Project Canterbury

Our Last Year in New Zealand, 1887

By William Garden Cowie, D.D., Bishop of Auckland

London: Kegan, Paul, Trench & Co., 1888.

Appendix F.

(See page 216.)


Religious Teaching in Day Schools.--This brings me to the most important subject on which I have to address you at this time, a subject of paramount importance--not only to the members of our own branch of Christ's Holy Catholic Church in New Zealand, but to the whole Christian population of the colony, namely, the teaching of religion in the day schools of these islands. I desire to state to you as clearly as I can the conviction to which I have come in this matter, after mature consideration of the whole question, and after nearly ten years' observation of the circumstances of our people in town and country, and of the defects of the systems that have been in operation amongst us. In addressing tin's Synod, I, of course, assume your conviction that our Christian Faith is an indispensable factor of the life that is most worth living; and, consequently, that a knowledge of this Faith should be imparted to our children from the very earliest development of their mental faculties--"precept upon precept, line upon line." [Isaiah xxviii. 10.] Those of us whose special office it has been to warn the impenitent, to cheer the desponding, to comfort the bereaved, and to sympathise with the suffering, know how the difficulties of their mission have been increased--when references to Holy [356/357] Scripture have struck no chord of penitence or hope, in hearts unsown in youth with the undying seed of the Word of God. Moreover, it is far more effectual to sow with good seed the infant heart, than in later life to root out the noxious growth of self-sown error and replace it with the Gospel seed of heavenly truth. We do not doubt that to the parents, in the first instance, appertain the privilege and the responsibility of providing that the children "may learn the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments, in the vulgar tongue, and all other things which a Christian ought to know and believe to his soul's health." [Public Baptism of Infants.] But in a great many--perhaps a majority--of cases the parents cannot, or do not, make this provision for the religious teaching of their children, independently of the day school which the children attend. In our towns and larger settlements the religious teaching of many parents is, to a greater or less extent, supplemented by that of the Sunday school; but in many country districts no Sunday school exists, or is likely to exist. Hence arises the necessity for the teaching of religion in the day schools throughout the country, a necessity which, in the abstract, most Christian people would, I think, acknowledge to be real. But co-operation in this matter is, alas! often rendered impossible by the divisions of the Christian Church. Owing to the intensity of conviction with which the distinctive teaching of each religious body is held, the comparative importance of such teaching is often exaggerated, even to the extent of prohibiting, as far as possible, all other religious teaching than its own. Each will have its own, or none else shall have theirs. In this deplorable condition of rivalry, what course is to be adopted? It were waste of time to consider what is most desirable in the abstract; the question is rather, in existing circumstances what is practicable? There are many who think to solve the difficulty by excluding religious teaching, of whatever kind or degree, from all schools connected with the State. It is said to be no [357/358] proper function of the Civil Government to teach religion; but it is one thing for Government to abstain from attempting that for which it is not qualified, and another--to prevent those who are. This "simple plan" may seem satisfactory to those of our fellow-subjects who, in their ignorance of "the truth as it is in Jesus," class Christianity with "other religious superstitions;" or even to some of our fellow-Christians whose religious sympathies are restricted to the comparatively small section of the community holding their distinctive opinions, and to others who would make a desert and call it peace; but let us not, as has been said by one of the ablest Englishmen of the present century, the late Bishop Thirl wall of S. David's--let us not be subjects of "that deplorable infatuation through which groundless fears become the instrument by which they are realised, and men cast away their most solid and precious blessings in their struggle to escape from slight or imaginary dangers." Another has said--"There is not a secular reform in the whole development of modern civilisation which (if it is more than mechanical) has not drawn its inspiration from a religious principle. Infirmaries for the body have sprung out of pity to the soul; schools for the letter, that free way may be opened to the spirit; sanitary laws, that the diviner elements of human nature may not become incredible and hopeless from their foul environment. Who would ever lift a voice for the slave, that looked no further than his face? or build a reformatory for the culprit child, if he saw nothing but the slouching gait and thievish eye? Nay, what impulse would even science itself have had if sustained only by the material utilities? what inspiring zeal, but for that secret wonder which feels the universe to be sacred and is a virtual thirst for God? "The liberal institutions which we desire to see firmly established in this our adopted country are formed on principles which have been enunciated by British statesmen who had the fear of God before their eyes, and who gloried in "the liberty wherewith Christ" had made them "free." The Christian Scriptures alone [358/359] tell us of a God with whom there is no respect of persons; and a belief in them is incompatible with systems of caste, and is subversive of all bondage of man to man.

