Hilaire Belloc: Essays 

The Schools

The right of the parent over the child is prior to the right of the State. Where the State compels the parent to send its child to an institution which he must attend for many hours of the day and by which his mind cannot but be formed at the most critical period in its development, the parent has a right to demand of the State that the institution shall be of a kind he approves of. In the particular case of the Catholic parent living under the authority of an anti-Catholic state such as England, the members of the Catholic body have a full political right to claim that the whole expense incurred in the compulsory education of their children shall be defrayed by the State but shall be in Catholic hands-----subject of course to the condition that money levied for a particular purpose must be spent on that purpose and that money levied for education must be spent on education. Whether it be possible in practice to obtain the whole of this rightful claim has nothing to do with its righteousness. We must always present the full claim and never compromise on it as a principle, whatever we may have to accept in practice. By steady insistence on the full and reasonable right, we can familiarize opponents with the idea of that right. The current and meaningless phrase, that "sums paid out of public funds must remain under public control" is as easy to expose as any other parrot-cry. The Catholic schools have a rightful claim to complete independence from the anti-Catholic state under which they exist. To talk of "neutrality" in this connection is silly or false, according to the character of the man who uses the word.  

The education of the child belongs properly to the parent, and not to the State. The family is prior to the State in right, and this is particularly true of rights over children.

   This is a very plain elementary Catholic doctrine on which there can be no discussion and no two views-----though, as it must be with all doctrines, there can be any amount of discussion upon the application.

   When the families of a State, or any great number of them, are too poor or demoralized, or for any other reason unable to bring up their children as useful members of the community, when they have been despoiled of their land, homes and property, as modern capitalism has despoiled them, when their succor by the spontaneous action of the rich is no longer in fashion, then, under such unnatural conditions, it may be the duty and sometimes is the duty, of the State to step in and help them. It is even conceivable that there might be circumstances in which it was the duty of the State to bring up certain children altogether. But, at any rate, the original right, as well as the original duty, is with the parents and not with the State. That is our doctrine, and it is one of the many in which we completely contradict the doctrine of the society in the midst of which we live, the which being contradicted, loses its temper.

  Now, the society in the midst of which we have to live, being an anti-Catholic society, and propounding the opposite doctrine, to wit: that the State has the prior right over the child, not only contradicts our doctrine, but is-----as inevitably follows sooner or later from such contradictions-----at issue with us in a practical matter of daily life. It says, "I take your child as of right and educate him as I choose."

  Here let it be remarked that this false doctrine, like all other false doctrines, lives "in the air," remote from reality. That is the very mark of false doctrine: that it has not roots in the soil: it cannot come down to earth. Men, in spite of themselves, instinctively recognize true doctrine, even when they are acting against it; and in this particular case of education the pompous people who, as parliamentarians and officials, claim the right to order us, recognize the prior right of the family by the very simple test that, even while they are making laws compelling other parents to give up their child to the conduct of the State, they would be horrified to find themselves under similar compulsion. They bring up their children according to their own views, and at the full discretion of themselves, the parents. This is because laws of this kind are made by the rich to be applied to the poor. There never was a time since Christendom began when the mass of men had less to do with the way in which they were governed; but this point of elementary education is a particularly glaring example. The first care of those who are most loud in proclaiming, not only the right of the State to educate the child, but the specific way wherein it shall be educated and the State doctrine in which it is to be brought up, are the most careful in their own lives to prevent anything of the kind happening to their own offspring. They select with great care those who are to guide their children for a part of the year. They hesitate long between this school and that, this tutor or governess and that; they make it of prime importance that the child shall have a particular kind of education which will make it like themselves in religion and culture. I should like to expose their humbug by making a drastic experiment peculiar to England, and show by a very practical example how vile the hypocrisy of State education in our case is. I should like to take half a dozen among the wealthiest of the chief doctrinaires in State compulsion and compel them to send their sons to schools where they should be taught to speak a fine Cockney accent and to call a napkin a serviette. It would clear their minds of cant and make them understand how and why false doctrine keeps out of touch with reality.

