The Promotion Of Technical Education
( Originally Published 1918 )
MR. MAYOR AND GENTLEMEN-It must be a matter of sincere satisfaction to those who, like myself, have for many years past been convinced of the vital importance of technical education to this country to see that that subject is now being taken up by some of the most important of our manufacturing towns. The evidence which is afforded of the public interest in the matter by such meetings as those at Liver-pool and Newcastle, and, last but not least, by that at which I have the honor to be present to-day, may convince us all, I think, that the question has passed out of the region of speculation into that of action. I need hardly say to any one here that the task which our Association contemplates is not only one of primary importance—I may say of vital importance—to the welfare of the country; but that it is one of great extent and of vast difficulty. There is a well-worn adage that those who set out upon a great enterprise would do well to count the cost. I am not sure that this is always true. I think that some of the very greatest enterprises in this world have been carried out successfully simply because the people who undertook them did not count the cost; and I am much of opinion that, in this very case, the most instructive consideration for us is the cost of doing nothing. But there is one thing that is perfectly certain, and it is that, in undertaking all enterprises, one of the most important conditions of success is to have a perfectly clear comprehension of what you want to do—to have that before your minds before you set out, and from that point of view to consider carefully the measures which are best adapted to the end.
Mr. Acland has just given you an excellent account of what is properly and strictly understood by technical education; but I venture to think that the purpose of this Association may be stated in somewhat broader terms, and that the object we have in view is the development of the industrial productivity of the country to the uttermost limits consistent with social welfare. And you will observe that, in thus widening the definition of our object, I have gone no further than the Mayor in his speech, when he not obscurely hinted—and most justly hinted—that in dealing with this question there are other matters than technical education, in the strict sense, to be considered.
It would be extreme presumption on my part if I were to attempt to tell an audience of gentlemen intimately acquainted with all branches of industry and commerce, such as I see before me, in what manner the practical details of the operations that we propose are to be carried out. I am absolutely ignorant both of trade and of commerce, and upon such matters I cannot venture to say a solitary word. But there is one direction in which I think it possible I may be of service—not much perhaps, but still of some because this matter, in the first place, involves the consideration of methods of education with which it has been my business to occupy myself during the greater part of my life; and, in the second place, it involves attention to some of those broad facts and laws of nature with which it has been my business to acquaint myself to the best of my ability. And what I think may be possible is this, that if I succeed in putting before you—as briefly as I can, but in clear and connected shape—what strikes me as the programme that we have eventually to carry out, and what are the indispensable conditions of success, that that proceeding, whether the conclusions at which I arrive be such as you approve or as you disapprove, will nevertheless help to clear the course. In this and in all complicated matters we must remember a saying of Bacon, which may be freely translated thus: "Consistent error is very often vastly more useful than muddle-headed truth." At any rate, if there be any error in the conclusions I shall put before you, I will do my best to make the error perfectly clear and plain.
Now, looking at the question of what we want to do in this broad and general way, it appears to me that it is necessary for us, in the first place, to amend and improve our system of primary education in such a fashion as will make it a proper preparation for the business of life. In the second place, I think we have to consider what measures may best be adopted for the development to its uttermost of that which may be called technical skill; and, in the third place, I think we have to consider what other matters there are for us to attend to, what other arrangements have to be kept carefully in sight in order that, while pursuing these ends, we do not forget that which, is the end of civil existence; I mean a stable social state without which all other measures are merely futile, and, in effect, modes of going faster to ruin.
You are aware—no people should know the fact better than Manchester people—that, within the last seventeen years, a vast system of primary education has been created and extended over the whole country. I had some part in the original organization of this system in Lon-don, and I am glad to think that, after all these years, I can look back upon that period of my life as perhaps the part of it least wasted.
No one can doubt that this system of primary education has done wonders for our population; but, from our point of view, I do not think anybody can doubt that it still has very considerable defects. It has the defect which is common to all the educational systems which we have inherited—it is too bookish, too little practical. The child is brought too little into contact with actual facts and things, and as the system stands at present it constitutes next to no education of those particular faculties which are of the utmost importance to industrial life —I mean the faculty of observation, the faculty of working accurately, of dealing with things instead of with words.
