I came across this longish piece in the November, 1886, edition of a British monthly called The Democrat, and I think it is a keeper:
EDUCATION AND DEMOCRACY.
Within the last ten years Britain has awakened to an important fact. She has seen that her workmanship is being outdone by Continental workmen. She has still unbounded ambition, energy, and talent, but she has only a limited training. The schools of the Continent endeavour to prepare their scholars for the world's work, to train them in eye and hand to a cunning mastery over materials, and to teach them the deep scientific principles that underlie the rightful doing of the simplest task.
Compulsory education implies free education. It is most unreasonable and unfair to compel a father to send his children to school and then to compel him to pay for their education. The child is educated not for his own benefit or his father's benefit, but for the benefit of the State. It is found more and more year by year that we must have education. Had those obstructionists who opposed education because they saw in the word only another way of spelling revolution been able to carry out their policy of making ignorance national, Britain would speedily have fallen to the intellectual and commercial unimportance of Spain. But they failed. The country was great, and to make it greater national education was resolved. It should have been free, thorough, and unsectarian. We should not have to go to a needy washerwoman, who toils day and night to give her children a morsel of bread and a rag of clothing, and say to her, "My good woman, it is needful for the greatness, the glory, and the prosperity of this happy country in order that her princes may inhabit palaces and her landholders continue to receive their countless millions, that your children shall be educated. Therefore each of them must come to school, and see, at your peril, that they bring coppers with them to pay for their teaching." And so she has to toil and pay for the greatness of her country, which, after all, never did anything for her, but allowed her no more pleasure of living in it than if she had marked upon her brow some brand of infamy.
And after school, what? Whither go these children who, year by year, leave our national schools, what becomes of them, how much good have they got from their education? They have got much good, and yet much less good than they might have got. The simple power of being able to read is a blessing past all eloquence to describe. There is a greater difference between the man who can read and the man who cannot than there is between a king and a peasant. In this age how narrow, how contracted, how futile, and how feeble must be the ideas of those who do not possess the magic power of letters! On the other hand, the commonest workman who can tell the meaning of printed characters may possess a greater and a happier soul than any within the circle of the peerage. But ordinary minds, that is to say, the immense majority, are in need of more. They have the rudiments of education, they want training in the methods of application. It is said by those who have large means of knowing that many children leave the Board Schools who at once proceed to forget their education, and that within a vеrу few years they can hardly write their names or read a simple sentence. Be this true or false it at least is certain that many use their education only to read that gutter literature of which we have so constant and appalling a growth. The difference between the ordinary circulation of a newspaper and its circulation when it records one of those high-class infamies that give so constant an employment to our courts of law is a curious comment upon national education. And while thus we leave all who will to sink as they may, we refuse our help to those who with talent, energy, and success are struggling to the higher knowledge. Technical education is dear and scarce, and that upon which the future of our country so largely depends is regarded with indifference. Had it not been for the private energy and generosity that in the northern and midland towns of England has founded great schools of the arts and manufactures, we would at this day have been, from a trading point of view, very little better for Mr. Forster's scheme of national education.
A true Democracy looks upon such a state of things with discontent and disapproval. Democracy springs from an educated public feeling, education is the weapon with which it cuts its way to power, and its end and aim is to educate all men to their rights and duties. Were every man in this country really educated, that is to say, really aware of the few and simple facts that make up social life, and really able to think upon these facts, we should have at once a bloodless revolution. To wealth would be set its limits, upon rank would be imposed its duties, idleness and poverty would disappear together, the landlord and the publican would pass away to one common obscurity. It is because of the dense and wide-spread ignorance, and because of those who impose upon that ignorance, that our advance is so tardy and so difficult. Therefore, all teaching is really with us, even although it may seem against us. The political leader who, from some platform, hurls against us his powerful and burning words, calls us fanatics and knaves, seeks to confound us with his marshalled facts and ordered figures, and raises in his audience a whirlwind of hatred against us, even he from a higher point of view, and a larger knowledge, is our friend, and does us service. Through him men become acquainted with our teachings, and when the fervour of denunciation is over, and the fever of debate has ceased, the calm reasonableness begins to speak to his mind, and he finds that we are only saying what often his own heart has whispered to himself. In a true Democratic state the schoolmaster, who at present is treated by the upper and middle classes half with intolerance, half with contempt, would be held in the utmost importance, and would receive the utmost honour.