   This mortal tyranny varies with various States. In the Catholic countries where an anti-Catholic-----or rather anti-clerical-----clique still holds the machine-----the caucus of which is ironically called "Representative"-----the grasp of the State is unrelenting. It appoints the teachers, forms their characters in anti-Catholic central institutions and everywhere affirms its right to deCatholicize the children of the nation. Of these France presents the worst example, and it is probable that the new masters of Spain will, so long as they can keep their precarious power by leave of the army, attempt something of the same kind. In Belgium, where there is, so far, a balance between clerical and anti-clerical organization, the Catholic parent is given back some part of his tax money to bring up his children in the right way. In Holland and the Reich, where a conflict must be avoided between a large Catholic minority and a Protestant majority, two kinds of schools exist, each supported out of the taxes at the same rate, and the parent can choose between them. It is a bad system, for it drills official history and the secondary effects of Protestant culture into the children [for instance, in the Reich it breeds a whole generation to despise and hate the Catholic nations to the east and west, Poland and France], but at least it does not directly violate the right of the parent to have his child in a Catholic school. In Scandinavian countries, which are virtually homogeneous in religion and where Catholicism, a late arrival, was earliest stamped out, the problem does not arise. Nor does it arise in Italy, where the nation is homogeneously Catholic and where the anti-Catholic and Masonic organizations have been effectively got rid of by the happy suppression of Parliaments and all their sham authority, which is but a mask for a few rich men controlling a corrupt machine.

  But in England there is a particular problem which specially concerns the greater part of my readers and which should also be of interest in other English-speaking countries where conditions differ from ours.

  With that problem I propose to deal. 

In the particular case of England, Catholic parents are compelled to send their children to be educated by the State unless they are rich enough to pay substantial sums for their private education; and the State is not only non-Catholic, but anti-Catholic.

  We need not waste any time in the definition of the word State here; whether it calls itself a local authority or a central government, it is all one. The institution is a public institution, acting for public ends under the character and color of the State.

   But the State in England has recognized in some degree, grudgingly and imperfectly, the justice of the Catholic claim to separate education, though it refused anything but a very limited degree of freedom. The State has, in England, reluctantly listened to [without accepting] the doctrine which itself denies; for it has allowed the parent to retain a certain very limited control over the education of his child. Where the difference in opinion between the parent and the State on what a child should be taught and in what surroundings it should live is strong enough to demand recognition the State has, to some extent, recognized the demand.

  The motives of this recognition on its part are very mixed. It is partly that there has been at work the momentum of historical development. The English preparatory school system began as an institution founded on a voluntary school system and had to take over some of the characteristics of the voluntary system. Then there was the presence, peculiar to England, of the governing class of squires intimately connected with the official Church, which Church, not being that of the nation as a whole, and having started schools of its own, long insisted [it is now weakening] on recognition of private rights for itself and therefore rendered it difficult to deny such rights to others. Then there was the confused liberal notion that toleration was in some way a virtue in itself. The dread of being called intolerant if he compelled a child to learn a religion which was not that of its birth and Baptism made the average nineteenth century English Parliamentarian uncomfortable. Then there was-----a potent factor though carefully concealed-----the secret sympathy of many highly cultured men among the bureaucrats, and of many from among the governing class at large, for the Catholic as against the anti-Catholic in this particular respect. Your well-educated Civil Servant would sometimes read and always believe anti-Catholic history. He would not admire Catholic culture. He would even probably know very little about it. But he disliked the moral system of a Puritan culture as something inferior to his own, and he had a soft place in his heart for a minority which was struggling to prevent its children being contaminated by that culture.

   Whatever the mixture of motives was, the fact remained. The exception took root and has survived. The English Catholic schools exist, and have now the tradition of a lifetime behind them. A very great part of the total expense incurred in the compulsory education of Catholic children comes out of public money. What the proportion is exactly I do not think anyone has stated. Perhaps nobody could state it with close definition, because the calculation necessary to arrive at it would be a very complicated one. We have to reckon the money we have spent on putting up our schools, the sacrifice made by those who have taken lower salaries for the sake of keeping Catholic education alive, and a dozen other forms of expense, direct and indirect, less heavy now than in the past, but continuing today.

   In this situation what we have before us as a practical political problem is this: To maintain the Catholic schools in England-----I mean, of course, the Catholic schools under the compulsory system as applied to poorer people, for all this has nothing to do with the privileged rich-----and, as an ideal, the full maintenance of our Schools out of public money.