I do not propose to enlarge upon this topic, but I would venture to suggest that there are one or two remedial measures which are imperatively needed; indeed, they have already been alluded to by Mr. Acland. Those which strike me as of the greatest importance are two, and the first of them is the teaching of drawing. In my judgment, there is no mode of exercising the faculty of observation and the faculty of accurate reproduction of that which is observed, no discipline which so readily tests error in these matters, as drawing properly taught. And by that I do not mean artistic drawing; I mean figuring natural objects: making plans and sections, approaching geometrical rather than artistic drawing. I do not wish to exaggerate, but I declare to you that, in my judgment, the child who has been taught to make an accurate elevation, plan and section of a pint pot has had an admirable training in accuracy of eye and hand. I am not talking about artistic education. That is not the question. Accuracy is the foundation of everything else, and instruction in artistic drawing is something which may be put off till a later stage. Nothing has struck me more in the course of my life than the loss which persons, who are pursuing scientific knowledge of any kind, sustain from the difficulties which arise because they never have been taught elementary drawing; and I am glad to say that in Eton, a school of whose governing body I have the honor of being a member, we some years ago made drawing imperative on the whole school.
The other matter in which we want some systematic and good teaching is what I have hardly a name for, but which may best be explained as a sort of developed object-lessons such as Mr. Acland adverted to. Anybody who knows his business in science can make anything subservient to that purpose. You know it was said of Dean Swift that he could write an admirable poem upon a broomstick, and the man who has a real knowledge of science can make the commonest object in the world subservient to an introduction to the principles and greater truths of natural knowledge. It is in that way that your science must be taught if it is to be of real service. Do not suppose any amount of book work, any repetition by rote of catechisms and other abominations of that kind are of value for our object. That is mere wasting of time. But take the commonest object and lead the child from that foundation to such truths of a higher order as may be within his grasp. With regard to drawing, I do not think there is any practical difficulty; but in respect to the scientific object lessons you want teachers trained in a manner different from that which now prevails.
If it is found practicable to add further training of the hand and eye by instruction in modelling or in simple carpentry, well and good. But I should stop at this point. The elementary schools are already charged with quite as much as they can do properly; and I do not believe that any good can come of burdening them with special technical instruction. Out of that, I think, harm would come.
Now let me pass to my second point, which is the development of technical skill. Everybody here is aware that at this present moment there is hardly a branch of trade or of commerce which does not depend, more or less directly, upon some department or other of physical science, which does not involve, for its successful pursuit, reasoning from scientific data. Our machinery, our chemical processes or dyeworks, and a thousand operations which it is not necessary to mention, are all directly and immediately connected with science. You have to look among your workmen and foremen for persons who shall intelligently grasp the modifications, based upon science, which are constantly being introduced into these industrial processes. I do not mean that you 'want professional chemists, or physicists, or mathematicians, or the like, but you want people sufficiently familiar with the broad principles which underlie industrial operations to be able to adapt themselves to new conditions. Such qualifications can only be secured by a sort of scientific instruction which occupies a midway place between those primary notions given in the elementary schools and those more advanced studies which would be carried out in the technical schools.
You are aware that, at present, a very large machinery is in operation for the purpose of giving this instruction. I don't refer merely to such work as is being done at Owens College here, for example, or at other local colleges. I allude to the larger operations of the Science and Art Department, with which I have been connected for a great many years. I constantly hear a great many objections raised to the work of the Science and Art Department. If you will allow me to say so, my connection with that department—which, I am happy to say, remains, and which I am very proud of—is purely honorary; and, if it appeared to me to be right to criticise that department with merciless severity, the Lord President, if he were inclined to resent my proceedings, could do nothing more than dismiss me. Therefore you may believe that I speak with absolute impartiality. My impression is this, not that it is faultless, nor that it has not various defects, nor that there are not sundry lacunae which want filling up; but that, if we consider the conditions under which the department works, we shall see that certain defects are inseparable from those conditions.
