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SUBSTANCE OF THE REPORT OF THE COMMISSIONERS OF EDUCATION IN IRELAND, FOR THE YEAR ENDING MARCH 25, 1825.
AFTER detailing the steps which they have taken with respect to the schools of royal foundation, especially Enniskillen, Banagher, Carysfort, and Dungannon, the Commissioners advert to the state of the diocesan and district schools,-express their regret that many of the grand juries of counties have declined to present money for the building and outfit, or repairs, of such schools,-and observe, that until the clause of the existing act, imposing upon grand juries the duty of providing for the support and establishment of these schools, shall have been amended by the legislature, so as to render it imperative on them to present for such purposes, they entertain no sanguine expectation of aid from the grand juries for those most useful classical seminaries. From this remark, however, they except the grand juries of Antrim and Down, who have each presented L.1000 for the building of district schools in their respective counties; and the grand jury of Monaghan, who have presented L.500 for a similar purpose. The Commissioners state, that no endeavours have been wanting on their part to place the diocesan and district schools on a proper foundation; but that they have not authority to enforce a compliance with their suggestions.
Substance of the First Report of the Commissioners of Irish Education Inquiry.
This Report is confined to the investigation of the general state of education of the lower classes in Ireland. After detailing, at considerable length, the particulars of an elaborate examination of the various existing institutions for the education of the children of the poor in that country, the Commissioners thus state the opinion which that examination has induced them to form.
Having explained, as fully as the limits of a report of this nature will permit, the distinguishing characters of the different institutions which are now in operation in Ireland, for the purpose of promoting the education of the lower orders there, it becomes our duty to show the grounds of the opinion which we have formed, that none of them provide a system of general education suited to the peculiar situation and circumstances of Ireland.
In a country in which such marked divisions exist between different classes of the people, as are to be found in Ireland, it appears to us that schools should be established for the purpose of giving to children, of all religious persuasions, such useful instruction as they may severally be capable and desirous of receiving,
without having any grounds to apprehend an interference with their respective religious principles. In expressing this opinion, we have the satisfaction of finding that we entirely concur with the views of the Commissioners of Education who preceded us, as stated in their 14th report.
It is apparent, that this important object has not been fully attained in any schools hitherto established. The present system is the result of an ac cidental combination of various institutions, some of which were formed for other purposes, and with different views, than can now be entertained. Some, indeed, are more nearly adapted to the wants and the circumstances of the times than others, but none of them have ever been placed on such a footing as to obtain the cordial and general support of all classes.
In the view which we have already taken of the different institutions, the merits and imperfections of each must have become in some degree apparent. It is necessary for us, however, again briefly to advert to them, in order to show, that neither separately nor collectively can they be held to have effected the object which appears to us so desirable to accomplish.
The parish schools, though, in their original institution, they were clogged with no regulations which would have prevented them from being of general utility, became, by the events of the Reformation, strictly Protestant; and, when the act of William the Third prohibited Roman Catholics from teaching in schools, these, being wholly under the direction of the clergy of the Established Church, could never be likely to afford a system of education, to which children of all persuasions could resort without distrust or jealousy.
The charter-schools, which came
next in succession, were long looked upon as instruments by which the children of the Roman Catholic peasantry were to be educated in the Protestant faith. As such they have, from the first institution of the society, been the objects of suspicion and aversion to the Roman Catholics; and though the original object has been in some degree abandoned, they still possess a character decidedly exclusive, and are never likely to undergo such modifications as could render them generally and extensively beneficial.
The respectable class of schools which are under the care of the Association for discountenancing vice, though far more extensive in their operation, and more liberal in their character, can hardly be expected to inspire the Roman Catholics or the Presbyterians with confidence, being under the immediate superintendence of the clergy of the Established Church, the doctrines of which they have always consistently and avowedly taught to all who would consent to learn them. The education of the children of any other persuasion is so entirely an accidental and secondary object, that Presbyterians and Protestant dissenters, as well as Roman Catholics, view this class of schools with some degree of distrust.
