THE MERTHYR SCHOOL BOARD.|1872-02-16|The Merthyr Telegraph and General Advertiser for the Iron Districts of South Wales - Welsh Newspapers Online
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Family Notices




THE MERTHYR SCHOOL BOARD. The usual fortnightly meeting of this Board was held on Friday; present—Mr George Clark, in the chair, Mrs Crawshay, the Revs F. S. Johnstone, Cornelius Griffiths, O. W. James, John Griffith, William Green, Fathers Millea and Bruton, and Mr Charles James. The minutes of the last meeting were read and con- firmed. Certain bills recommended by the Finance Committee were ordered to be paid. Mr Buckmaster, from the South Kensington Department, appeared before the Board, and said he thought as he was in the district he would, with their permission, wait upon them and see whether he could urge some closer connection between the elementary schools and the science and art evening classes in connection with the South Kensington Museum. If they would introduce into the elementary schools some instruction in the laws of health and the gen- eral outlines and principles of physiology, it would have a beneficial influence on the character of children, and in the after-life of men and women. It seemed to him a sub- ject of immense importance not beside the functions, and power of this Board. There had been abundant instances in different parts of the country of the utter uselessness of attempting to instruct children in science who had not the remotest notion ef what science meant—who had not heard even the common language of science. The department was anxious to push the matter as much as they could with- out being too importunate. He hoped, in time to come, there would be some connecting link between the whole of the elementary education of the country and this more ad- vanced teaching. The Chairman remarked that there was this difficulty. They would, under such an arrangement, be dealing with two departments that did not recognise one another officially, and were not in connection with one another. Mr Buckmaster assured the Board that although there was at one time a non.recognition of one department by the other, yet that was no longer the case, but that at pre- sent there was the heartiest co-operation between the two departments. Mrs Crawshay alluded to a visit she had recently made to a school at Peckham, in London. Though an elementary school several of the subjects taught in art classes were there brought under the regular attention of the pupils. The most prominent subjects were those bearing most intimately upon the interests cf the working class, such as the laws of health, physiology, and other branches of natural science. She was greatly pleased with her visit to the school, and with the progress made and the interest taken by the children in these science classes. Some little discussion followed, and Mr Buckmaster was assured before leaving the room of the favourable manner in which his proposition was entertained. REV MR JOHNSTONE'S NOTICE OFJMOTION. The Clerk read the following notice of motion given by Mr Johnstone a month since That bye-law No. 6, page 9 in the printed copy, be amended so as to read as follows 'Where the parent, of any child of school age, and not attending a public elementary school, or receiving an effi- cient education elsewhere, is, in the opinion of the Board, unable from poverty to pay the whole or a part of the school fees payable at a Board School by such child, the Board may remit for a renewable period, to be from time to time fixed by them, not exceeding six calendar months, the whole or such part of the fees so payable at a Board School as in their opinion the parent is unable from poverty to pay but the Board shall not pay fees for any such child on account of its attendance or instruction at any school not under the management and control of the Board.' The Rev Mr Johnstone said that it was to him exceed- ingly unpleasant to have to submit this resolution to the Board, that the subject had already been discussed, and that it would be impossible to re-open it without encroach- ing upon questions which no one would willingly raise. At the same time, the bye-law to which he took exception was a bad one, and one to which it was impossible for the parish to submit, and he could assure the Board that those whose principles he represented would not submit to it, even if it were forced upon them. Unpleasant as the task of moving his resolution might be, he had no alternative but to per- form it. The burden had been laid upon him, and he could not shirk the responsibility. He reminded the Board of the circumstances of his candidature, and of the steps which had previously been taken by the ratepayers, both by means of deputations and public meetings, to let the Board clearly understand what the people of Merthyr thought about the sixth bye-law. It was after they had failed to convince the Board and to obtain redress by these ordinary means, that they resolved to give their convictions an unmistakable ex- pression by carrying the question to the decision of a poll. The Nonconformists had chosen him as their candidate, and returned him by a large majority, and the question on which the whole election turned was that which was involved in the bye-law which he now wished to amend. The Board had had ample evidence before the contest that the sixth bye-law was hostile to the convictions of the great majority of the ratepayers, but if there was any room for doubt as to the opinion of the majority previous to the election, it was impossible to be in any doubt after the contest closed. It would be utterly