Assuming, then, that, if all our children are to have a religious education, very many of them must receive it chiefly or entirely in connection with the day school which they attend, I proceed to consider four of the systems by which it has been proposed to effect this object. For the present I shall not refer to the proposal to subsidise denominational schools with grants from the public treasury. On that point I will state my opinion afterwards. It has been proposed--

1. That the Bible shall be read in all the day schools of the colony, as a part of the ordinary curriculum;

2. That a selection of passages from the Bible agreed upon by as many as possible of the religious bodies of the colony shall be so read;

3. That a definite portion of the ordinary school hours shall be set apart for the teaching of religion by persons duly authorised by the several religious bodies;

4. That persons so authorised shall be allowed to teach in the Government school buildings, out of school hours.

Each of these four schemes is accompanied by the proviso, that religious instruction shall not be given to children whose parents do not wish it.

1. As to the first of these propositions, namely, that the Bible shall be read in Board schools as part of the regular curriculum, I have already stated publicly that I would be in favour of such an arrangement, if the only alternative were that the teaching of religion in those schools should be absolutely prohibited. A distinguished English scholar has truly said--"Bible religion is both the recognised title and the best description of English religion. . . . The reiteration again and again, in fixed course in the public service, of the words of inspired teachers under both covenants, and that in grave majestic English, has in matter of fact been to our people a [359/360] vast benefit. It has attuned their minds to religious thoughts; it has given them a high moral standard." These eloquent words are doubtless true of the results of Bible reading in the ordinary services of our Church; but it does not follow that it would have the same effect when performed as a task during school hours, and under the direction of a teacher not necessarily competent to explain the passages read, or even to select such as are suitable for general instruction, nor of necessity a believer in the sacred volume; not to specify other objections too obvious to need mentioning. I confess that rather than subject any child of my own to such an ordeal, I would be content that he should depend for his knowledge of the Bible on such intermittent teaching as he could obtain from his parents.

2. The second proposal to which I have referred is--(a) that a selection of lessons from the Bible, made by representatives of as many religious bodies as would co-operate for the purpose, should be read as a text-book in all State schools; (b) that out of this text-book the children should be taught by the schoolmaster in school hours; (c) that the schoolmaster should be forbidden to teach any dogma which is distinctive of any denomination. Of this proposal I may say, as I have said of the first, namely, the general reading of the Bible in the school, that I would be in favour of it, if the only alternative were to prohibit absolutely the teaching of religion in the day schools of the colony. I would also prefer this arrangement to the first; as it would ensure the reading of passages not unsuited for the general instruction of our children, and would preclude, as far as possible, the dogmatising of teachers of whose competence to expound the Holy Scriptures to their children the parents might have received no guarantee. The selected passages would probably consist of chapters from the historical parts of the Old and New Testaments, the parables of our Lord, and some of the more practical admonitions from the Epistles. The whole of the Catholic Faith, as we have inherited it in the creeds of the Church, might not, and [360/361] probably would not, be found in a book of selections; but "nothing but the Truth" would find a place in it, and half a loaf is better than no bread. "Religion," says a deep thinker of the present day, "is the manifestation of the heart's indestructible faith in perfection; . . . the superior truth of a religion consists in its greater majesty and loveliness; and he who best awakens the sleeping perceptions of the conscience and the heart and penetrates their actual life with a quickening ideal, reveals the most of God and heaven. And what has ever wrought so effectually for this end, as the tales of inimitable beauty, by which Jesus Christ melted the soul of nations and of ages?" . . .