   Let us talk of the ideal first, because it is more important than the practical, since the practical is only the consequence of the ideal.

   We have a moral right to the complete maintenance of our schools out of public money of which we-----not the State-----shall have the administration. We have the right to it on two grounds: first, that the State compels us to keep up such schools under the penalty of stepping in itself and weakening or destroying our children's religion. Secondly [and this is less important], because we ourselves pay rates and taxes into a common fund which is used for the most part to support anti-Catholic ideas.

   Usually the second point is put first, and even made the only one; but if we analyze the matter clearly we shall see that, important as it is, it comes second in importance. Certainly the fact that we pay rates and taxes gives us a right to a proportionate amount of the money spent, but even if we were so poor that we could not pay rates and taxes, even if we were a small and completely pauperized community, unable to buy taxed tobacco or beer or coffee [this is an extreme supposition] and compelled to live in public barracks, where our rent did not include rates, we should still have a right to have our children educated in our religion rather than in another religion. Let that principle always be kept clearly in mind and well rubbed in, because it is an unfamiliar moral truth to the people around us. It is our duty, then, to aim at, and our right to attain, full provision. We have already got much the greater part of our current expenses paid out of public funds. We ought to aim at, and we have a right to attain, the ideal of having the whole of our expenses, current, building, permanent, paid out of public funds.

  As against this right and duty, our opponents put forward two arguments, very strong in their own eyes. We can see their two arguments to be worthless; but it is our business in this struggle to understand why these arguments seem so strong to our opponents. We already know why they seem worthless in our own eyes, but you can never bring anyone to your point of view by merely condemning his. Our opponents object to our claim: (1) on the ground that elementary education need have no regard to the various sects into which they think the community is divided, and (2) that any sums paid out of public money should be subject to public control.

   As to the first of these arguments, note carefully that our opponents sincerely believe English families to be divided into a great number of sects, one of which is as good as another [or as worthless as another], or, at any rate, all of which must be looked at indifferently by the State, since it cannot hope to reconcile them. Further, they argue, quite rightly, that the State cannot adjust itself to all the thousand and one differences between the Protestant sects; from Protestant pantheism, which is perhaps the largest, to Wesleyans and Baptists and Puseyites and Plymouth Brethren and Seventh Monarchy Men and Peculiar People-----nor can I omit from the list a delightful sect peculiar to the little village of Loxwood, which mourns at a birth and rejoices at a burial.

   They tell us that if the State is to succeed in what it is trying to do, to wit, instruct in elementary civic matters, it cannot burden itself and hopelessly complicate its task by special consideration for each and all of these numerous and various doctrinal systems. They also say, with truth, that an increasing number of families care nothing about doctrine; but they do not add that, though doctrine is forgotten, Protestant Ethics remain.

   Now, here there are two very plain errors. In the first place, England is not divided into a great quantity of religious sects, like a sort of mosaic. 
Englishmen who are of Protestant tradition in culture-----that is, the overwhelming majority of Englishmen, say nine tenths-----were [formerly] divided, if you like, into a mosaic of sects, the marking lines between which have grown dim, and of which some have recently disappeared. Doctrines have faded into opinions, and with very many, probably the great majority, opinions have faded into indifference, where transcendental things are concerned; but the tradition and morals, the whole social stuff of the Protestant culture, remain. Between that culture and the Catholic there is a gulf. It is true, that even within the Protestant English culture there are not a few sympathizers with Catholicism; these are especially strong among the agnostics, and among a certain number of highly cultivated men in the English Church. But take the nation as a whole, and the line of cleavage is between a small Catholic body and the rest.

   It is as though you were to take a man into a cellar where there was a vast collection of what we call temperance drinks, and what the Americans call soft drinks. In among them let there be a certain small proportion of bottles which held brandy. The soft drinks would differ among themselves very much in taste and color; some of them might even be discovered to contain a very small proportion of alcohol; but the real difference in the whole collection would lie between the brandy and all the rest. I think that all will admit this truth, whether they are of those who think brandy to be of the devil or of those who think it a great and good gift of God-----especially if it be matured in the wood and come over from the Charente valley, or from the Campo Romano in Spain.

