This is a very relevant, urgent, current question for all Christian parents. I find it interesting therefore that William Booth had comments to make on this. When Booth wrote this, we had moved to compulsary education for all children between 5 and 10 years of age. The 'Board Schools' were set up to 'fill in the gaps' where church schooling was not available.
Both of these quotes question the quality and relevance of the education that children receive. They also deal with the issue that can be best raised by posing a question:
If you put a well behaved child together with a badly behaved child, what happens? Does the bad child become good or does the good child become bad? I'll leave you to decide what Booth's conclusion is!
But, it will be said, the child of to-day has the inestimable advantage of Education. No; he has not. Educated the children are not. They are pressed through "standards," which exact a certain acquaintance with A B C and pothooks and figures, but educated they are not in the sense of the development of their latent capacities so as to make them capable for the discharge of their duties in life. The new generation can read, no doubt. Otherwise, where would be the sale of "Sixteen String Jack," "Dick Turpin," and the like? But take the girls. Who can pretend that the girls whom our schools are now turning out are half as well educated for the work of life as their grandmothers were at the same age? How many of all these mothers of the future know how to bake a loaf or wash their clothes? Except minding the baby--a task that cannot be evaded--what domestic training have they received to qualify them for being in the future the mothers of babies themselves?
And even the schooling, such as it is, at what an expense is it often imparted! The rakings of the human cesspool are brought into the school-room and mixed up with your children. Your little ones, who never heard a foul word and who are not only innocent, but ignorant, of all the horrors of vice and sin, sit for hours side by side with little ones whose parents are habitually drunk, and play with others whose ideas of merriment are gained from the familiar spectacle of the nightly debauch by which their mothers earn the family bread.
It is good, no doubt, to learn the ABC, but it is not so good that in acquiring these indispensable rudiments, your children should also acquire the vocabulary of the harlot and the corner boy. I speak only of what I know, and of that which has been brought home to me as a matter of repeated complaint by my Officers, when I say that the obscenity of the talk of many of the children of some of our public schools could hardly be outdone even in Sodom and Gomorrha. Childish innocence is very beautiful; but the bloom is soon destroyed, and it is a cruel awakening for a mother to discover that her tenderly nurtured boy, or her carefully guarded daughter, has been initiated by a companion into the mysteries of abomination that are concealed in the phrase--a house of ill-fame.
The second quote also deals with the effect schools have on the labour market, often resulting in unemployment and unrealistic expectations. Again, a relevant issue for today.
No one but a fool would say a word against school teaching. By all means let us have our children educated. But when we have passed them through the Board School Mill we have enough experience to see that they do not emerge the renovated and regenerated beings whose advent was expected by those who passed the Education Act. The "scuttlers" who knife inoffensive persons in Lancashire, the fighting gangs of the West of London, belong to the generation that has enjoyed the advantage of Compulsory Education. Education, book-learning and schooling will not solve the difficulty. It helps, no doubt. But in some ways it aggravates it. The common school to which the children of thieves and harlots and drunkards are driven, to sit side by side with our little ones, is often by no means a temple of all the virtues.
It is sometimes a university of all the vices. The bad infect the good, and your boy and girl come back reeking with the contamination of bad associates, and familiar with the coarsest obscenity of the slum. Another great evil is the extent to which our Education tends to overstock the labour market with material for quill-drivers and shopmen, and gives our youth a distaste for sturdy labour. Many of the most hopeless cases in our Shelters are men of considerable education. Our schools help to enable a starving man to tell his story in more grammatical language than that which his father could have employed, but they do not feed him, or teach him where to go to get fed. So far from doing this they increase the tendency to drift into those channels where food is least secure, because employment is most uncertain, and the market most overstocked.