preposterous for any one to argue now that the opinion of the constituency had not been clearly ex- pressed. Thatoplnionhadbeenmostemphaticallyand uxmis- takably expressed, and it was now for the Board to decide whether it would legislate with the people whom it pro- fessed to represent, or against the people. Mr Johnstone went on further to state that he felt some anxiety as to the result of the discussion, lest, in event of the Board still ad- heiing to its former decision, the failure should be due to his inompeteney rather than to the weakness of his cause; yet he had this consolation, that he knew he represented public opinion. No member sitting at that Board had been returned by the votes of so many electors as had sent him there, and it was not in parts of the parish alone that his candidature had been victorious, for every ward had given him a decisive majority. He did not say this exultingly, but to remind the Board that there was a clear issue before the public at the last election, and that it was vain to atiect ignorance or doubt as to what the constituency demanded. He also reminded the Board that the Merthyr election was not a solitary case-that Wolver- hampton, Halifax, Dewsbury, Liverpool, and other towns and parishes had yielded similar results, and even at Burnley, where it was deemed only fair to elect a Roman Catholic to succeed a Catholic member who had died, the people would not consent to the proposal except on con- dition that that Catholic should pledge himself to oppose the payment of fees to denominational schools. He (Mr Johnstone) had recently attended a conference of Noncon- formists in the city of Manchester, such a conference as no generation could expect to look upon twice, and he would assure the Board that the vast crowds of representative men, collected from all parts of the country, spoke with a firmness, and with a oneness of mind and speech, which left no room to doubt that the Nonconformists of this country meant to be trifled with no longer, that they would no longer submit to the unrighteous legislation by which they were oppressed, and that they would not rest until they had received that fair and just treatment to which they were entitled. He might mention as a highly signifi- cant fact that scarcely one resolution was presented to that conference which was not greatly strengthened before it met the requirements Of the determined men who had assembled, and he was satisfied that it would be ruinous to any administration to turn a deaf ear to those demands The payment of fees out of the rates to denominational schools was, Mr Johnstone contended, religious endow- ment. He was not prepared to listen to any more quibbling on this subject, but thought all such quibbling worthy of nothing better than scorn. Denominational schools had been established for denominational purposes. He might refer them for proof to the Charter of Incorporation of the National Society with which the national schools were con- nected. In that Charter it was distinctly avowed that the said soiiety had been "instituted principally far the purpose of educating the children of the poor in the doctrines of the Established Church, according to the liturgy and catethisro provided} for that purpose;" and was it not insulting to one's common-sense to be tol I that schools established principally for educating children in such doctrines, could be aided from tho rates, and yet hot receive religious endowments. The Roman Catholics had been more honest, he thought, than other de- nominations, for they had never made any pretence of concealing the denominational character of their schools. They had no Wesleyan schools in Merthyr, but even in Wesleyan schools the same denominational character was upheld, and, according to the plan issued by the Wesleyan Committee of Education, the schools were required to be avowedly and practically connected, as to their govern- ment and denomination, with Wesleyan Methodism," and to have the Wesleyan catechism taught in then:. How, then, could any one, having any pretence to honesty and straightforwardness of speech, and not sinking to mere paltry quibbles, assert that rates paid to such schools were not paid in support of denominational institutions, or that they did not go to aid denominational projects ? If those who spoke in that way were disposed to make an experi- ment, they could easily do so. Just let them consent to have all grants and rates now given to these schools pro- fessedly fer secular teaching withdrawn, and what would become of their religious teaching, their catechism, and their staff of religious teachers ? Teachers, grants, and rates, secular teaching, and sectarian teaching, would all vanish together, for had it not been for the public money these people had received and still received, they could never have bolstered up their denominations as they had done. He spoke within the knowledge of some who were present when he reminded them that the Catholic Bishop of Liverpool had stated that the Catholics could never have accomplished what they had accomplished, in the way of charitable and educational institutions, had it not been for State grants. Nor should it be forgotten that the rates proposed to be paid would go chiefly to a denomination already endowed beyond all reason, to the schools of the Established Church, to a church which had done less than any other church for the religious welfare of Wales, and yet was insatiable in its demands for money. Was the time never to arrive when that church would cease crying, Endow us, endow us?" They might depend upon it that the people would not put up with