People talk of the want of flexibility of the department, of its being bound by strict rules. Now, will any man of common-sense who has had anything to do with the administration of public funds or knows the humor of the House of Commons on these matters—will any man who is in the smallest degree acquainted with the practical working of State departments of any kind, imagine that such a department could be other than bound by minutely defined regulations ? Can he imagine that the work of the department should go on fairly and in such a manner as to be free from just criticism, unless it were bound by certain definite and fixed rules? I cannot imagine it.
The next objection of importance that I have heard commonly repeated is that the teaching is too theoretical, that there is insufficient practical teaching. I venture to say that there is no one who has taken more pains to insist upon the comparative uselessness of scientific teaching without practical work than I have; I venture to say that there are no persons who are more cognizant of these defects in the work of the Science and Art Department than those who administer it. But those who talk in this way should acquaint themselves with the fact that proper practical instruction is a matter of no small difficulty in the present scarcity of properly taught teachers, that it is very costly, and that, in some branches of science, there are other difficulties which I won't allude to. But it is a matter of fact that, wherever it has been possible, practical teaching has been introduced, and has been made an essential element in examination; and no doubt if the House of Commons would grant unlimited means, and if proper teachers were to hand, as thick as blackberries, there would not be much difficulty in organizing a complete system of practical instruction and examination ancillary to the present science classes. Those who quarrel with the present state of affairs would be better advised if, instead of groaning over the short-comings of the present system, they would put before themselves these two questions—Is it possible under the conditions to invent any better system? Is it possible under the conditions to enlarge the work of practical teaching and practical examination which is the one de-sire of those who administer the department? That is all I have to say upon that subject.
Supposing we have this teaching of what I may call intermediate science, what we want next is technical instruction, in the strict sense of the word technical; I mean instruction in that kind of knowledge which is essential to the successful prosecution of the several branches of trade and industry. Now, the best way of obtaining this end is a matter about which the most experienced persons entertain very diverse opinions. I do not for one moment pretend to dogmatize about it; I can only tell you what the opinion is that I have formed from hearing the views of those who are certainly best qualified to judge, from those who have tested the various methods of conveying this instruction. I think we have before us three possibilities. We have, in the first place, trade schools—I mean schools in which branches of trade are taught. We have, in the next place, schools attached to factories for the purpose of instructing young apprentices and others who go there, and who aim at becoming intelligent workmen and capable foremen. We have, lastly, the system of day classes and evening classes. With regard to the first there is this objection, that they can be attended only by those who are not obliged to earn their bread, and consequently that they will reach only a very small fraction of the population. Moreover, the expense of trade schools is enormous, and those who are best able to judge assure me that, inasmuch as the work which they do is not done under conditions of pecuniary success or failure, it is apt to be too amateurish and speculative, and that it does not prepare the worker for the real conditions under which he will have to carry out his work. In any case, the fact that the schools are very expensive, and the fact that they are accessible only to a small portion of the population, seem to me to constitute a very serious objection to them. I suppose the best of all possible organizations is that of a school attached to a factory, where the employer has an interest in seeing that the instruction given is of a thoroughly practical kind, and where the pupils pass gradually by successive stages to the position of actual workmen. Schools of this kind exist in various parts of the country, but it is obvious that they are not likely to be reached by any large part of the population; so that it appears to me we are shut up practically to schools accessible to those who are earning their bread, and in such cases they must be essentially evening classes. I am strongly of opinion that classes of this kind do an immense amount of good; that they have this admirable quality, that they involve voluntary attendance, take no man out of his position, but enable any who chooses to make the best of the position he happens to occupy.
