Your headmaster had struck a right note in his report to-night when he said that this war ought to stimulate us to greater effort in the educational world, ought to make us willing for greater sacrifices than in the past, in order to turn our men and women who will carry on the traditions of empire by having eyes open to perceive the need of educated heads and hearts, and hands, and eyes, if we are to hand on that empire intact and in peace and well meaning. This brings me to ask the parents as well as the scholars to consider the difference between the education of Germany and Great Britain. If we do not win in this war we shall have German methods thrust upon us. Nothing is more to be deprecated than the cast-iron regime of the German educational world. The mailed fist is felt both in school and college, and though it is true, in the opinion of experts, that the average standard of intellectual attainment in a German primary or secondary school is higher than in our own country the boasted “zildung” is more than counterbalanced by the fact that a sense of initiative is lost and a sense of individual-mindedness is suppressed and individuality of character is stifled. It is not too much to say that this war is indirectly the result of German Kultur begun in the primary schools, for the German child has been trained not so much to think for himself as to take without question the views and opinions of his master. There is in the German mind a curious delight in getting hold of a formula and making the facts of life fit into it rather than in getting facts and fitting a formula to them. Hence if the teacher asserts that the individual is nothing but the State is everything, that the “will-to-power” is everything, and the will to serve nothing, that war is the supreme civilising agency, that might is right, that the military caste must decide and all must toe the line, you can see for yourselves how these ideas do breed a race of youth who when they come to manhood will with the motto of Deutschland Euber Alles and with the belief that everything that is German is good and everything that is not German is inferior or bad, be certain to attempt a world-dominion.
There is evidence that swelled heads and political donkeydom is the fruit of German education, and when we know from writers of repute how the State and the Prussian military caste have used both school and college for its own ends and the teaching of its own gospel we see that the only chance of freedom in Germany is a new conception of education nearer to our own British conception namely, the slow waking to life of the idea that scholars must begin from their earliest times to think for themselves. Well, my friends, that is what we are out for in Cumberland. The days of “talk and chalk” are both in elementary and secondary school numbered. In future the successful master and mistress will be the man and woman who although they may suggest lines of thought will get the scholar to put his own mind to work, and instead of cramming the boy’s or girl’s thinking box with useless lumber at second hand will get them to pack their own thinking boxes for themselves and produce therefrom original thought which will build up individual character. For it is character after all that will alone help the nation, and we cannot hope to get this help unless we can get the creature whose character is being formed to be a thoughtful creature. Unless we get boys and girls to think for themselves we shall not be able to be quick witted or close and accurate observers. You heard how last week the Speaker urged the need of getting scholars to be accurate, to be precise. He twitted girls with being in matter of accuracy or statement and preciseness of observation somewhat deficient. That same day I was sitting at tea with him after his address, and the schoolgirl who kindly volunteered to give us a second cup of tea brought his cup to me and gave mine to him—an example of the very lack of preciseness and accurate observation of which he had been complaining.
I do not wish to digress, but I should like in this connection to say that the learning of Latin or any so-called dead language is a marvellous gymnastic in accuracy in thought and expression. Perhaps the fact that so many generations of girls have never had the chance of learning Latin may account for the lack of precision and accuracy we are speaking of…. I commend this forcible plea for the retention of Latin in all our secondary schools. If the end of education is to turn out clear, precise, and logical thinkers we must endeavour to see to it that we do not drop one of the best gymnastics that we have for early discipline in clear thought and clear speech, but we want our boys and girls not only to think to speak accurately but to observe accurately, and it is here where nature study comes to our help. I am glad to know from your school magazine that your school societies are flourishing. I hope you will add to these a Natural History Society or Field Society and Antiquarian Society. In such a countryside as this you are without excuse if you do not all become lovers not only of natural scenery but of the birds and beasts of merrie Inglewood whose friendship won in schoolday life continues, as I can testify, for the rest of our days. But we are out for character. One of the elements which make for character is the historic sense and this is almost impossible unless the imagination is cultivated. In this countryside with the evidence of the Romans at Brougham, of the Britons Maybrough and Long Meg, with your echoes of Arthurian legend and Viking wager of battle at your Arthur’s Table Round, with reminiscences of the days of tourney at the same place, with your heritage of the days of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Penrith Castle, great Countess Anne at Brougham, with your historic churchyard and its pre-Norman burial monuments, and your legend of a northern Robin Hood and his merrie men, with your Beacon Hill that no doubt flared for the Armada and roused the country when Prince Charlie came here—you boys and girls at Penrith are without excuse if you are deficient in a historical sense. And as for imagination and the poetic side of things which feeds the imaginative sense it can never be forgotten that Penrith gave us the mother of our great Cumberland poet, William Wordsworth, and that he as a boy here in the Eden Vale learned something of the wisdom and spirit of the universe…. I urge strongly that more time should be given than has been given in the past to directing their minds to those “wells of English undefiled” which are found in our standard poetry. We are out for character, but character without Godliness which only believes in this world and material forces has produced the German war and is producing German hate. If this fateful year has done nothing else it has shown us the difference between the religious England and the religious Germany. Our ideals are different because the supreme foundations for these ideals are different. The office of imagination is to be the handmaid both of the religious sense and of our ideals. Henceforth I think that in all British schools we shall be more determined than ever to see that behind all the work of master and of scholar there stands our duty to God and our duty to our neighbour, love of God and the love of man.
And now for one last word for the parents. There can be no education worth the name until the parent recognises that the most unkind thing that he can do to the growing intelligence of the child is to take it away from school just at the most receptive time of its life, just at the time when the scholar is beginning to realise the delight of learning and to feel the joy of the unfolding powers of the mind, but this unkindness the parents are guilty of if they remove their boys and girls from the secondary school at the age of 15. To send a boy or girl to a secondary school for a couple of years is sheer waste of time. It is sheer waste of the county money also. The county has spent a very large amount of money in the last few years in the establishment of secondary schools throughout its area, but the returns that have been made show two things—first of all that the children from our elementary schools are not being encouraged in any fair proportion to enter for the county minor scholarship, and secondly that the parents are not doing what they can to ensure that the children stay long enough at the secondary schools to obtain either adequate education for the scholar or adequate return to the county for the money that the ratepayers and the trustees of endowments are expending…. I urge to the best of my ability and with all my heart that Penrith parents shall look upon education in future as the best investment they can make for their children, and that no sacrifice on their part can be too great in justice to the scholar, in justice to the school and county, and in justice to the masters, to enable their children to have the full benefit of the secondary school curriculum for the requisite number of years.
(Carlisle Journal, 11 December 1914, p. 7.)