Front Page Titles (by Subject) 147.: The Education Bill  4 APRIL, 1870 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIX - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part II July 1869 - March 1873
Return to Title Page for The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIX - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part II July 1869 - March 1873
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
147.: The Education Bill  4 APRIL, 1870 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIX - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part II July 1869 - March 1873 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIX - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part II July 1869 - March 1873, ed. John M. Robson and Bruce L. Kinzer (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The online edition of the Collected Works is published under licence from the copyright holder, The University of Toronto Press. ©2006 The University of Toronto Press. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form or medium without the permission of The University of Toronto Press.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The Education Bill 
Sessional Proceedings of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, III (1869-70), 348-51 (fascicle for 7 April). Reported in a U.S. paper (not identified) from which there is a clipping in the Mill-Taylor Collection. The meeting was held under Edwin Chadwick’s Chairmanship to consider further his “On the New Education Bill,” Sessional Proceedings, III (10 Mar., 1870), 261-84.
mr. john stuart mill said Mr. Chadwick had done a great service by bringing before this Association the most important part of the whole education question: the quality of the education. Mr. Chadwick had the very great merit on this subject, as he had on many others, of being the first person to bring before the public many great principles of administration resting on the double evidence of theory and experience—experience in a sufficient sum, though it might be a limited sphere of trial. Many persons must have remarked, and perhaps blamed too severely, the little attention paid to the question of quality, in the discussions going on in and out of Parliament on Mr. Forster’s Bill.1 But it was not surprising that people should look first to asserting the simple and admitted principles which they fully understood; such as the principle of religious equality. Those principles must be secured against infringement, and all anxiety and strife concerning them must be at an end before people would give their minds to questions of detail; even in that meeting they had got back to the question of denominational teaching, which really could not be helped, and would continually recur until the question was settled. Mr. Chadwick, in his most valuable paper, had furnished one more argument, and a most important one, against denominational education; an argument which the League2 had not used, but which he hoped they would use; grounded on the principle so strenuously enforced by Mr. Chadwick, that schools, to be either efficient or economical, must be large.3 A denominational school could not be a large school; at least it could not be so large as a comprehensive school, and the schools of denominations which were locally small must be small schools. Large schools were efficient and economical for several reasons. Suppose there were ten schools, each with fifty scholars and one master, and suppose they could get them together into a single school of 500 scholars. In the first place, the single school probably would not need so many as ten masters. But suppose that it did. In the ten schools every master must be competent to teach all the classes, and to teach everything. But in the single school of 500, only the head master need be able to teach the highest class, and persons of inferior qualifications, more easily and cheaply obtained, would suffice to teach the other classes. The third reason was the strongest of all, and had been admirably illustrated by the course pursued in America, as described by Mr. Zincke, that if they had a very large number—say 500—in a single school, they would be able to form as large classes as any one person could teach, composed of pupils, all of whom were nearly of the same degree of proficiency.4 Instead of every class being composed of some who were above the average, and some who were below, every class would be composed of children who were all about the same standard, and the same teaching would do for all. That would remedy the great defect of schools. Now, it was complained that the masters gave their chief time and attention to the quick and clever, and neglected the great mass. It was not unnatural that when the same teaching did not suit them all, the master should give most attention to those who would do him most credit, and the consequence was that in England and in most other countries the majority of those who had gone through the nominal course of teaching went out knowing little or nothing. Would it be said of the future schools, as was said of the present by the Bishop of Manchester, that the teaching in one-third was tolerable, the teaching in another third was indifferent, and the teaching in the remaining third worthless?5 And this, not judging by any high standard, but by one so humble as to aspire to no more than teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic before the age of fourteen. The League, therefore, in protesting against denominational schools, were working for one of the most important of the great principles proclaimed by Mr. Chadwick. The League also agreed with Mr. Chadwick on another point; they objected to the local boards, and insisted that they should be larger and of different composition; and here they did not go far enough; they had still much to learn from Mr. Chadwick. But they were thoroughly right as far as they went. The school districts ought to be much larger, if only that it might be possible to have large schools. In rural districts they could not get together within a space over which children could go daily a sufficient number to make very large schools; but they could have them in much larger numbers than if they were cut up by the different denominations. They could also have much larger schools if, in the first place, boys and girls were taught together; and, in the next place, the poor and those who were not poor received instruction together. Why should not the middle class and the poorer class receive that part of their education which was to be the same together, and from the same teachers? Rich children did not require a different reading and writing from poor children, or a different mode of learning it. The mode which was good for one was good for the other. The only difference was that the better-off parents could afford to keep their children longer at school, to learn additional things. And if those additional things were taught in the same place, the more ambitious and aspiring children of the poor would be fired with a desire to go further and learn that which the daughters and sons of the middle class attained to; and thus the result referred to by a former speaker6 of a child rising from the most elementary even to the highest grade of instruction would be frequently attained, especially if the aid were realised which might be given by means of exhibitions. The school board districts, however, would require to be larger than the district of a single school. If the boards were parochial, there would, in the rural districts, be here and there a school of great excellence (as far, at least, as was compatible with its necessarily small size), where there chanced to be an enlightened and patriotic clergyman or an enlightened and patriotic landowner; but, in the greater part of the country, the schools would be little better than nothing. The district of