Suppose that all these things are desirable, what is the best way of obtaining them? I must confess that I have a strong prejudice in favor of carrying out under-takings of this kind, which at first, at any rate, must be to a great extent tentative and experimental, by private effort. I don't believe that the man lives at this present time who is competent to organize a final system of technical education. I believe that all attempts made in that direction must for many years to come be experimental, and that we must get to success through a series of blunders. Now that work is far better performed by private enterprise than in any other way. But there is another method which I think is permissible, and not only permissible but highly recommendable in this case, and that is the method of allowing the locality itself in which any branch of industry is pursued to be its own judge of its own wants, and to tax itself under certain conditions for the purpose of carrying out any scheme of technical education adapted to its needs. I am aware that there are many extreme theorists of the individualist school who hold that all this is very wicked and very wrong, and that by leaving things to themselves they will get right. Well, my experience of the world is that things left to themselves don't get right. I believe it to be sound doctrine that a municipality—and the State itself for that matter—is a corporation existing for the benefit of its members, and that here, as in all other cases, it is for the majority to determine that which is for the good of the whole, and to act upon that. That is the principle which underlies the whole theory of government in this country, and if it is wrong we shall have to go back a long way. But you may ask me, "This process of local taxation can only be carried out under the authority of an Act of Parliament, and do you propose to let any municipality or any local authority have carte blanche in these matters; is the Legislature to allow it to tax the whole body of its members to any extent it pleases and for any purposes it pleases ?" I should reply, certainly not.
Let me point out to you that at this present moment it passes the wit of man, so far as I know, to give a legal definition of technical education. If you expect to have an Act of Parliament with a definition which shall include all that ought to be included, and exclude all that ought to be excluded, I think you will have to wait a very long time. I imagine the whole matter is in a tentative state. You don't know what you will be called upon to do, and so you must try and you must blunder. Under these circumstances it is obvious that there are two alternatives. One of these is to give a free hand to each locality. Well, it is within my knowledge that there are a good many people with wonderful, strange, and wild notions as to what ought to be done in technical education, and it is quite possible that in some places, and especially in small places, where there are few persons who take an interest in these things, you will have very remarkable projects put forth, and in that case the sole court of appeal for those taxpayers, who did not approve of such projects, would be a court of law. I suppose the judges would have to settle what is technical education. That would not be an edifying process, I think, and certainly it would be a very costly one. The other alternative is the principle adopted in the bill of last year now abandoned. I don't say whether the bill was right or wrong in detail. I am dealing now only with the principle of the bill, which appears to me to have been very often misunderstood. It has been said that it gave the whole of technical education into the hands of the Science and Art Department. It appears to, me nothing could be more unfounded than that assertion. All I understand the Government proposed to do was to provide some authority who should have power to say in case any scheme was proposed, "Well, this comes within the four corners of the Act of Parliament, work it as you like" ; or, if it was an obviously questionable project, should take upon itself the responsibility of saying, "No, that is not what the Legislature intended; amend your scheme." There was no initiative, no control; there was simply this power of giving authority to decide upon the meaning of the Act of Parliament to a particular depart-ment of the State, whichever it might be; and it seems to me that that is a very much simpler and better process than relegating the whole question to the law courts. I think that here, or anywhere else, people must be extremely sanguine if they suppose that the House of Commons and the House of Lords will ever dream of giving any local authority unlimited power to tax the inhabitants of a district for any object it pleases. I should say that was not in the range of practical politics. Well, 1 put that before you as a matter for your consideration.
Another very important point in this connection is the question of the supply of teachers. I should say that is one of the greatest difficulties which beset the whole problem before us. I do not wish in the slightest degree to criticise the existing system of preparing teachers for ordinary school work. I have nothing to say about it. But what I do wish to say, and what I trust I may impress on your minds firmly, is this, that for the purpose of obtaining persons competent to teach science or to act as technical teachers, a different system must be adopted. For this purpose a man must know what he is about thoroughly, and be able to deal with his subject as if it were the business of his ordinary life. For this purpose, for the obtaining of teachers of science and of technical classes, the system of catching a boy or girl young, making a pupil teacher of him, compelling the poor little mortal to pour from his little bucket, into a still smaller bucket, that which has just been poured into it out of a big bucket; and passing him afterward through the training college, where his life is devoted to filling the bucket from the pump from morning till night, with-out time for thought or reflection, is a system which should not continue. Let me assure you that it will not do for us, that you had better give the attempt up than try that system. I remember somewhere reading of an interview between the poet Southey and a good Quaker. Southey was a man of marvellous powers of work. He had a habit of dividing his time into little parts each of which was filled up, and he told the Quaker what he did in this hour and that, and so on through the day until far into the night. The Quaker listened, and at the close said, "Well, but, friend Southey. when dost thee think ?" The system which I am now adverting to is arraigned and condemned by putting that question to it. When does the unhappy pupil teacher, or over-drilled student of a training college, find any time to think ? I am sure if I were in their place I could not. I repeat, that kind of thing will not do for science teachers. For science teachers must have knowledge, and knowledge is not to be acquired on these terms. The power of repetition is, but that is not knowledge. The knowledge which is absolutely requisite in dealing with young children is the knowledge you possess, as you would know your own business, and which you can just turn about as if you were explaining to a boy a matter of everyday life.
