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LETTER XXI.: SCHOOLS. - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 4 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 4.
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After applying the inspection principle first to prisons, and through mad-houses bringing it down to hospitals, will the parental feelings endure my applying it at last to schools? Will the observation of its efficacy in preventing the irregular application of undue hardship even to the guilty, be sufficient to dispel the apprehension of its tendency to introduce tyranny into the abodes of innocence and youth?
Applied to these, you will find it capable of two very distinguishable degrees of extension:—It may be confined to the hours of study; or it may be made to fill the whole circle of time, including the hours of repose, and refreshment, and recreation.
To the first of these applications the most captious timidity, I think, could hardly fancy an objection: concerning the hours of study, there can, I think, be but one wish, that they should be employed in study. It is scarce necessary to observe that gratings, bars, and bolts, and every circumstance from which an inspection-house can derive a terrific character, have nothing to do here. All play, all chattering—in short, all distraction of every kind, is effectually banished by the central and covered situation of the master, seconded by partitions or screens between the scholars, as slight as you please. The different measures and casts of talent, by this means rendered, perhaps for the first time, distinctly discernible, will indicate the different degrees of attention and modes of culture most suitable to each particular disposition; and incurable and irreproachable dulness or imbecility will no longer be punished for the sins of idleness or obstinacy. That species of fraud at Westminster called cribbing, a vice thought hitherto congenial to schools, will never creep in here. That system of premature corruption, in which idleness is screened by opulence, and the honour due to talents or industry is let out for hire, will be completely done away; and a nobleman may stand as good a chance of knowing something as a common man.
Nor, in point of present enjoyment, will the scholars be losers by the change. Those sinkings of the heart at the thoughts of a task undone, those galling struggles between the passion for play and the fear of punishment, would there be unknown. During the hours of business, habit, no longer broken in upon by accident, would strip the master’s presence of its terrors, without depriving it of its use. And the time allotted for study being faithfully and rigidly appropriated to that service, the less of it would serve.
The separate spaces allotted for this purpose would not in other respects be thrown away. A bed, a bureau, and a chair, must be had at any rate; so that the only extraordinary expense in building would be for the partitions, for which a very slight thickness would suffice. The youth of either sex might by this means sleep, as well as study, under inspection, and alone—a circumstance of no mean importance in many a parent’s eye.
In the Royal Military School at Paris, the bed-chambers (if my brother’s memory does not deceive him) form two ranges on the two sides of a long room; the inhabitants being separated from one another by partitions, but exposed alike to the view of a master at his walks, by a kind of a grated window in each door. This plan of construction struck him, he tells me, a good deal, as he walked over that establishment (about a dozen years ago, was it not?) with you; and possibly in that walk the foundation was laid for his Inspection-House. If he there borrowed his idea, I hope he has not repaid it without interest. You will confess some difference, in point of facility, betwixt a state of incessant walking and a state of rest; and in point of completeness of inspection, between visiting two or three hundred persons one after another, and seeing them at once.
In stating what this principle will do in promoting the progress of instruction in every line, a word or two will be thought sufficient to state what it will not do. It does give every degree of efficacy which can be given to the influence of punishment and restraint. But it does nothing towards correcting the oppressive influence of panishment and restraint, by the enlivening and invigorating influence of reward. That noblest and brightest engine of discipline can by no other means be put to constant use in schools, than by the practice which at Westminster, you know, goes by the name of challenging—an institution which, paying merit in its fittest and most inexhaustible coin, and even uniting in one impulse the opposite powers of reward and punishment, holds out dishonour for every attention a boy omits, and honour for every exertion he can bestow.
With regard to the extending the range of inspection over every moment of a boy’s time, the sentiments of mankind might not be altogether so unanimous. The notion, indeed, of most parents is, I believe, that children cannot be too much under the master’s eye; and if man were a consistent animal, none who entertain that notion but should be fonder of the principle the farther they saw it pursued. But as consistency is of all human qualities the most rare, it need not at all surprise us, if, of those who in the present state of things are most anxious on the head of the master’s omnipresence, many were to fly back and change their note, when they saw that point screwed up at once to a pitch of perfection so much beyond whatever they could have been accustomed to conceive.
