chapter  10
30 Pages

MIDDLE CLASS EDUCATION

BECAUSE he was not called upon to write official reports about it, Arnold did not examine secondary education in the same detail as elementary education but he nevertheless regarded a proper provision of it as the one matter in education that most needed agitation. Elementary education had already been taken in hand by the government at the time when he became interested in it, and he thought the importance of its extension was realised. There were many urgent problems connected with its improvement and diffusion, but at least the movement was under way. The elevation of the lower classes was a distant prospect but it could, at any rate, be seen slowly coming into more and more definite focus. “Even so long as twenty years ago”, he wrote in 1879, “popular education was already launched. I was myself continually a witness of the progress it was making; I could see that the cause of popular education was safe.” 1

On the other hand it seemed that the vital importance of the organisation of secondary instruction was far from receiving due recognition. The term secondary itself had not yet come into general use, and Arnold was keen to see it more widely adopted. On his return from his inspection of continental elementary education in 1859, he requested the Newcastle Commission “to say to the Government, Regard the necessities of a not distant future, and organise your secondary instruction.” 2 A few years later he congratulated M. E. Grant Duff on his introduction of the word into a parlia

mentary resolution: “I am glad you have employed and given official stamp to that useful word secondary.” 1 Arnold gave it no formal definition. He found the term in use on the Continent, particularly in France, to describe instruction above the elementary level and below that of institutions of University standing, and he made a similar use of it in his own writings. He did not restrict “secondary” to the grammar school education that the Board of Education Regulations for Secondary Schools, first issued in 1904, made the customary significance of the term, until both the Hadow (1926) 2 and Spens (1938) 3 Committee Reports protested against such undue restriction, and led on eventually to its first statutory definition by the Education Act, 1944, as “full-time education suitable to the requirements of senior pupils,” a senior pupil being “a person who has attained the age of twelve years but has not attained the age of nineteen years”. 4 Arnold, in conformity with his desire to see a coherent and comprehensively organised system of education, spoke frequently of its three parts as primary, secondary, and superior, a designation which has recently also been reflected in the Education Act, 1944, which declared that “the Statutory system of public education shall be organised in three progressive stages to be known as primary education, secondary education, and further education.” 5

Arnold, however, did regard secondary education as catering for the requirements of social classes different from those who attended the primary or elementary schools. It was the sphere of the upper and middle classes. However much it was desirable that the lower classes should proceed beyond the elementary grades, it was undeniable that secondary instruction was in Arnold’s period largely confined to the higher strata of society. And it was to the improvement of it as an instrument for their benefit that Arnold devoted his efforts. It was not the well-known Public Schools, despite his father’s influence upon them, that chiefly interested him. He had a fairly high opinion of them. M. de Talleyrand had “truly said that the education of the great

English public schools was the best in the world. He added to be sure, that even this was detestable. But allowing it all its merits, how small a portion of the population does it embrace!” 1

Institutions such as the Public Schools and the great Universities “have formed the upper class of this country-a class with many faults, with many shortcomings, but imbued, on the whole, and mainly through these influences, with a high magnanimous governing spirit, which has long enabled them to rule, not ignobly, this great country.” 2 Accordingly “no wise man will desire to see root-and-branch work made with schools like Eton and Harrow, or see them diverted from the function which they at present discharge, and, on the whole, usefully.” 3 Thus, they might be considered well-fitted for this purpose, but that purpose was a very limited one, and did not embrace the vital tasks of secondary education. That their high-souled magnanimous product was not always advantageous to the nation he was also well aware. In an obituary notice to an Eton boy killed in the first Boer War, he wrote concerning the Duke of Wellington’s famous remark: “Alas! disasters have been prepared in those playing-fields as well as victories; disasters due to inadequate mental training-to want of application of knowledge, intelligence, lucidity. The Eton playingfields have their charms, notwithstanding.” 4 He was himself charmed there to give an address to the Eton Literary Society, and spoke, in the home of the Barbarians, in typical style, upon the great lack among Barbarians of e?t?ap???a which he translated “Flexibility”. Thus though he was interested in, and prepared to admire the finer qualities of the Public School system he thought it did not bear much upon the main problems of secondary education and that with changing social circumstances it would not long remain intact. “That school system is a close and narrow one; that order of things is changing, and will surely pass away. Vain are endeavours to keep it fixed for ever, impotent are regrets for it; it will pass away. The concern for the future in secondary education lay elsewhere.” 5 “But, for the champions of the true