So far as science teaching and technical education are concerned, the most important of all things is to provide the machinery for training proper teachers. The Department of Science and Art has been at that work for years and years, and though unable under present conditions to do so much as could be wished, it has, I believe, already begun to leaven the lump to a very considerable extent. If technical education is to be carried out on the scale at present contemplated, this particular necessity must be specially and most seriously provided for. And there is another difficulty, namely, that when you have got your science or technical teacher it may not be easy to keep him. You have educated a man—a clever fellow very likely—on the understanding that he is to be a teacher. But the business of teaching is not a very lucrative and not a very attractive one, and an able man who has had a good training is under extreme temptations to carry his knowledge and his skill to a better market, in which case you have had all your trouble for nothing. It has often occurred to me that probably nothing would be of more service in this matter than the creation of a number of not very large bursaries or exhibitions, to be gained by persons nominated by the authorities of the various science colleges and schools of the country—persons such as they thought to be well qualified for the teaching business—and to be held for a certain term of years, during which the holders should be bound to teach. I believe that some measure of this kind would do more to secure a good supply of teachers than anything else. Pray note that I do not suggest that you should try to get hold of good teachers by competitive examination. That is not the best way of getting men of that special qualification. An effectual method would be to ask professors and teachers of any institution to recommend men who, to their own knowledge, are worthy of such sup-port, and are likely to turn it to good account.
I trust I am not detaining you too long; but there remains yet one other matter which I think is of profound importance, perhaps of more importance than all the rest, on which I earnestly beg to be permitted to say some few words. It is the need, while doing all these things, of keeping an eye, and an anxious eye, upon those measures which are necessary for the preservation of that stable and sound condition of the whole social organism which is the essential condition of real progress, and a chief end of all education. You will all recollect that some time ago there was a scandal and a great outcry about certain cutlasses and bayonets which had been sup-plied to our troops and sailors. These warlike implements were polished as bright as rubbing could make them; they were very well sharpened; they looked lovely. But when they were applied to the test of the work of war they broke and they bent, and proved more likely to hurt the hand of him who used them than to do any harm to the enemy. Let me apply that analogy to the effect of education, which is a sharpening and polishing of the mind. You may develop the intellectual side of people as far as you like, and you may confer upon them all the skill that training and instruction can give; but, if there is not, underneath all that outside form and superficial polish, the firm fibre of healthy manhood and earnest desire to do well, your labor is absolutely in vain.
Let me further call your attention to the fact that the terrible battle of competition between the different nations of the world is no transitory phenomenon, and does not depend upon this or that fluctuation of the market, or upon any condition that is likely to pass away. It is the inevitable result of that which takes place throughout nature and affects man's part of nature as much as any other; namely, the struggle for existence, arising out of the constant tendency of all creatures in the animated world to multiply indefinitely. It is that, if you look at it, which is at the bottom of all the great movements of history. It is that inherent tendency of the social organ-ism to generate the causes of its own destruction, never yet counteracted, which has been at the bottom of half the catastrophes which have ruined States. We are at present in the swim of one of those vast movements in which, with a population far in excess of that which we can feed, we are saved from a catastrophe, through the impossibility of feeding them, solely by our possession of a fair share of the markets of the world. And in order that that fair share may be retained, it is absolutely necessary that we should be able to produce commodities which we can exchange with food-growing people, and which they will take, rather than those of our rivals, on the ground of their greater cheapness or of their greater excellence. That is the whole story. And our course, let me say, is not actuated by mere motives of ambition or by mere motives of greed. Those doubtless are visible enough on the surface of these great movements, but the movements themselves have far deeper sources. If there were no such things as ambition and greed in this world, the struggle for existence would arise from the same causes.