each school board ought to be large enough to give a reasonable chance, that in every board there would be at least one person who knew what good education was, and who cared about it. But suppose this done: let the district, however, be ever so wide, they could not trust the education of the poor to local boards. Take the rural districts. They might almost as well do nothing for the education of the poor agricultural labourer as leave it to the farmers to determine what the education should be. And even in the towns, would they leave the regulation of education to vestries? What did they think of the St. Pancras Vestry?7 Would anybody think of leaving anything which had to be done for the good of the poor to such a board as that? And yet they could count up very easily all the towns in Great Britain and Ireland that were larger, more wealthy, and more populous than the parish of St. Pancras. It was a great town in itself, and it contained surely a sufficient number of the best elements to give it a right to the best local government; it had its full share of well-instructed people—people who had access to all the means of instruction, to all the sources of political excitement and discussion, and there was the result. Again, look at the boards of guardians. A Poor Law union is fully as large a district as the school board districts are likely to be. The boards of guardians had full control over a most important part of the education of the country. They had the education of all the pauper children. How had they fulfilled this office? If the boards of guardians had done their duty, we should not at this time have had an education question. If they had done their duty, or if the duty had been taken out of their hands and assumed by the State, as Mr. Chadwick, thirty-five years ago, proposed; if Parliament had not struck out the clauses which Mr. Chadwick and his enlightened colleagues of the first Poor Law Commission inserted in their Bill,8 we should by this time have been at the end instead of at the beginning of the work. Does any one think that if the pauper children had been properly educated, all other children would not have been found to be educated too? Would they have been content to be thrown out of all the skilled employments, and those which required intelligence and education, by the children of the paupers? For thirty-five years have the boards of guardians had this charge upon them: much more than a generation. And after thirty-five years, Mr. Chadwick is still here, continuing to press upon unwilling ears the great duties which, during all that time, have been disregarded. So much for the rural districts. But perhaps the towns, perhaps the municipal bodies would do better. Well, and what have they done? A valuable Act of Parliament had given them the power to establish free libraries.9 How many of them have done it? A few have done so, and a most valuable institution those libraries have proved. But the great majority have not done it—have even rejected it when proposed to them. Yet this is an indispensable part of national education. Education is something more than to read, write, and cast accounts. He would not disparage the benefit, in developing the intelligence, of even the mere fact of learning to write and calculate. But if they wanted the “poor to make real use of what they were taught at school;” if they wanted them not to forget it, and lose the very power of reading, they must have books to read, and good books too, and a wish to read them. There will never be a real national education until there is a public library in every school district, not necessarily free, but open at a subscription not higher than every poor family in average employment could afford to pay. It would not do, then, to trust the management of education to local bodies, however constituted. There must be an authority above all these to take the initiative. Different people had very different ideas of popular government; they thought that it meant that public men should fling down all the great subjects among the people, let every one who liked have his word about them, and trust that out of the chaos there would form itself something called public opinion, which they would have nothing to do but to carry into effect. That was not his idea of popular government, and he did not believe that popular government thus understood and carried on would come to good. His idea of popular government was, a government in which statesmen, and thinking and instructed people generally pressed forward with their best thoughts and plans, and strove with all their might to impress them on the popular mind. What constituted the government a free and popular one was, not that the initiative was left to the general mass, but that statesmen and thinkers were obliged to carry the mind and will of the mass along with them; they could not impose these ideas by compulsion as despots could. Centralisation and decentralisation were words which had been much abused: what was wanted was the union of both: one authority, which should be a centre of information and of the best ideas to be found in the country, and many popular bodies to whom those ideas should be offered for their assent. A Minister of Education was good. It was good that there should be such a Minister, but it was not good that this Minister should be one to change with every Administration. But whether there was a Minister of Education or not, there ought to be a permanent board composed of people selected for their zeal for education and the amount of intelligent study they had given to the subject. If they had such a board, with emissaries of all kinds, inspectors and assistant commissioners going about the country promoting the best ideas and the best methods of education, they would have a chance of attaining to something really national in the way of education.
[There were further comments, and the meeting concluded.]
[1 ]I.e., “A Bill to Provide for Public Elementary Education in England and Wales,” 33 Victoria (17 Feb., 1870), which had been introduced by William Edward Forster as the Minister responsible for education, and was enacted in August 1870 as 33 & 34 Victoria, c. 75.
[2 ]The National Education League, which grew out of the Birmingham Education Society’s efforts, beginning in 1868, to secure a national secular education.
[3 ]“On the New Education Bill,” pp. 266-8.
[4 ]Foster Barham Zincke (1817-93), a Chaplain to the Queen, had spoken immediately before Mill (Sessional Proceedings, III, 346-7).
[5 ]In “On the New Education Bill,” p. 262, Chadwick cites (giving as his source a private letter) this comment by James Fraser (1818-85), who became Bishop of Manchester in 1870, and had formerly served on the Royal Commission on Education in 1858-59, and reported on the schools of Canada and the U.S.A. in 1866 (PP, 1867, XXVI, 293-435).
[6 ]Edwin Pears (1835-1919), Sessional Proceedings, III, 345.
[7 ]The Vestry of St. Pancras had become notorious for financial scandals, bad management (especially in the over-crowded workhouse), inadequate sanitation, and turbulent meetings.
[8 ]Given Mill’s close relations with Chadwick (who was in the Chair at this meeting) and his sustained interest in the Poor Law reform of 1834, it is odd that he appears to be mistaken here. There were no explicit provisions for education in the Poor Law Report, Chadwick did not draw up the Bill, and the debate on it in Parliament does not indicate that any clauses dealing with education were struck out. A Cabinet committee went over the Bill with the Commissioners, but their revisions seem not to have touched on education. Possibly Mill had in mind not the Poor Law but the Factory legislation of 1833: Chadwick was instrumental in drawing up the Bill (4 William IV [1 Aug., 1833], PP, II, 281-96), which contained education clauses modified in the Act (3 & 4 William IV, c. 103 ).
[9 ]13 & 14 Victoria, c. 65 (1850).