The Society for the Education of the Poor, more commonly known by the name of the Kildare Street Society, which was selected and assisted by Parliament, in the hope that it might provide instruction for all, without interfering with the religious opinions of any, has not fully succeeded in effecting that desirable object. We have already noticed the objections made to it by the Roman Catholic clergy. From our communications with them, upon our respective tours, we can state, that the opinions entertained by them are ge
nerally the same as those of the Roman Catholic prelates whom we examined, and whose evidence is inserted in the appendix. We found that an opinion prevailed generally amongst all orders of the Roman Catholic clergy, that a combined and systematic attempt was making, on the part of several Societies, to effect the conversion of the Roman Catholics to the Protestant faith. They believe, that not only the Bible, Tract, and Missiónary Societies, and the Society for promoting the principles of the Reformation, are decidedly .aiming at this end, but that the London Hibernian, the Baptist, and even the Kildare Place Society, have also the same object in view. We found that they made little or no distinction between these several Societies, although some of them, in their character and their intentions, widely differ from others. This confusion has, in some degree, arisen from the circumstance, that the same persons, in several instances, take a prominent and active part in the management of more than one of these Societies, and the Roman Catholics have hence concluded, that their objects are alike in all.
It forms no part of our duty to notice any of these Societies but such as are connected with the establishment of schools; and of that class we found that the London Hibernian, and Baptist Societies were so conducted as to excite a greater degree of distrust on the part of the Roman Catholic clergy than any of the others. It is true, indeed, that general directions are given by these Societies, that no attempt shall be made in their schools to instil Protestant doctrines into the minds of the Roman Catholic children. The chief object is to give them scriptural instruction. They are required not only to read the Scriptures in the schools, but to commit considerable parts of them to me
mory, for which purpose it becomes necessary that they should take the book to their respective homes. Scripture reading, by the children of all ages, is the predominant and almost the sole object of instruction; and it is the avowed wish of the Directors, that the children should thus obtain for themselves an acquaintance with the doctrines of Christianity, without reference to any particular form, or creed, or worship.
The opinion which is formed by the Roman Catholics, of the character and intentions of the London Hibernian, and Baptist Societies, must naturally be the result of a consideration of the whole, and not of a part of their proceedings; and in this view it is important to observe, with respect to the London Hibernian Society, that the circulation of the Holy Scriptures generally in Ireland is one of the declared objects of the Society, and that it also employs a class of readers, who are constantly engaged in travelling through those parts of the country which are inhabited by Roman Catholics, and in reading and expounding to them the Scriptures. So likewise with respect to the Baptist Society, its declared object is not only to establish schools, but "to promote the Gospel in Ireland," by the employment of itinerant preachers, and by the distribution of Bibles and Tracts, either gratuitously, or at reduced prices.
The anxiety and apprehension which we found to prevail amongst the Roman Catholic clergy with respect to proselytism, induced us carefully to inquire, whether many children had in fact been converted from the Roman Catholic faith, through the immediate instrumentality either of the schools of the Kildare Place Society, or of the other Societies with which it is connected; and we have no reason whatever to believe, that the con
version of any children has taken place in any case in which it cannot be sufficiently accounted for by the religion of one or other of the parents. The Roman Catholic clergy, however, do not rest their opposition to these Societies on the ground that proselytism has actually been effected by them, but on an allegation that such is their object, that such is the tendency of their schools, and that such might be the effect of their system if it were allowed to prevail. Whatever may have been the nature of the opposition which the Roman Catholic clergy have given, we had abundant opportunities of seeing that it had been very generally exercised, and its effects were apparent at the time of our inspection, in the altered state of by much the greater part of the schools. That their exertions to remove the children are not made with equal success, or with equal resolution in all cases, is naturally to be expected; but that they have been to a great degree successful, and will to the utmost be persisted in, we are led seriously to apprehend.
Having come to the conclusion, that none of the existing establishments, whilst they continue to act on their present rules, can provide such a system of education as shall be cordially adopted and generally supported, it was our duty to consider in what way that important object could be best attained.