   I remember some years ago a distinguished opponent of mine, who, in controversy with me upon this matter [he was a man whom all revered, for his age and honorable appearance, for the sincerity of his convictions, for his long white beard, and for his degree of Doctor of Divinity, which had been granted to him by a small college for blind negroes in the Southern States of America], would, in denouncing "Rome on the Rates," point out that he himself did not demand special grants of public money, though he had strong convictions on Adult Baptism which were not shared by the Congregationalists, for instance. What the outstanding truth which this opponent of mine had not perceived was, that between himself and a Congregationalist there was not enough difference to make education in common an anomaly or an injustice, let alone unworkable. If you were a Congregationalist rich enough to get private education for your son, you would not be horrified at the proposal to have a Baptist tutor for him; nor if you were a Baptist would you be horrified by the idea of a Congregationalist tutor, but you certainly would be startled in either case at a proposal that you should get a Catholic priest to come in and put the lad through his Latin.

   The other error involved in this position is the idea that, since most of the things taught in the elementary schools have nothing to do with doctrine, therefore the doctrines held by those who teach cannot affect the children in an elementary school.

   The error is so obvious that one wonders it has not been exploded long since, until one remembers that it is true of all errors that their mistake is obvious enough, when it is pointed out, and hardly ever perceived until it is pointed out.

   This error consists in forgetting that association between human beings, and particularly between a teacher and a child, is not mechanical but organic. If I am buying a book of the multiplication tables to give them to my child that he should learn them by heart [and I count no man as educated unless he knows the multiplication table up to 12 times 12 by heart, though I will let him off 11 times 13], I am quite indifferent whether the printer who set up those tables, or the publisher, was an active persecutor of the Church or a shining Saint in the third order of St. Francis; and it makes no difference whatever to the child who learns the multiplication tables by heart what the doctrine of their printer or publisher was. But the moment you get outside this very narrow category of mechanical things, the moment the organic enters into anything, then doctrine, and the consequences of doctrine, come pouring in like a flood. The tone of voice of the teacher alone, it would not be extravagant to say the expression of his face, his gestures, certainly his allusions, his likes and dislikes, which the child discovers [directly or indirectly], and [much more important] his reasons for liking or disliking them-----all that comes in.

   Nor is this only true of the teacher; it is true of the thing taught. One of my fellow members in the House of Commons used to say to me: "After all, you cannot teach religion in arithmetic." To which I would answer, that in the first place you could teach religion in arithmetic, and in the second place arithmetic is not the only thing taught.

   Even, I say, in teaching arithmetic the moral character of the teaching appears. For instance, if you give a child an example in subtraction by taking three apples from six apples, you may or may not be a teetotaler, but if you say three bottles of beer from six bottles of beer the child would not get a teetotal impression of life from you. Again, as to arithmetic not being the only subject taught to children: In almost every other subject religion quite obviously enters. In history the thing is too plain even to require illustration. History which makes Drake a national hero is anti-Catholic history; history which makes out the Jesuits under Cecil's regime to be national villains, is equally anti-Catholic history; and in general our official Whig history is anti-Catholic history. Or take the case of geography. Quite a little while ago the Dutch Minister complained, quite legitimately, in the public Press, of a textbook in which the children of our elementary schools were taught that Holland was a completely Protestant country. The writer of the textbook answered in the simplicity of his heart: "What, then, did the great Motley write in vain?-----Was not the Dutch rebellion against Spain the heroic act of Calvinists?" To which the answer was given: "No, it was the act of taxpayers resisting an intolerable tax; and not till the rebellion had proceeded far did a religious element enter into it." Further, there are in Holland, to every three Dutch Protestants, two Dutch Catholics. You cannot teach geography without either thus mis-stating a fact, if your doctrine is false, or showing emotion in favor of or against a religious culture, or without emphasizing some things rather than others, which emphasis will betray your religion.

   For instance, do you make out the development of a country to be due to its climate rather than to its race; or to its race rather than its religion? Then you are distinctly on one side of the barricade as against those who rather emphasize the human element than the material, and the spiritual rather than the temporal. Palestine means for all of us a place on the map where the old Jewish civilization flourished and also where Jesus Christ was put to death and buried. But it makes all the difference whether you emphasize the one or the other of the two aspects. If you emphasize the one you are of one philosophy, or if you emphasize the other, you are of the other philosophy. In the one the Jews are the characteristic of Palestine; in the other the Holy Sepulcher.

