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Matthew (1861-10-29)

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“Our Parochial Teaching”. Dundee Advertiser, Tuesday 29 October 1861, p.5 col.1 (pdf image)

(Letter dated Oct 28 1861, published Oct 29 1861)
After a preamble neatly summarising his world view and the paramount importance of competition (“competition is the great principle or agency which adapts organic life to circumstances, which brings it to the highest perfection that it is capable of attaining”), Matthew considers the proposed increase in salary for “our parochial schoolmasters”. He argues that this should not be given unless some element of competition is introduced to select out the better teachers from the worse, for example by giving parents the power to hire and fire teachers.

Matthew’s ideas are a direct echo of some of those contained in his second Chartist Address to the men of Perthshire and Fifeshire of 1839. He also returns to the idea that despotic governments deliberately use ignorance and religion as ways of keeping the working classes in control (“these crafty governments, like established priesthoods, know that their existence is based upon ignorance in the masses, and take care that only what is calculated to repress mental energy, rational thought, and draw the youthful mind away from a consideration of their present condition of existence, that they may be tame drudges in the despot’s hands, is followed out”).

“OUR PAROCHIAL TEACHING.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE DUNDEE ADVERTISER.

SIR,— Man is much the creature of his position. Competition is the great principle or agency which adapts organic life to circumstances, which brings it to the highest perfection that it is capable of attaining, and continues it so while circumstances remain unchanged, at least where men does not interfere to turn Nature from her law, and the fixed character of species is the result. Even man himself, self-willed and rational man, is not exempt from this law, though he at times innovates from it. In the case of manufacturers and trade, we find that monopoly, the want of competition, has mischievous effect. The same holds good in the case of entail of land to families in succession; from the absence of competition not calling forth wholesome exertion, destruction of the family is the natural result. And with the tenant-farmer the case is even worse in a national point of view — from the absence of protection to his property, skill, and industry laid out upon land, he is prevented from well-doing, and competition in improving the soil of his country, turns to competition in exhausting it. Seeing all this, it is not without some difficulty of knowing how to act, that, as heritors, we are called upon to raise the salaries of our parochial schoolmasters to what they ought to be under a well arranged system of competition. An increase of salary without competition, or some other power to stimulate their energies in teaching, can only have an injurious effect — act as a premium upon indolence. I cannot see any sufficient means prepared by the Legislature to prevent such from taking place. Before we raise the salaries of parochial schoolmasters we ought to have legal power, or the heads of families, having children ready for school, ought to have legal power, to act so as to call forth the energies of the most useful — at least, most capable of being useful — class of men, or some efficient means appointed by the Legislature to do so. Were this the case, double the present salary would not be too much.

Seeing the inefficiency of the present system in the parish of Errol, and that one parochial schoolmaster was inadequate to the teaching that was required — more than 200 children, of the age requiring tuition, being within a short walk of the parish school — some 25 years ago I proposed to the heritors that we should have two parochial teachers — one with the maximum and the other with the minimum salary — and that whichever should have the greatest number of scholars should have the maximum. This was agreed to by all the heritors but one, who, being diseased in the mind, could not give his consent, and whose law agents refused, from not having, as they said, power to give consent. The scheme, therefore, fell to the ground from illegality. Upon this, a few of the parishioners contributed, bought a house and garden, and gave it rent free to an able teacher, to follow out competition by depending upon his class fees alone. This was successful for a number of years till a misfortune put a stop to the school, just about the time that the Free Church movement so laudably came forward to establish a school, which has been of great use in the parish, along with one more recently got up by the Rev. Mr Caird for girls — both of which are conducted under good management.

It is the duty of the landholders of Scotland to consider this question in all its bearings, and act so as not to have it said that they are regardless of the useful education of the great body the people. The amount of the money paid by them in aid of education is comparatively very small to what is paid them for purposes of religion and poor rates. In this parish the poor rates exceed the salary of the parochial teacher more than twenty times. This, I think, is poor thrift. A larger sum expended aright in teaching would, I believe, reduce the poor rates. I hope our landholders will not view teaching as some of the despotic Governments of Germany do — as a means of constraint upon the intellect of the working population. There the children, up to fourteen or fifteen years of age, are by law obliged to attend school, but the teaching is generally limited to singing and obtaining knowledge of the forms and tenets of the state religion, to subserve their confirmation at fifteen or sixteen, without which they cannot be received as apprentices. These crafty governments, like established priesthoods, know that their existence is based upon ignorance in the masses, and take care that only what is calculated to repress mental energy, rational thought, and draw the youthful mind away from a consideration of their present condition of existence, that they may be tame drudges in the despot’s hands, is followed out. I have known a person sixteen years of age — naturally no way defective in mental capacity, and recently from school and confirmation — not able to count how many pence (schillings) were in a half-crown (drittel.) Judging of the spirit of the British Legislature from their supineness with regard to education, from their indisposition to adopt any judicious competitive system for the education of the masses, conjoined with their long countenance of the tax upon knowledge (the tax upon paper), I humbly propose the German system as a plan worthy of their high consideration.

PATRICK MATTHEW.
Gourdie Hill, Oct. 28, 1861.

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