The complaints of the Roman Catholic clergy, that the bounty of Government was not intended to be exclusive, but that it was rendered so by rules which individuals had the power of applying to its distribution, attracted our serious attention; and, referring to the petition of the Roman Catholic prelates, we, in the first instance, considered, whether it was desirable to recommend a grant of
money in aid of schools, to be founded and directed by some Roman Catholic body, to be selected for that purpose.
We had, in the course of our inspection, paid particular attention to three classes of Roman Catholic schools; we mean the schools of the Brothers of Christian Doctrine, the schools of the Nuns, for the instruction of females, and the Roman Catholic free Lancasterian schools, generally attached to chapels. These three classes appeared to be severally capable of extension, and to admit of the possibility of forming the basis of a system of education which might readily be made to comprehend a great majority of the Roman Catholic children.
We entered into the consideration of this subject, however, with our minds deeply impressed by the inexpediency of establishing a system of separate education. We had observed, in our examination of these schools, that they possessed a character so peculiar and distinct, that though Protestant children were not systematically excluded, very few of them had ever been known to attend. In the practice of these schools, religious and general instruction are so blended together, that unless the course of teaching should be wholly changed, they could never afford any other than a strictly Roman Catholic education, inculcated through the medium of a series of catechisms; and in not more than one or two of these schools did we find that the Scriptures had ever been used. In many instances, the schools of the latter class appeared to be inadequately furnished with books. and other requisites: and an anxious wish was very generally expressed by their conductors, that these deficiencies might be supplied by the aid of Government. On examining
the books, however, we generally found them to be such as would be used only by Roman Catholics.
Were we to recommend a grant of money in aid of such schools, the result would be, that they would be eagerly supported by the Roman Catholic body, their numbers would increase, and the masters would be better paid, the schools better supplied, and the instruction rendered more effective; but its character would still remain the same. The Roman Catholic children would also, no doubt, universally withdraw from every other description of schools, and from every opportunity of being associated with Protestants; and, after a short time, two systems would be established in the country, in which the children of the two persuasions would be so educated as to be more than ever estranged from each other.
The evils with which separate education is evidently pregnant, necessarily fixed our attention on the benefits which would result from a contrary course. A system of united education, from which suspicion should, if possible, be banished, and the causes of distrust and jealousy be effectually removed,-under which the children might imbibe similar ideas, and form congenial habits, would tend rapidly to diminish, instead of increase, the distinctness of feeling which is now but too prevalent. We were led, therefore, anxiously to seek for the means of establishing a system of united and general education.
We had learnt, in the course of our inquiries, that no system could obtain a general and cordial support in Ireland, which should not, in addition to elementary knowledge of a literary character, afford the opportunity of religious instruction to persons of all persuasions. We so fully concur in this view of the subject, that our objection to most of the systems at present in
operation is, that they both attempt and effect too little upon this important point. The principle hitherto acted upon by the Kildare Street Society, in particular, is to omit altogether the points of religious doctrine and belief upon which a difference of opinion exists. For this purpose it has been found necessary to exclude all catechisms, and to forbid all comment or explanation of the Scriptures: the children of the most advanced classes are taught to read the New Testament, and are left, without guide or assistance, to discover its meaning. It is not to be denied, that some children may frequently obtain much knowledge in this imperfect manner; but it was evident to us, in the opportunities which we had of examining the children in these schools, that they too generally comprehended but little of the meaning of the portions of Scripture which they had successively read. The system appeared to us to be one in which very much of what was useful was sacrificed to the hope of excluding everything on which disagreement could exist.
In the schools of the Association for discountenancing vice, this compromise is not carried to the same extent as in the schools of the Kildare Place Society; for in them the catechism is regularly taught to the children belonging to the Established Church, though none others are compelled to learn it. We were led also to observe, that the principle of withdrawing the attention of the pupils from all points on which religious difference existed, had been thought very objectionable by some of the Protestant as well as the Roman Catholic clergy; and it is, we believe, the opinion of most persons of the Established Church and other Protestant communions, as well as of the Roman Catholic clergy, that explanation and comment upon the Scripture,