this unrighteousness, and it would theretore be well tor the Jioard to retuse its countenance to this clamour for public funds, by passing this resolution. It would be quite unworthy of the Board to seek refuge in a quibble, or to turn a deaf ear to a just demand. Nonconformists, he went on to say, were often taunted for not having built schools of their own, and thus entitling themselves to a large share of State grants. Those who taunted them took care to conceal the fact that Nonconformist never wished to have public money for denominational purposes, and it was not until very recent'y that Government would consent to give a grant to any school, except on condition that religious instruction should be given in it. Passing to another aspect of the case, he should like to know what religious instruction was given in the schools to which they were asked to pay away the rates. That was a matter, however, in which he, though a mem- ber of the Board on which the claim would be made, had no power or right to inquire. The Board would pay the money, and yet it would not have the liberty so much as to ask what was being done with it. He could not, however, but feel anxiety as to the kind of religious instruction which they would give. At a public meeting the rector of Merthyr had stated that he had informed the National Society that the Church catechism would not do for Wales, and that he must be allowed to dispense with it in his schools at Aberdare and yet at the very time the rector was making that statement, the Church catechism was in daily use at St. David's school. He could hardly under. stand why the catechism would not do for Aberdare, and could yet be usefully employed in Merthyr. But, again, he would like to know what explanations were given in teaching that catechism to the children. He held in his hand a small production professing to be an explanation of the Church catechism, by the Rev F. A. Gace, M.A., Vicar of Great Barling, Essex. It was sold for twopence, and he thought it was not worth much more. In that contemptible little work, intended for the use of families and parochial Schools, many of which were in receipt of public money, he found dissenters branded as heretics and their worship as idolatry. Dissenters were denounced in it because they worship God according to their own evil and corrupt imaginations," and therefore dissent is called "a great sin," the children of churchmen, however, being, with great kindness and liberality, allowed to pray for and even to assist dissenters in distress. It was also stated in the same miserable production that many dissenters are unexceptionable characters in a moral point of view, but they are not holy men," and the poor children are taught that it is wicked to enter a dissenting place of worship. In fact, he had only been able to find one doetrine in the whole of this catechism with which he thought the Board would agree, and it was the marvellous announcement that matrimony is not necessary to salvation (loud iaughter.) He thought there were two gentlemen on the Board who would be exceedingly pleased to hear this (renewed laughter), as it must assure them that there was hope for them yet in the future, notwithstanding their vow of celibacy. Was this, then, the sort of religious teaching for which they meant to compel a Nonconformist community to pay ? It might be argued that Mr Gace's catechism was not used in Merthyr. He did not know whether it was used or not, but he would remind the Board that they had no power officially to inquire. He had no doubt that the rector of Merthyr would scorn the proposal to teach such pitiful rubbish to little children, but they must remember that they had no guarantee against the introduction of such a work, and besides, that catechism of Mr Gace's was published as an explanation of the catechism now in use in church schools in this parish, and there was nothing to prevent teachers from adopting its utterances as their own. Then, coming to another set of schools -Catholic schools, he should like to know what sort of religious teaching was given in them. That was a still greater mystery. He had seen several Catholic catechisms. On the title-page of one of them, framed for the use of two Irish dioceses, he read the words, "This is the way; walk ye in Anxious to know what the way was, he had turned over the leaves, and found some very remarkable instruction about the ten commandments. He found that no one could break these commandments, unless he committed a mortal sin that if the sin was only venial, the command- ments were not broken. Turning, then, to the question, When is theft a mortal sin?" the reply which followed was, When the thing stolen is of considerable value, or causeth a considerable hurt to our neighbour." Now, he often saw from the local papers that children were taken up for stealing pieces of coal and old iron, and, for aught he knew they might regard these as only venial offences, though, unhappily for the culprits, the magistrates evi- dently treated them as mortal. Whether such teaching was given in any school in Merthyr he could not say but who could prevent it ? They could not, and yet they might be guilty of paying for it. It had been argued, however, that the bye-law which he was opposing was necessary in order to give parents a choice of schools, but that was an assertion quite contrary to fact. It was an argu- ment of which the gentleman opposite him (Mr. Green) could make no use, for he was doing all he could to prevent the people at Abercanaid from having any choice of school. They (the Board) knew perfectly well that in many parts of the parish