Some there are, at any rate, who, before they came into so novel a scheme, would have many scruples to get over. Doubts would be started—Whether it would be advisable to apply such constant and unremitting pressure to the tender mind, and to give such herculean and ineludible strength to the gripe of power?—whether persons, of the cast of character and extent of ideas that may be expected to be found in the common run of schoolmasters, are likely to be fit receptacles for an authority so much exceeding anything that has been hitherto signified by despotic?—whether the in-attention of the master may not be as necessary to the present comfort of his pupil, in some respects, as the attention of the one may be to the future welfare of the other, in other respects?—whether the irretrievable check given to the free development of the intellectual part of his frame by this unintermitted pressure, may not be productive of an imbecility similar to that which would be produced by constant and long-continued bandages on the corporeal part?—whether what is thus acquired in regularity may not be lost in energy?—whether that not less instructive, though less heeded, course of discipline, which in the struggles of passion against passion, and of reason against reason, is administered by the children to one another and to themselves, and in which the conflicts and competitions that are to form the business of maturity are rehearsed in miniature; whether I say, this moral and most important branch of instruction would not by these means be sacrificed to the rudiments, and those seldom the most useful, of the intellectual?—whether the defects, with which private education has been charged in its comparison with public, would not here be carried to the extreme?—and whether, in being made a little better acquainted with the world of abstraction than they might have been otherwise, the youth thus pent up may not have been kept more than proportionably ignorant of the world of realities into which they are about to launch?—whether the liberal spirit and energy of a free citizen would not be exchanged for the mechanical discipline of a soldier, or the austerity of a monk?—and whether the result of this high-wrought contrivance might not be constructing a set of machines under the similitude of men?
To give a satisfactory answer to all these queries, which are mighty fine, but do not any of them come home to the point, it would be necessary to recur at once to the end of education. Would happiness be most likely to be increased or diminished by this discipline?—Call them soldiers, call them monks, call them machines: so they were but happy ones, I should not care. Wars and storms are best to read of, but peace and calms are better to enjoy. Don’t be frightened now, my dear * * * * *, and think that I am going to entertain you with a course of moral philosophy, or even with a system of education. Happiness is a very pretty thing to feel, but very dry to talk about; so you may unknit your brow, for I shall say no more about the matter. One thing only I will add, which is, that whoever sets up an inspection-school upon the tiptop of the principle, had need to be very sure of the master; for the boy’s body is not more the child of his father’s, than his mind will be of the master’s mind; with no other difference than what there is between command on one side and subjection on the other.
Some of these fine queries which I have been treating you with, and finer still, Rousseau would have entertained us with; nor do I imagine he would have put his Emilius into an inspection-house; but I think he would have been glad of such a school for his Sophia.
Addison, the grave and moral Addison, in his Spectator or his Tatler, I forget which, suggests a contrivance for trying virginity by means of lions. You may there find many curious disquisitions concerning the measures and degrees of that species of purity; all which you will be better pleased to have from that grave author than from me. But, without plunging into any such discussions, the highest degree possible, whatsoever that may be, is no more than anybody might make sure of, only by transferring damsels at as early an age as may be thought sufficient, into a strict inspection-school. Addison’s scheme was not only a penal but a bloody one: and what havoc it might have made in the population of the country, I tremble but to think of. Give thanks, then, to Diana and the eleven thousand virgins, and to whatever powers preside over virginity in either calendar, for so happy a discovery as this of your friend’s. There you saw blood and uncertainty: here you see certainty without blood. What advantage might be made by setting up a boarding-school for young ladies upon this plan, and with what eagerness gentlemen who are curious in such matters would crowd to such a school to choose themselves wives, is too obvious to insist on. The only inconvenience I can think of is, that if the institution were to become general, Mrs. Ch. H. and other gentlewomen of her calling, would be obliged either to give up house-keeping, or take up with low wenches or married ladies.
Dr. Brown the estimator would have been stark mad for an inspection-school upon the very extremity of the principle, provided always he were to have been head-master, and then he would have had no other schools but those. His antagonist, Dr. Priestly, would, I imagine, be altogether as averse to it, unless, perhaps, for experiment’s sake, upon a small scale, just enough to furnish an appendix to Hartley upon Man.
