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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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German Education

by the Bishop of Salisbury (With thanks to the Editor of the Salisbury Journal.)
Volume 20, no. 12, December 1909


The subject of German education is brought before us by our obvious and manifest rivalry with Germany. On every side we feel it, and cannot help asking ourselves what is the extraordinary progress of Germany due to. The fact that Germany is our rival—and there is nothing unkind in using the word rival—in so many fields, and is our superior in some, is quite clear and we have to face it. Germany aims at hegemony, at being the Power which shall be able to dictate what the policy of Europe shall be in peace and war. I do not think there is anything wrong in that aim on the part of Germany, but it is one which, of course, is likely to come into conflict with ourselves. We can easily see that disputes might arise in regard, for instance, to the country of Holland, in reference to which the policy of Germany would be one way, and the policy of England the other, and it might come to a very critical condition of things between ourselves and the German Emperor. When I passed through Kiel, and I did the other day on the way to Copenhagen, I could not help seeing what a magnificent fleet of warships was there, ready to start off on any mission to any part of the world. It is a very remarkable fact that a few years ago when all the recruits of Germany were assembled, some 260,000, only 92 of the whole 260,000 were found to be illiterate. I do not think that would be the case here in England. There must be something in the system of education which explained that. Of the 92 illiterates, a considerable proportion were born abroad, so that there were only about 60 home-born Germans of the 260,000 who could not read and write. What was this due to? It was due, no doubt to a very great extent, to the new life which had come into the country owing to the very great united effort which was made in the last 100 years in the wars against the first Napoleon, and in those with Denmark, Austria and France. We cannot be surprised that the Prussian ideal of government is from above, by force, with a strong arm, and that such an ideal has been accepted by the German people as the natural thing. The people submit to it, and even those who are most opposed to it feel there is a good side to it. But there is one exception, and it is one which I think parents may very well consider. As far as I can make out, compulsory education of children does not begin before they are six years old. I believe it is a wise and happy thing, and I suppose there are a great many mothers present who will agree that it is better for children not to have much to do with their minds before they are six years old. But after six years of age the child is put well into harness. A point in which German education seems to differ from English education, at any rate among the higher classes, is that in Germany it is almost entirely in day schools. There are, no doubt, boarding schools, and, of course, there are many charitable institutions which, from the nature of the case, must be boarding schools; but the home life does not appear to be so broken up by school as it is in England. We must always remember that when we speak of the German citizen as the creature of the law, that the home has had a very abiding influence with him or her during all the school life. I learn from the excellent paper of Miss Loch, in the Parents' Review for October, that the education of girls has not only been a new thing as a great branch of State enterprise, but till lately it has not gone much beyond sixteen. I do not understand that German girls have been admitted as members of the Universities, but I believe just now there is a great change at hand. I am inclined to think the Germans will lose a good deal more than they will gain by promoting a very extended system of University education for women, and I think their way of doing things is so thorough and earnest that if they once begin it they will make it very much larger and more general than it is in England. With reference to education of young people in the Universities, my own impression is that the Germans have this very great advantage over us, that knowledge is more common property than with us. I am bound to say I think for the age in which we live, and the ages which are to follow, it is necessary that there shall be much more solidarity among thinkers, teachers, and discoverers, that people shall know what has been said and what has been done, and that there shall not be so much irresponsible and amateur work as there is among us. We want a great deal more of the community of study, and a much greater readiness to build upon one another's labours and not attempt to be originators and discoverers, but to be builders on foundations which already exist. That is one side of the German ideal which appears to me to be very important. I am not at all sure that we in England may not gain a great deal in this way of continuity by the entrance of women into the fields of literature, art, and science. In religious instruction, which is so great a trouble to us, the Germans have an ideal which is very different to that of the English. The ordinary English parent, generally speaking, thinks his child should be taught to know and love the Bible, and to be religious in practice. Other things are secondary to him. The Germans want the child to be instructed in the "confessional" doctrines of the body to which its parent belongs, and they have regular instruction in school hours in this religious teaching, given by persons representing the religious bodies. That is an ideal which many English Churchmen would like to see, in some degree or another, introduced into England. We have it to a certain extent already, but as a rule it has not been altogether favoured by public opinion in England, and I do not suppose parents care so much about it. Much as I would like to see the open door for our own clergy, the Nonconformist ministers, and the Roman Catholic clergy who have children in any school, to teach those children, as a supplement to the school lessons, I cannot say that the German system of teaching religion by outside teachers as an intellectual lesson appears to be satisfactory. What I understand is that the children learn very thoroughly, go to first communion, and then to a very large extent cease to attend church or to communicate. The whole religion has been presented to the child too much as part of childish or school lessons. I think the Germans are giving up one of the most precious and important parts of education, the combining of religious truth with practical life, the bringing to bear of the great truths of religion upon conduct, by their system of confiding religious instruction to outside teachers. If any of those present can do anything to help teachers in our elementary schools to take that view, to give up what we may call the trades union spirit which is infecting them so much, to look upon education as a whole, and religious education as the supreme part of that whole, they will be doing a great deal of good. I know some of the elementary school teachers in Salisbury feel this as strongly as I do, and I am thankful for what has been done by the teachers in the Bishop's School.

If we could propagate among our own folk the spirit of German thoroughness and the German readiness to respond to a great patriotic impulse, to submit their lives to the service of their country, because they feel that obedience to law and the following out of a system of discipline has made their country, we should be doing a great deal of good. I have come forward as an advocate of compulsory military training. I think the Germans have gained a great deal more than they have possibly lost by it, and that the time spent by it is not lost to the trades or professions to which the men belong. In that way, a spirit of discipline has been made to permeate the whole nation and the spirit of patriotism and the desire to serve the country. We see how difficult it is to introduce it into the British Empire and the British Isles. There are two difficulties; one is India, and the other is Ireland. With a part of the British Army always on service in India, it is a very unpopular thing for a young man's family to fee he may conceivably be called, against his will, to serve in India. Although we look to Ireland for some of our very best soldiers of every sort, yet we know if we tried to apply compulsion to Ireland in any form, we should be met with resistance. I think the best thing is to introduce it gradually into England and Scotland, and make the Irish feel that if they are left out, they have a grievance.

After a discussion upon the age at which it is advisable to subject children to compulsory education, the Dean gave his experiences of Germany, and said the teaching of manners had not had an important place in education in that country. "Every time I go back to Germany I am struck with the harshness and want of civility one experiences. There is a hardness and a haughtiness which is, I think, very conspicuous to every traveler in Germany. Touching upon the subject of compulsory military training, the clergy are sometimes reproached with being militarists, simply because they approve of military training for the mass of the people on grounds which are not aggressive, and are not open to the reproach which the word militarism implies. I am perfectly certain that physically, intellectually and morally our own people would be benefited by a couple of years' military training."

Mr. G. Locker Lampson proposed a vote of thanks to his Lordship for the extremely interesting, instructive, well-considered and impressive address which he had given them, and said, from my experience of Germany I know of the thoroughness of the Germans, and feel there are many things in them we ought to do our best to imitate.

Canon Oldfield seconded the proposition, which was carried with acclamation. Upon the proposition of Mrs. Ernest Williams, the Hostess (Mrs. Bernard) and the Chairman were also thanked.


Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, July 2008