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and that, when this is not given them by their parents, the care of it devolves upon all persons, it becomes the duty of all who are capable of contributing to it, and whose help is wanted.
These trite, but most important things, implied indeed in the text, being thus premised as briefly as I could express them, I proceed to consider distinctly, the general manner in which the duty of education is there laid before us; which will further show its extent, and further obviate the idle objections which have been made against it. And all this together will naturally lead us to consider the occasion and necessity of schools for the education of poor children, and in what light the objections against them are to be regarded.
Solomon might probably intend the text for a particular admonition, to educate children in a manner suitable to their respective ranks and future employments; but certainly he intended it for a general admonition, to educate them in virtue and religion, and good conduct of themselves in their temporal concerns. And all this together, in which they are to be educated, he calls "the way they should go," i. e. he mentions it not as a matter of speculation, but of practice. And conformably to this description of the things in which children are to be educated, he describes education itself: for he calls it "training them up;" which is a very different thing from merely teaching them some truths necessary to be known or believed. It is endeavoring to form such truths into practical principles in the mind, so as to render them of habitual good influence upon the temper and actions, in all the various occurrences of life. And this is not done by bare instruction; but by that, together with admonishing them frequently, as occasion offers; restraining them from what is evil, and exercising them in what is good. Thus the precept of the apostle concerning this matter is, to "bring up children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; 99* as it were by way of distinction from
* Eph. vi. 4.
acquainting them merely with the principles of Christianity, as you would with any common theory. Though education were nothing more than informing children of some truths of importance to them, relating to religion and common life, yet there would be great reason for it, notwithstanding the frivolous objections concerning the danger of giving them prejudices. But when we consider, that such information itself is really the least part of it, and that it consists in endeavoring to put them into right dispositions of mind, and right habits of living, in every relation and every capacity; this consideration shows such objections to be quite absurd; since it shows them to be objections against doing a thing of the utmost importance at the natural opportunity of our doing it, childhood and youth; and which is indeed, properly speaking, our only one. For when they are grown up to maturity, they are out of our hands, and must be left to themselves. The natural authority on one side ceases, and the deference on the other. God forbid, that it should be impossible for men to recollect themselves, and reform at an advanced age; but it is in no sort in the power of others to gain upon them; to turn them away from what is wrong, and enforce upon them what is right, at that season of their lives, in the manner we might have done in their childhood.
Doubtless religion requires instruction, for it is founded in knowledge and belief of some truths; and so is common prudence in the management of our temporal affairs yet neither of them consist in the knowledge or belief even of these fundamental 'truths; but in our being brought, by such knowledge or belief, to a correspondent temper and behaviour. Religion, as it stood under the Old Testament, is perpetually styled, "the fear of God;" under the New, "faith in Christ." But as that fear of God does not signify literally being afraid of him, but having a good heart, and leading a good life, in consequence of such fear, so this faith in Christ does not signify literally believing in him, in the sense that word is
used in common language, but becoming his real disciples, in consequence of such belief.
Our religion being then thus practical, consisting in a frame of mind and course of behaviour suitable to the dispensation we are under, and which will bring us to our final good; children ought, by education, to be habituated to this course of behaviour, and formed into this frame of mind. And it must ever be remembered, that if no care be taken to do it, they will grow up in a direct contrary behaviour, and be hardened in direct contrary habits; they will more and more corrupt themselves, and spoil their proper nature; they will alienate themselves farther from God; and not only neglect, but "trample under foot," the means which he, in his infinite mercy, has appointed for our recovery. And upon the whole, the same reasons which show, that they ought to be instructed and exercised in what will render them useful to society, secure them from the present evils they are in danger of incurring, and procure them that satisfaction which lies within the reach of human prudence; show likewise, that they ought to be instructed and exercised in what is suitable to the highest relations in which we stand, and the most important capacity in which we can be considered; in that temper of mind and course of behaviour, which will secure them from their chief evil, and bring them to their chief good: besides that, religion is the principal security of men's acting a right part in society, and even in respect to their own temporal happiness, all things duly considered.
It is true, indeed, children may be taught superstition under the notion of religion; and it is true also, that, under the notion of prudence, they may be educated in great mistakes as to the nature of real interest and good, respecting the present world. But this is no more a reason for not educating them according to the best of our judgment, than our knowing how very liable we all are to err in other cases, is a reason why we should not,
in those other cases, act according to the best of our judgment.
It being then of the greatest importance, that children should be thus educated, the providing schools to give this education to such of them as would not otherwise have it, has the appearance, at least at first sight, of deserving a place amongst the very best of good works. One would be backward, methinks, in entertaining prejudices against it; and very forward, if one had any, to lay them aside, upon being shown that they were groundless. Let us consider the whole state of the case. For though this will lead us some little compass, yet I choose to do it; and the rather, because there are people who speak of charity schools as a new invented scheme, and therefore to be looked upon with I know not what suspicion. Whereas it will appear, that the scheme of charity schools, even the part of it which is most looked upon in this light, teaching the children letters and accounts, is no otherwise new, than as the occasion for it is so.
Formerly, not only the education of poor children, but also their maintenance, with that of the other poor, were left to voluntary charities. But great changes of different sorts happening over the nation, and charity becoming more cold, or the poor more numerous, it was found necessary to make some legal provision for them. This might, much more properly than charity schools, be called a new scheme. For, without question, the education of poor children was all along taken care of, by voluntary charities, more or less; but obliging us by law to maintain the poor, was new in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Yet, because a change of circumstances made it necessary, its novelty was no reason against it. Now, in that legal provision for the maintenance of the poor, poor children must doubtless have had a part in common with grown people. But this could never be sufficient for children, because their case always requires more than mere maintenance; it requires that they be educated in some proper manner. Wherever there are
poor who want to be maintained by charity, there must be poor children, who, besides this, want to be educated by charity. And whenever there began to be need of legal provision for the maintenance of the poor, there must immediately have been need also of some particular legal provision in behalf of poor children for their education; this not being included in what we call their maintenance. And many, whose parents are able to maintain them, and do so, may yet be utterly neglected as to their education. But possibly it might not at first be attended to, that the case of poor children was thus a case by itself, which required its own particular provision. Certainly it would not appear, to the generality, so urgent a one as the want of food and raiment. And it might be necessary, that a burden so entirely new as that of a poor tax was at the time I am speaking of, should be as light as possible. Thus the legal provision for the poor was first settled, without any particular consideration of that additional want in the case of children; as it still remains with scarce any alteration in this respect. In the mean time, as the poor still increased, or charity still lessened, many poor children were left exposed, not to perish for want of food, but to grow up in society, and learn any thing that is evil, and nothing that is good in it; and when they were grown up, greatly at a loss in what honest way to provide for themselves, if they could be supposed inclined to it. And larger numbers whose case was not so bad as this, yet were very far from having due care taken of their education. And the evil went on increasing, till it was grown to such a degree, as to be quite out of the compass of separate charities to remedy. At length some excellent persons, who were united in a Society* for carrying on almost every good work, took into consideration the neglected case I have been representing; and first of all, as I understand it, set up charity schools; or, however, promoted them, as far as their
Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.