Our sole chance of succeeding in a competition, which must constantly become more and more severe, is that our people shall not only have the knowledge and the skill which are required, but that they shall have the will and the energy and the honesty, without which neither knowledge nor skill can be of any permanent avail. This is what I mean by a stable social condition, because any other condition than this, any social condition in which the development of wealth involves the misery, the physical weakness, and the degradation of the worker, is absolutely and infallibly doomed to col-lapse. Your bayonets and cutlasses will break under your hand, and there will go on accumulating in society a mass of hopeless, physically incompetent, and morally degraded people, who are, as it were, a sort of dynamite which, sooner or later, when its accumulation becomes sufficient and its tension intolerable, will burst the whole fabric.
I am quite aware that the problem which I have put before you and which you know as much about as I do, and a great deal more probably, is one extremely difficult to solve. I am fully aware that one great factor in industrial success is reasonable cheapness of labor. That has been pointed out over and over again, and is in itself an axiomatic proposition. And it seems to me that of all the social questions which face us at this present time, the most serious is how to steer a clear course between the two horns of an obvious dilemma. One of these is the constant tendency of competition to lower wages beyond a point at which man can remain man-below a point at which decency and cleanliness and order and habits of morality and justice can reasonably be expected to exist. And the other horn of the dilemma is the difficulty of maintaining wages above this point consistently with success in industrial competition. I have not the remotest conception how this problem will eventually work itself out; but of this I am perfectly convinced, that the sole course compatible with safety lies between the two extremes; between the Scylla of successful industrial production with a degraded population, on the one side, and the Charybdis of a population, maintained in a reasonable and decent state, with failure in industrial competition, on the other side. Having this strong conviction, which, indeed, I imagine must be that of every person who has ever thought seriously about these great problems, I have ventured to put it before you in this bare and almost cynical fashion because it will justify the strong appeal, which I make to all concerned in this work of promoting industrial education, to have a care, at the same time, that the conditions of industrial life remain those in which the physical energies of the population may be maintained at a proper level; in which their moral state may be cared for; in which there may be some rays of hope and pleasure in their lives; and in which the sole prospect of a life of labor may not be an old age of penury.
These are the chief suggestions I have to offer to you, though I have omitted much that I should like to have said, had time permitted. It may be that some of you feel inclined to look upon them as the Utopian dreams of a student. If there be such, let me tell you that there are, to my knowledge, manufacturing towns in this country, not one-tenth the size, or boasting one-hundredth part of the wealth, of Manchester, in which I do not say that the programme that I have put before you is completely carried out, but in which, at any rate, a wise and intelligent effort had been made to realize it, and in which the main parts of the programme are in course of being worked out. This is not the first time that I have had the privilege and pleasure of addressing a Manchester audience. I have often enough, before now, thrown myself with entire confidence upon the hard-headed intelligence and the very soft-hearted kindness of Manchester people, when I have had a difficult and complicated scientific argument to put before them. If, after the considerations which I have put before you and which, pray be it understood, I by no means claim particularly for myself, for I presume they must be in the minds of a large number of people who have thought about this matter—if it be that these ideas commend themselves to your mature reflection, then I am perfectly certain that my appeal to you to carry them into practice, with that abundant energy and will which have led you to take a foremost part in the great social movements of our country many a time beforehand, will not be made in vain. I therefore confidently appeal to you to let those impulses once more have full sway, and not to rest until you have done something better and greater than has yet been done in this country in the direction in which we are now going. I heartily thank you for the attention which you have been kind enough to bestow upon me. The practice of public speaking is one I must soon think of leaving off, and I count it a special and peculiar honor to have had the opportunity of speaking to you on this subject today.