Dora B. Montefiore 1917

The Education of the People

Source: The Call, 27 September 1917, p. 2
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

Mr. Fisher, President of the Board of Education, is evidently an educationist of courage and of insight, but he has set himself a task which, under existing economic conditions, is an impossible one to accomplish—to continue the education and training of the children of the people from the age of 14 to that of 18. The reasons he sets forth for the necessity of continuing that training are unanswerable, and they are among the reasons that we Socialists have always given for the necessity, from the point of view of the welfare of the race, of not excluding from the benefits of secondary or university education the great mass of the young people who are to carry on the world when we of this generation drop out of the ranks. Mr. Fisher deprecates the worker being looked upon “purely as an instrument in the great industrial machine.” So do we Socialists; and we urge that the workers’ boys and girls should be educated so that they may be able to take over and control, on a co-operative basis, the great industrial machine. Mr. Fisher disapproves of “the narrowing and stunting effect” of the growth of processes and of standardised methods in industry, which stunting effect results in a growing feeling of monotony in work, in those whose working life is bound up in the tending of machinery. We Socialists also disapprove of this reversal of what should be the real use of machinery. The industrial machine, if owned and controlled by the community instead of by limited liability companies or by a capitalist State, would become the slave of the community, instead of, as now, enslaving the millions who tend it. If the industrial machine were owned by those who create by its use the wealth of the country, that wealth could be produced for use and not for profit, whilst no narrowing or stunting of the powers of the workers need be involved, for a four hours’ day would produce all the wealth necessary for a well-administered community.

Mr. Fisher emphasises, as his third point, the demand made by the workers for more leisure, and points out rightly that such a demand “should be accompanied by the provision of the educational equipment necessary to enable leisure to be rationally enjoyed.” We Socialists demand the education for all which shall develop the complete human being capable of self-expression and of enjoyment both in work and in leisure, Fisher’s proposals for the continuation of education for the unprivileged is to offer eight hours’ training a week to the children of the workers between 14 and 18 (which he considers the most plastic and docile period in human life) in evening continuation schools, while the children during the rest of the day have to earn their living. Does he expect that the thousands of children over 14 employed in gardens, stables, agriculture, or domestic service are likely to reap any benefit from this educational scheme which is be heralded by the governing classes with such blast of trumpets? Why the distances alone, not to mention the unlighted roads in the country districts, are quite enough to prevent young girls from 14 to 18 attending educational centres at night; whilst most boys are too tired with work in the open air to have any zest for intellectual work at night. There are children living around my home in the country who walk daily during their school years over two miles to school in all weathers, and the same distance back. Most of these children are undersized and inclined to be dull and unresponsive; the strain put upon them from five years is too great, and they are unable to profit as they should do by the primary education provided. I recall one family which is an instance of many thousands in agricultural districts; the father is a carter to a gentleman farmer; his eldest boy,—one of four—was put into the stables at 13; the second “is promised to the gardener,” so the mother tells me, as soon as he reaches the age of 13; and the two younger are already employed in jobs of weeding. None of these boys are likely to walk the five miles four times a week to the school, where the continuation classes will be held,—that is 20 miles a week for eight hours’ study!

Let Mr. Fisher contrast these conditions he offers to the workers with those provided for the children of the privileged classes between the ages, of 14 and 18. The whole scheme, when it is attempted to fit it into existing economic conditions, is on a par with the much-boosted “Baby Day” patronised by the duchesses and bourgeois’ mothers. The babies of England, who now die at the rate of 100,000 a year, under a year old, were to be saved through the knowledge and care which were to be instilled by the lady patronesses into working-class mothers. Within a month after the Baby Day circus another department of the capitalist State issued a decree that the price of milk was to be raised to 8d. a quart, and that decree has signed the death warrant of many thousands of British hand-fed babies. No, Mr, Fisher, in a capitalist society the thing cannot be done!

We Socialists note that emphasis was laid, m Mr. Fisher’s speech at Sheffield, on “the classes devoted to the subjects of physical and social education,” which classes we gather are to cure the evils of dirt and disease. We Socialists say: “By all means let the children have warm spray baths and gymnasia at all educational centres; but let them first have food, so that they may be able to enjoy, as healthy children should, their lessons, their physical exercises and their playtime.” We await eagerly some pronouncement which will reassure us Socialist mothers on this vital point. Does Mr. Fisher, we wonder, know, Mrs. Perkins Gilman’s arresting lines on this subject? The slum child, in her poem, asks of those “in place and power, who govern and who guide the hour” for all the things that a growing child needs, and is met with the reply, “That these things are not given, but sold.” But the child, in its weakness, objects that it is too young to pay, and again receives answer: “You can have nothing here without pay,—paying, dear.”

“Then the child cried on them ‘Stay!
Wait! I will pay!’
For the foulness where I live,
Filth in return I give.
For greed that withholds my right,
Greed that shall shake your might.
For the sins I live in and learn,
Plentiful sin I return.
For my lack at home and school,
Ignorance comes to rule.
From where I sicken and die,
Disease to your home shall fly.
My all uncounted death,
Shall choke your children’s breath.
I degrade the human race.
And the people you have made,
These shall make you afraid.
I ask no more.
I take the terms you make.
And steadily, day by day,
Faithfully, I will pay!”