams in our ranks (I speak as a teacher) of the dawn of class consciousness. The utterance of the President at Conference was an indication in this direction, as was that of the President of the London Teachers Association last October. “Did the man in the street but realise that the struggle between the Old and the New in education was in progress, and that he was interested in the result, that Democracy was contending against Privilege, he would come in and help. ‘
But there is clearly a very faint perception among teachers of real issues that will have to be met, perhaps not so many decades hence. I put it to the less prejudiced of the profession would any historian imagine from the proceedings of the Conference that 13,000,000 were on the borderland of of, or beneath, the poverty line? Men who have hardly learnt to think outside their Catechism, who are apparently proud of their subordination to a church whose chief “educational” aim has been to keep the teacher in his proper station, and to see that he inculcates in his pupils due respect for his “pastors and masters,” unite with more or less sincere believers in “ Simple Bible Teaching,” to cheer such “tosh” as “if the Bible is excluded from the schools, they shut out in the slums and towns of the great cities tens of thousands of little scraps of humanity from the sweetening and bee-utifying influences of Christian truth.” Really, they must have been exceptionally conscientious down Bristol way in times past. One cannot help calling to mind how, in this unregenerate Metropolis, whole “Scripture” lessons were quietly, but firmly, appropriated for instruction in other than “Christian truth” when the “Annual Parade Day” neared. And —“Christian Truth ! ” “What is Truth” said jesting Pilate. Should he be polite enough to “wait for an answer” to-day. one might reply, “Dunno. I’ll ask you one, what is Christian Truth ? “
Comrades—.Socialism is “in the air.” In any case it behoves you as teachers and students to acquaint yourselves with a force that has already commanded the attention of serious men and women of all classes. We are not “all Socialists now.” That is one of the lies resorted to by a class that well understands the real import of the radical change implied by real Socialism.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain has been formed to do educational spade work in the matter of Socialism. It is a frankly intransigeant body, which believes firmly in Socialism as the only possible way to economic salvation and clean living. Rejecting all compromise, viewing all “palliative” mongering with distrust and suspicion, it is determined to make for the goal of Social Salvation by ever insisting on what is becoming more and more patent to thinking people, that “he who would lie free, himself must strike the blow.” The initial step is to bring home to the dumb, driven masses that before they enter the Land of Economic Freedom, they must recognise their bondage. Alas! how shall they learn it, while the captains and guides of the coming race are but dimly conscious themselves. The ideal held out by the S.P.G.B. is high “The World for the Workers.” Your petty vexations, the harassing conditions under which you work, the lack of opportunity for self-culture, the reeking schoolroom, the barrack school and battalion classes, the sickening fear of comparative and actual failure are but part of the burden under which all Labour is groaning. If 35 years of Unionism has effected so little for you, might it not be worth while to seriously review the position, and dominated by a set definiteness of purpose, recognising your position as but units, useful units in the great capitalist game of Grab, infuse a more dignified, less cap-in-hand attitude into your Union? The declared reason for the existence of the N U.T. is the furtherance of the interests of the child. Is there not a danger that it may become the happy hunting-ground of the eloquent Party-man in a hurry to round his own life into a success?