You have a controversy, I find, in England, about Sunday-schools. Schools upon the extremity of the inspection-principle would, I am apt to think, find more advocates among the patrons than among the oppugners of that measure.
We are told, somewhere or other, of a King of Egypt (Psammitichus, I think, is his name) who thinking to re-discover the lost original of language, contrived to breed up two children in a sequestered spot, secluded, from the hour of their birth, from all converse with the rest of humankind. No great matters were, I believe, collected from this experiment. An inspection-house, to which a set of children had been consigned from their birth, might afford experiments enough that would be rather more interesting. What say you to a foundling-hospital upon this principle? Would * * * *’s manes give you leave to let your present school and build another upon this ground? If I do not misrecollect, your brethren in that trust have gone so far as to make a point, where it can be effected, of taking the children out of the hands of their parents as much as possible, and even, if possible, altogether. If you have gone thus far, you have passed the Rubicon; you may even clap them up in an inspection-house, and then you make of them what you please. You need never grudge the parents a peep behind the curtain in the master’s lodge. There, as often as they had a mind, they might see their children thriving and learning, if that would satisfy them, without interrupting business or counteracting discipline. Improving upon Psammitichus’s experiment, you might keep up a sixteen or eighteen years separation between the male and female part of your young subjects; and at the end of that period see what the language of love would be, when Father Francis’s Ganders were turned into Father Francis’s Geese.
I know who would have been delighted to set up an inspection-school, if it were only for the experiment’s sake, and that is Helvetius: at least, if he had been steady to his principles, which he was said to be: for by that contrivance, and by that alone, he might have been enabled to give an experimental proof of the truth of his position (supposing it to be true) that anybody may be taught anything, one person as well as another. It would have been his fault, if what he requires as a condition, viz. that the subjects of the experiment be placed in circumstances exactly similar, were not fulfilled.
A rare field for discovery in metaphysics: a science which, now for the first time, may be put to the test of experiment, like any other. Books, conversation, sensible objects, everything, might be given. The genealogy of each observable idea might be traced through all its degrees with the utmost nicety: the parent stocks being all known and numbered. Party men, controversialists of every description, and all other such epicures, whose mouth waters at the mammon of power, might here give themselves a rich treat, adapted to their several tastes, unembittered by contradiction. Two and two might here be less than four, or the moon might be made of green cheese; if any pious founder, who were rich enough, chose to have her of that material. Surrounded by a circle of pupils, obsequious beyond anything as yet known under the name of obsequiousness, their happiness might in such a mansion be complete, if any moderate number of adherents could content them; which unhappily is not the case. At the end of some twenty or five-and-twenty years, introduce the scholars of the different schools to one another (observing first to tie their hands behind them) and you will see good sport; though perhaps you may think there is enough of that kind of sport already. But if you throw out this hint to anybody, you will take care, as far as sects and religions are concerned, not to mention names; for of these, how few are there but would be ready to pull us to pieces, if they saw their rivals set down upon the same line, as candidates for the same advantage? And this is what we should get by our impartiality.—You may, however, venture to hint, that the money which is now laid out for propagating controversy, by founding sermons and lectures, might be laid out with greater certainty of advantage in the founding controversial inspection-schools. The preachers must be sad bunglers, indeed, if they had not there as many adherents as auditors; which is not always the case in the world at large. As to flagellation, and other such ceremonies, which more through custom than necessity are used by way of punishment in schools, but which under some institutions form the routine of life, I need not take up your time in showing how much the punctuality of those transactions might, in the latter case, be improved by the inspection principle. These monastic accomplishments have not been in fashion in our country for some ages:—therefore it would be lost labour to recommend the principle in that view. Neither are they a whit more so where I write; so that I should get as little thanks for my pains, were I to make such a proposal here. On the contrary, we are dissolving monasteries as you would lumps of sugar. A lump, for instance, we got the other day at Kieff, enough to feed a brace of regiments, besides pickings for other people. But if in my return to England, or at any other time, I should happen to go by the monastery of La Trappe, or any other where they are in earnest about such business, it would be cruelty to deny them the assistance it might be made to receive from the inspection principle. Flinching would then be as impracticable in a monastery, as cribbing in a school. Old scores might thus be rubbed out with as much regularity as could be desired; nor would the pride of Toboso have been so long a-disenchanting, could her Knight have put his coward Squire into an inspection-house.
