Front Page Titles (by Subject) 149.: Election to School Boards  9 NOVEMBER, 1870 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIX - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part II July 1869 - March 1873
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149.: Election to School Boards  9 NOVEMBER, 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).
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Election to School Boards 
The Times, 10 November, 1870, p. 4. Headed: “The Education Act” (the article begins with a general account of candidates and meetings). A full report of Mill’s speech also appeared in the Daily Telegraph (again in the first person), and brief third-person accounts were published in the Pall Mall Gazette and the Beehive (12 Nov.); the Daily News had an even briefer report. The evening meeting, attended by over 1000 of the ratepayers of Greenwich, Deptford, and the surrounding area, was held in the Literary Institution, Mill presiding, to consider the proper qualifications for members of the London School Board, and to hear the candidates’ views. The four candidates supported by the Church of England each wrote a letter declining to attend. Mill, on rising, was loudly cheered.
this meeting, as you know, has been called to consider the qualifications which should be required in candidates for the School Board. Those who have called us together, and at whose request I have consented to take the chair, think it desirable that before we commit ourselves to the support of particular candidates we should confer together concerning the principles that should direct our choice. For it is to be feared that while we are contending very properly each for his own opinion on a single point—the question of religious teaching in rate-appointed schools—we may lose sight of other points quite as important, and perhaps confide the charge of the education of London to persons who care very much for its being sectarian or unsectarian, but who, when they have taken care of that, think that they have done everything. This would be a sad failure. We all, I suppose, have our opinions as to whether education paid for by rates should be denominational or should be in some way or other religious without being denominational, or should be purely secular, leaving religious teaching to the religious bodies. But whatever importance we justly attach to these differences of opinion, it is even more important that our representatives should have other qualifications than the opinion they profess on this point—that they should be persons who really desire and really understand education. (Cheers.) We have got to determine, therefore, each for himself, by what criterion we are to judge who are they who desire education most and understand it best. And we have not only to consider what kind of persons are fit to be intrusted with the control of education, but also what kind of persons are not fit. There is one proof of unfitness so decisive that it deprives a candidate of any claim to our support. I would refuse my vote to any one, let him be who he may, who is afraid lest the poor should be too much educated, who thinks they are in danger of knowing more than is necessary for them, or more than is suitable to their condition in life. In education there is no such thing as “too much.” (Loud cheers.) Every kind of knowledge is useful. Of course we ought to begin with the most useful. But the most useful is that which most opens their minds, and accustoms them to the use of their understandings. There are some who think that, for working people, the only instruction needed is technical instruction—teaching them the use of their hands. But the hands never work to the best effect unless the brain works too. Looking at the benefits of mental cultivation on their humblest side, the workman whose mind is trained as well as his hands is sure to be the most capable at his work. What is more, he is most capable of turning to other work if his accustomed occupation fails him. When another man goes upon the poor-rate he can maintain his independence. Intelligent Americans say that one of the reasons why there is so little pauperism in the United States is that the American workman, being educated, can turn his hand to anything. I would not vote for any one who thinks that nothing should be taught but reading, writing, and arithmetic. Of what use is it to any one to have been taught to read if he never does read afterwards, or never anything that can be of the smallest use to hi? Our object ought to be that the children should leave school with their minds so informed that they will wish to read, and be able to understand the best books or general literature and information. This is quite practicable. We need anota go to America or Germany for the proofs. The Scotch Parochial Schools did as much as this for two centuries and more. During that time the Scotch peasantry not only were taught to read but loved to read and did read; and if they had not many books within their reach they read all the more assiduously the best that they had, and the effect on their intelligence was such that the sons of Scotch labourers were to be found all over Europe in skilled employments. (Hear, hear.) My next point is this: There will be elected doubtless by the different constituencies many persons of strong religious convictions, whose interest in education has its principal bsourceb in religious zeal. It would be very wrong to exclude such persons. Were they all rejected, the opinions of the constituencies would not be freely represented. But this I do say, that no one is fit to take part in administering the Act1 who cares only for religious teaching, who looks upon secular instruction as a minor matter, for which a small portion of attention is necessary. We must remember that the object for which the Act was passed was the improvement and extension of elementary education, and though some people may think, as I do not, that a certain amount of religious teaching belongs properly to elementary education, no one can suppose that the main object of the country and the Government in passing this Act was religious teaching