there would be no such choice. Did they mean to build schools for Independents, for Baptists, for Calvinistic Methodists, and give the ad- herents of these denominations instruction in their own de. nominational views ? For if not, was it not sheer hypocrisy to speak of giving the people a choice of schools ? Coming to Mr James's resolution to which the Board had agreed, Mr Johnstone went on to observe that that resolution pro. vided that the fees should be paid for those children only who passed the Government examination. He contended that Mr James had overlooked the fact that Nonconformists had rejected the quibble by which it had been sought to convince them that grants in aid went for secular purposes only, that it was useless to tell them any longer that money given to denominational schools could be given for any but sectarian ends. He strongly denounced the plea of those who argued that as Dissenters had already borne with the grievance of having their taxes paid to these schools, and with Denison's Act,.they should not murmur at the further burden of having their rates taken from them too. The Egyptian taskmasters, he said, probably urged the same plea. They, no doubt, said to the poor Hebrews, "You have been making our bricks with straw, and why do you cry out now, when we compel you to make them without straw ?" Besides, continued the speaker, Mr James's solu- tion of the difficulty is impracticable. The Inspectors of Schools would not tell the Board what children had passed, and even Parliament was not in possession of the informa- tion. They had therefore devised a remedy which could never be applied. Mr Johnstone strongly denounced the Government for its breach of faith, assuring the Board that Mr Gladstone had given a pledge that the denominational schools would be severed from the Boards so as to exact no payments from them, and had yet broken that pledge in the face of the whole country by enacting the 25th clause. Were they, then, he asked, to be accomplices in this violation of a pledge, or were they to denounce it by refusing to avail themselves of the power which that clause most unjustly gave them ? He also reminded the Board of the pauperizing effect of their bye-law in places in which it had been tried, and cited Salford in particular, in which after paying for 1737 children, the attendance at school had diminished by 713. He urged the Board to resist the im- politic principle of paying money to irresponsible bodies, to institutions over which it had no control. He still further reminded them of the determination of the ratepayers as shown at the last election, and of the resolution of those working men who worked all night rather than lose the. opportunity of voting. May I remind the Board, continued Mr Johnstone, of what was done in Dowlais alone. There is no employer more highly esteemed by his workmen than our chairman. (Hear, hear, from the Rev O. W. James.) Wherever I have heard them speak of him I have heard them speak with the greatest respect, and I am sure that in all cases in which their principles will allow them they will be ready to give him cordial support. But when the contest came on, how did these men act? They knew how our chairman had voted on this question, and that my vote would go in direct opposition to his yet they did not hesi- tate. With them the question was, Shall we vote for Q-dr principles, or shall we be traitors to our principles ?" and we all know how they decided. At the Dowlais booth alone, I polled 85 per cent of the vote3 recorded. (Hear, hear.) I do not wish to detain the Board longer. I feel as if I owed an apology for the length of time I hav^ spoken, but I can- not sit down without appealing to the Board not stubbornly to resist the well-known wishes of the people. Is this Board to say to the people of Merthyr, We know your principles, we are quite aware of your convictions, but they are nothing whatever to us ? You may say what you please-we have the power to enact this bye-law, and are determined to force iu upon you, whether you like it or notr Is the Board prepared to assume this attitude, or to adopt this tone? For I would warn you that it is impossible to legislate against the popular will. Every Government or Board that attempts that dangerous experiment is sure to bring itself to grief. You cannot enforce laws, but with the consent of the majority of ftie people, and therefore I implore you to listen to the just claims of the parish by passing the resolution which I now move. (The rev. gentleman spoke for nearly an hour and a half.) After a short pause the Rev. O. W. James rose, and said that he thought it unnecessary to make any further remarks after the able and exhaustive speech to which they had just listened. He seconded the resolution with all his heart. Mrs Crawshay, in expressing regret at her inability to support the Nonconformists, said it was entirely in consequence of purely secular education having beee made the great point in their programme. Saving read her letter to the Times which appeared last Monday and sub. sequently in these columns, setting forth modifications in her previous selection from the Bible for religious teaching, she continued It seems to me we should aggrieve the conscience of the indigent parent if we send his children to school where education is purely secular. Whilst in town recently, I heard a very good conundrum, which I should like to mention here. It is, What is religion ? and the answer was, It is an insurance against fire in tho next world, in which honesty is considered the beat policy." Now. 1 will not give countenance to any system of religion