   The point of public control over public money has been misunderstood because people today will not think in terms of reason, but are led away by the jangle of words. The money paid away is "public," and therefore the control of it ought to be "public." It reminds me of the old story which Maupassant used to tell to his friends. He overheard a man saying: "For my part I am logical. If the house is mine I can turn my wife out of it." Logical was the operative word in this ineptitude, and "public" is the operative word of the ineptitude under consideration. Why on earth should the source of payment necessarily determine the control of it after it is made?

  If I give ten shillings to a schoolboy out of the kindness of my heart, it is my ten shillings that I give. Have I therefore a right to control the way in which the lad spends it? When I pay my tailor, have I later on the right to object to his going on holiday with the money? When the State pays the Income Tax collector his wages, does it watch his movements and decide whether he shall wear brown boots or black? When I pay my Income Tax, have I a word to say on the way in which some specific part of it shall be spent? It is true that a man giving his money may nor may not give it on conditions. But to say that because the money is Jones's money, therefore, after it has been handed over, it must always be spent as Jones shall continue to dictate, is balderdash.

  The State, in handing over money for a particular purpose-----to wit: education-----has a right to ask that it should be spent upon the purposes named. If it be a free gift, it has also the right to limit the application thereof. But here there is no question. It is not a free gift; it is a payment made as of right. It is a debt. The State says: "You must spend so much money on education, which you as taxpayers must supply." We answer: "Then we must receive that money which we have given you back from you for that purpose. We will spend it upon education-----and you, the State, have a right to see that it is spent upon education and not upon sweetmeats or fireworks. But you cannot, merely because it proceeds from yourself, profess a natural right to make the expenditure of it conform exactly to what you yourself approve. No doubt you would like all education to be, as you call it, non-sectarian; that is, of the average well-defined English Protestant type which the great mass of citizens thoroughly approve. We happen to be a dissentient body to whom this Protestant character is as odious as we are to it. If you permit us to exist and to carry on our worship; if you call it immoral, as you do call it immoral, to prevent our doing so; if you say we have a right to continue our Catholic families, then you cannot insist upon your special religion, though it be that of the vast majority of the people, being imposed upon ourselves. The plea that because the money was paid to you and is received back by us, you have the right to say exactly how it is to be spent apart from its general intention, is valueless. Were that doctrine true, no Catholic school could exist under a non-Catholic government."

   Of course, if you argue from the premise that the English polity is not anti-Catholic in character and that a state school will hence have no anti-Catholic effect on its pupils, and that therefore you are not persecuting our religion when you compel us to send our children to your schools, why then you are arguing from a falsehood and your deduction is worthless. It is as though you were to say: "There is no real difference between beer and other liquids," and on the strength of that falsehood compelled all the teetotalers to drink beer or die of thirst.

   There stands one part, and one part only, of the claim to public money under a compulsory system for the support of our schools, such money to remain under our control as the only judges of what is and what is not a Catholic education. Of course, if there were neither tax-paying nor compulsion in the matter the claim would not lie. Even if there were a tax levied by the non-Catholic State for its own non-Catholic education, the claim would be modified. I have to pay for a host of State activities, anyone of which I may dislike. But when the State says, "You must have your child taught," when it thus compels, it at once follows that to teach it things, or to teach it under conditions, which will endanger its religion is indefensible----- save, indeed, on the plea that the religion is outlawed.

   I have taken the English example because it is the one I know best; but the argument equally applies to all States where the modern fashion of State compulsion in education is at work.

  The principle is vital. How far it must be waived in practice is another matter. A dead man's estate may owe me a sum larger than its whole amount; a robber who has stolen my goods may be undiscoverable; a swindler who has deprived me of my fortune may be too powerful with the politicians for me to recover [it] in their courts of law. But in none of these cases does a man forgo his right in principle or fail to state it, though he is compelled in greater or less measure to yield. So it should be in the matter of the schools. We should state our full claim and never compromise on the full doctrine behind it. We should keep it alive and familiarize all our opponents with it, the more because it seems to them so strange. On this active presentation of the case depends the ultimate survival of our schools. And this is life and death in all countries to the Catholic community therein. For upon the schools depends the continuance of the Faith. 

Taken from ESSAYS OF A CATHOLIC, TAN Books, originally published in 1931.