Neither do I mean to give any instructions to the Turks for applying the inspection principle to their seraglios: no, not though I were to go through Constantinople again twenty times, notwithstanding the great saving it would make in the article of eunuchs, of whom one trusty one in the inspection-lodge would be as good as half a hundred. The price of that kind of cattle could not fail of falling at least ten per cent., and the insurance upon marital honour at least as much, upon the bare hint given of such an establishment in any of the Constantinople papers. But the mobbing I got at Shoomlo. only for taking a peep at the town from a thing they call a minaret (like our monument) in pursuance of invitation, has cancelled any claims they might have had upon me for the dinner they gave me at the divan, had it been better than it was.
If the idea of some of these applications should have brought a smile upon your countenance, it won’t hurt you, my dear * * * *; nor should it hurt the principle. Your candour will prevent you from condemning a great and new invented instrument of government, because some of the purposes to which it is possible to apply it may appear useless, or trifling, or mischievous, or ridiculous. Its great excellence consists in the great strength it is capable of giving to any institution it may be thought proper to apply it to. If any perverse applications should ever be made of it, they will lie in this case as in others, at the doors of those who make them. Knives, however sharp, are very useful things, and, for most purposes, the sharper the more useful. I have no fear, therefore, of your wishing to forbid the use of them, because they have been sometimes employed by school-boys to raise the devil with, or by assassins to cut throats with.
I hope no critic of more learning than candour will do an inspection-house so much injustice as to compare it to Dionysius’ ear. The object of that contrivance was, to know what prisoners said without their suspecting any such thing. The object of the inspection principle is directly the reverse: it is to make them not only suspect, but be assured, that whatever they do is known, even though that should not be the case. Detection is the object of the first: prevention, that of the latter. In the former case the ruling person is a spy; in the latter he is a monitor. The object of the first was to pry into the secret recesses of the heart; the latter, confining its attention to overt acts, leaves thoughts and fancies to their proper ordinary, the court above.
When I consider the extensive variety of purposes to which this principle may be applied, and the certain efficacy which, as far as I can trust my own conceptions, it promises to them all, my wonder is, not only that this plan should never have hitherto been put in practice, but how any other should ever have been thought of.
In so many edifices, as, from the time of the conquest to the present, have been built for the express purpose of safe custody, does it sound natural that, instead of placing the prisoners under the inspection of their keepers, the one class should have been lodged at one end, perhaps, of a vast building, and the other at another end?—as if the object of the establishment were, that those who wished to escape might carry on their schemes in concert, and at leisure. I should suppose the inspection principle must long ago have occurred to the ingenious, and been rejected by the judicious, could I, after all my efforts, conceive a reason for the rejection. The circular form, notwithstanding its taking demonstrably less materials than any other, may, for aught I know, on its first construction, be more expensive than one of equal dimensions in any of the ordinary forms. But this objection, which has no other source than the loose and random surmise of one who has had no experience in building, can never have held good in comparison with all the other prisons that we have, if in truth it holds good in comparison with any. Witness the massy piles of Newgate, of which the enormous, and upon the common plans by no means unnecessary expense, has been laid out in the purchase of a degree of security, not equal to that which the circular form would have given to the slightest building that could be made to hold together. In short, as often as I indulge myself in the liberty of fancying that my own notions on this head may prove conformable to other people’s, I think of the old story of Columbus and his egg.
I have now set this egg of ours on its end:—whether it will stand fast, and bear the shocks of discussion, remains to be decided by experience. I think you will not find it stale; but its freshness is a circumstance, that may not give it an equal relish to every palate.
What would you say, if by the gradual adoption and diversified application of this single principle, you should see a new scene of things spread itself over the face of civilized society?—morals reformed, health preserved, industry invigorated, instruction diffused, public burthens lightened, economy seated as it were upon a rock, the gordian knot of the poor-laws not cut but untied—all by a simple idea in architecture?*
I am, &c.
[* ]This plan happened not to come in time for the particular purpose it was designed for.