cause of secondary instruction, for those interested in the thorough improvement of this most important concern, the centre of interest is not there.” 1

It was the multitude of lesser schools which catered in an inadequate way for the middle classes that needed the greatest attention. “Our middle classes are nearly the worst educated in the world,” 2 and, “the schools for this class . . . are the worst of the kind anywhere” 3 were sentiments Arnold was never tired of uttering. His interest in these schools arose from his over-riding sense of the importance of the middle classes, and of the patent defects which they showed. “The masterthought by which my politics are governed is . . . this,—the thought of the bad civilisation of the English middle class.” 4

“The great work to be done in this country,” thought Arnold, “and at this hour, is not with the lower class, but with the middle; a work of raising its whole level of civilisation, and, in order to do this, of transforming the British Puritan.” 5

The past lay with the aristocracy, the indeterminate future with the lower classes, but the present was in the hands of the middle classes whose influence on the lower classes would also be of importance for the future. Both friends and enemies of the middle class, and Arnold considered himself among the discriminating section of the former, were agreed that it had “risen into such preponderating importance of late years, and now returns the House of Commons, dictates the policy of Ministers, makes the newspapers speak with its voice, and in short governs the country.” 6

even then hailed them as “the wealth and intelligence of the country, the glory of the British name”, and “the genuine depositories of sober, rational, intelligent, and honest English feeling.” 1 To the manufacturers and industrialists had been added the vast scores of workers in the multiplying commercial concerns of the Victorian world dependent as never before upon accountancy. 2 The professional section of the middle class was also increasing apace, and its influence was reflected in improved administrative techniques and in the growth of a body of professional middle class administrators who steadily displaced the aristocracy from a controlling position in the civil service. “The gibe that government by the middle class meant government by small shopkeepers had already lost its force. The essential fact lay in the control of technical knowledge by the professional members of the middle class; there was no longer any need of aristocratic direction, and, unless they joined the professional classes, the upper class had little or nothing to contribute to the management of the common affairs of a highly organised society.” 3

This middle class ranging from humble shop assistants to important bankers and industrial magnates was rather amorphous and diffuse in character. Arnold recognised the difficulty of denning its limits and declared that “to prevent ambiguity and confusion, I always have adopted an educational test, and by the middle class I understand those who are brought up at establishments which are more or less like Salem House, and by educators who are more or less like Mr. Creakle. And the great mass of the middle part of our community, the part which comes between those who labour with their hands, on the one side, and people of fortune on the other, is brought up at establishments of the kind, although there is a certain portion broken off at the top which is educated at better.” 4 Sir John Coleridge, father of Arnold’s Balliol contemporary, John Duke Coleridge, in two letters to the Guardian on 18th and 25th November, 1863, outlined the groups, for whom he thought secondary education to be inadequately provided, as “the clergy of moderate or contracted incomes, officers of the navy and army, medical men, solicitors, and gentry of large family and small means”, and separated from them a

group also of tenant-farmers, small-landowners, and retail tradesmen. With this line of demarcation Arnold could not agree. He preferred to group them all together and to add also “the manufacturers” whom Coleridge had omitted. 1 He did not attempt, however, any more formal examination of the constitution of this class to whose elevation and improvement he gave much thought, and whom he made the subject of much exhortation over the three decades from the time of his report on Popular Education for the Newcastle Commission until his death in 1888.