Those who oppose free education often ask us in their pleasant, sarcastic way why, if we teach children for nothing, we should not also feed and clothe them? To this we answer, "Why not?" As a State, it is not only our duty, but our interest to bring up for the future service of the country a generation of men and women as able for every duty as our efforts can make them. You cannot properly educate a child who has an empty stomach, and whose clothes will not exclude the winter's cold. The poor infant is numbed and stupified; knowledge can make no way through his starved and frozen intellect. First feed and clothe, then teach the children. To do this would be neither difficult nor expensive. All public school children should be provided with a warm and comfortable uniform. This would be in no danger of being taken away and pawned by depraved relations, for no one would buy that which was stamped with the Government mark. I would also lengthen the school hours. At present a child only comes to school to repeat lessons that he has learned at home. These lessons should not only be repeated, but should be learned within the school buildings, where he would have the aid of books and maps, with the kind assistance of teachers. Even if these school hours extended from nine to six, they would not be too long, for they would not be wholly passed in book-work. They should include musical drill, gymnastics, training in some simple handicraft, and at least two hours of such play as pleased the children best. And above all things they should begin with a good meal, a good meal should pleasantly divide their hours into two, and a third good meal should conclude their working day. In our scheme of education we put almost as much importance upon the dining table, the gymnasium the swimming bath, the playground, and the drill-ground, as we do upon the spelling-book and the copy-book.
We want to make men; and to this end the Democracy will spare neither toil nor money. A school must of itself be a palace of health and beauty; its teacher must be the best and the ablest of men; the teaching must have as its object the development and improvement of the race.
Nor will the duty of the State be done when it turns out into the working world a well developed lad of thirteen or fourteen years. Every boy will be told that he must learn a trade or profession, and that he must apprentice himself to it. But the lad will not be allowed to work all the working hours of the week. At certain fixed times he will have to attend classes, and there to study what higher learning may be directly useful to his profession. This will be distinctly apart from the culture of the evening schools. These, too, will be helped and developed, so that every student eager to improve his mind and to extend his knowledge will have every opportunity freely opened. But culture must be allowed to depend upon a man's own wishes, for we cannot force it, and we would not if we could. Technical education is different; every lad, every child, born rich or born poor, has a right to demand of his country that he shall be taught to do what share of the world's work has been allotted to him in the best and most scientific manner, with most credit to himself and most satisfaction to his employers; and on the other hand, the State has a right to see that every lad is trained so as to be most useful to his country. Thus we would have technical schools in every town, and agricultural schools in every county. Among the throngs that yearly passed through the various schools there would always be found a small proportion marked out from the crowd by superior zeal and ability. For these should be provided the Free University, and not only should the teaching be free, but free board should be given also. Their purpose should be to develop the talent of the nation, and they would make no distinction between the son of the poorest man and the son of the richest man in all the land, for the light of learning should shine as impartially as the light of heaven. Nor would we limit national education to schools and colleges. It is to view learning narrowly to think that it must be confined to academic walls. Scattered through all our land in surprising numbers are men of humble rank who never passed the infant school, and perhaps have not even had the advantage of that, who yet possess a culture large and deep. Nay, there are some upon whose minds literature has produced happier results than upon many whose trade is learning and whose profession is culture. These are what they are from the powerful influence of the Free Library and the Mechanics' Institute. Their minds have grown to strength and beauty amidst the pure airs and the copious sunshine of our English literature. Shakespeare has taught to them — man; Shelley has trained their senses to every fine and lovely influence; Milton and Burns have made them pure and strong. The daily papers, which are half read and half ignored by the listless loungers of the aristocratic club, are fully read, considered, and debated by thousands of intellectual working men. Thus in every town is a band of humble workers who know more, think more, and understand more than any equal body of their self-titled superiors. These should be multiplied. In every quarter of every town should be halls, baths, libraries, reading-rooms, gymnasiums, all that would make higher living attractive, and aid those who struggled to the higher life.
All this, the critic will say, if the critic thinks it worth his while, is a dream and a delusion. A dream it may be, but delusion it is not. And to say that it is a dream is to saу that civilisation is governed by selfishness and is hastening to corruption. For we have done no more than to make a declaration of simple human rights. If we are to have a civilisation at all we must recognise our duty towards every child that is born into the land. We do this partly, feebly, and irresolutely. But not thus can we satisfy justice. If we owe a man a pound we have not fulfilled the law of honesty by throwing him a shilling. We owe to every child a complete education, a training that will make him a useful and a worthy citizen; we do not fulfil that obligation by starving his body and cramming his mind with odds and ends of knowledge. Learning is useless, nay, infinitely worse than useless, to make a man abler and better unless it stimulate the individual and improve the race.
And the cost of it? This is the very first burden that we would place upon ground-rental. For all that is spent upon national education goes to make the land more valuable. Your schoolmaster is the greatest builder up of land values. The more intelligent, industrious, and honest the teacher makes the people, the higher is rent. Did the schoolmaster give to our landholders an annual present of golden millions, he could not more infallibly increase their incomes than he does by raising the standard of the people who labour upon the land. Thus, in asking that the land shall pay for the teaching of the new generation, we only ask that it shall pay for value about to be received, for vast and material benefits about to be conferred. We make an inflexible stand for free education and complete education, and we demand that payment for it shall be made, not from the paltry earnings of the poor, but from the inexhaustible fund created in the land by the labour of all who have ever lived, and being daily augmented by the labour of all who pass from the school to the workshop.
A Scottish Pressman.
Contrast this to California's Proposition 13, which for over 30 years has limited the tax on land value to a small -- and diminishing -- and uneven! -- fraction of the annual rental value of California's land.