as opposed to secular. (Hear, hear.) One word more as to the kind of candidates we should not elect. Those are to be deeply distrusted who show themselves anxious only for more schools and not also for better. The mere multiplication of schools no better than most of those we have would be a very moderate advantage. What is the character given of the present schools by Bishop Fraser, of Manchester, who, having been an inspector of schools, knows what they are, and who also knows by his own observation the schools of the United States?2 He says that of our primary schools one-third may be considered tolerable, one-third middling, and the remaining third positively bad. (Laughter.) And in passing this terrible judgment he is not trying them by a high standard, but by the miserably low standard they profess—reading, writing, and the first four rules of arithmetic. Even these the great majority of our existing schools do not teach, and few, indeed, are there which teach to any purpose anything more. (Hear, hear.) I have said enough, perhaps, about the disqualifications of candidates. Now, what about their qualifications? Well, we want people who know what ought to be done, and are zealous to do it, and the best evidence of cboth is—c actions. We should ask of all who offer themselves for our suffrages, what have you done for education? And we should be very much guided by their answers. There is no lack of persons in England, and even in London, who have done something considerable for education; some of them have done things really great and memorable. Unhappily, but few of them are candidates, but that, perhaps, is our own fault in not seeking for them. Let us ask all our candidates what they have got to show of this kind. And in estimating their claims let us, again, remember that services rendered in improving the teaching in schools ought to count for more than what is done merely to increase their number. We should also ask them for some proof that they are competent to judge of schoolmasters and schoolmistresses. Let no one think that it is an easy thing to know good teaching from bad. It requires practical experience of teaching and no ordinary knowledge of the human mind. The candidates should be asked what amount of study they have given to the art of teaching and to the reasons why one teacher succeeds and another fails. The account they are able to give of themselves in this particular will be a considerable guide to their qualifications for the School Board. There are one or two more things to be considered. It is of great importance that there should be a proportion of working men on the Board. (Loud cheers.) And it is of the utmost importance that there should be a proportion of women. (Cheers.) The working classes are those for whose children the schools are intended. They are those for whose wants and exigencies we have to provide. No one knows the circumstances and wants of the working classes so well as intelligent working people, and the participation of such persons will do more than anything else to give the working classes confidence in the School Board. Besides, there is no class which, taken as a class, is so much in earnest about popular education, so solicitous about its quantity and quality, and so free from any side purposes of promoting the interests of any sect or party by means of it. (Hear, hear.) Working men are indispensable if the School Board is to be thoroughly efficient and popular. Women are still more necessary. In the first place, we have girls to educate as well as boys, and a national education for girls directed solely by men would indeed be an absurdity on the face of it. Moreover, women as the principal domestic teachers have more experience, and have acquired more practical ability in the teaching, at least of children. Almost every mother of a family is a practised teacher, and even beyond the family. For one man not a teacher by profession, who has given much of his attention to teaching or to the superintendence of teaching, there are many women who have done so. Were we not to elect any women we should go completely counter to the spirit of the Act. (Cheers.) Parliament has shown what its opinion is by expressly making women eligible to the School Board.3 It will be most incomplete without them, and it is much to be regretted that so few women have yet offered themselves as candidates. (Cheers.) One thing more. We need not think it indispensable that all we elect should be resident in our own district. We are electing superintendents of education not for ourselves alone, but for all London, and our great concern should be to obtain the fittest persons possible, whether they live in one quarter of the metropolis or in another. If our affairs are mismanaged or less well managed than they might be, it will be a poor consolation to reflect that this has been done by people living at Greenwich, when, perhaps, there was some person of ability out of Greenwich who, if sent by us to the School Board, would have turned the scale on questions of the greatest importance. All dlocal as well as personal considerationsd should be silent in the presence of the great trust which the metropolis has now to discharge. (Loud cheers.)
[The candidates present addressed the meeting, and then a resolution was moved and seconded that no one was worthy to serve on the School Board who would not seek to secure attendance of every child at school, support free education, and insist that the schools should not be made the means of instilling sectarian opinions; and further that the working classes should be represented on the Board. After a long discussion the motion was adopted, and a vote of thanks to the Chair concluded the meeting.]
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[1 ]33 & 34 Victoria, c. 75 (1870).
[2 ]See No. 147, n5, for the background to this reference.
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[3 ]On 16 June, 1870, in answer to a question by P.A. Taylor, Forster said that in the Education Bill “he” included both sexes (PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 202, col. 259).
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