4. The fourth system specified by me is that which is at present in operation in New Zealand and (I believe) in the colony of Victoria. By its provisions teachers of religion are allowed the use of the Government buildings on certain prescribed days for a short time, out of school hours. This arrangement practically almost amounts to the prohibition of religious teaching in our Board schools; for the religious teacher is expected to come to the school at a time when, but for him, the children would be dismissed for play or to return to their homes,--when their minds are fatigued, their bodies restless, and their attention not easily fixed, after the ordinary four hours of secular instruction. Moreover, the teacher of religion, under our present regulations, has no authority over the children beyond that which is derived from his social position and pastoral influence; and, unless he is possessed of rare powers of control, he often finds it difficult even to preserve order, during the short time for which his class can be detained from joining their schoolfellows at play. And yet, notwithstanding all the discouragements of this system, some of our clergy, determined to make the utmost of their opportunities, and as an earnest of their sincerity in asking for an extension of the same, have, with the co-operation of Lay helpers, persevered in their attendance each week at the Board schools of their [361/362] parishes or districts. All honour be to them for their zeal, and for the confirmation thereby afforded to our repeated protestations--that we have the will, if the way were but open to us, for more effectual labour in this most important department of our Church work. With one alteration in our present Education Act, the system of New Zealand would be almost identical with that now in operation in the colony of New South Wales; according to which a definite time is set apart, during the ordinary school hours, for the giving of religious instruction in the State schools of the colony. The clause of the Act to which I refer is as follows:--

"In every public school, four hours during each school day shall be devoted to secular instruction exclusively; and of such four hours two shall be in the morning, and two in the afternoon. And a portion of each day, not less than one hour, shall be set apart, when the children of any religious persuasion may be instructed by the clergyman or other religious teacher of such persuasion; provided that, in case of the non-attendance of any clergyman or religious teacher during any portion of the period hereby set apart for religious instruction, such period shall be devoted to the ordinary secular instruction in such school."

3. This is the third scheme to which I have referred, and which I have no hesitation in recommending to the Synod as in my opinion the best of those of which I have spoken.

To some who have had no experience of the working of the Act of New South Wales it may seem a fatal objection to that legislation, that one clergyman is incapable of giving religious instruction to all the classes of a large school during the hour for which he may attend in each week; and it has been further asked--how can an adequate staff of Lay teachers be maintained by the Church, to supplement the labours of the clergy in this work? Solvitur ambulando. In this diocese the difficulty has in some cases been met, even under the disabilities of the present Education Act of this colony. A staff of efficient lady teachers has been organised by the clergyman of the [362/363] parish in which we are assembled; and with their help he has been enabled to continue up to the present time his work in the Board school of this parish, in spite of the defective and discouraging provisions of the Act.

Lastly, I have to state the conclusion to which I have come, with respect to the subsidising of denominational schools from the treasury of the colony. Generally, it appears to me very undesirable to recognise any section of the community as privileged, on the ground of conscientious scruples. One main end ever to be kept in view by our representatives in the Colonial Parliament is surely to effect the complete amalgamation of the people of the country; and with this object to discourage, by every constitutional means, the continuance of those sectarianisms, whether theological, political, or national, which are the bane of life in some of the older countries of the world. One of the most hopeful means of effecting such an amalgamation would be to bring together at school as many as possible of the youth of the colony, by the adoption of the principle embodied in the clause which I have cited from the Education Act of New South Wales. Let us urge our representatives in the Colonial Parliament to use their influence that this principle may be engrafted on to our present New Zealand Act. This being accomplished, I do not see why, in special circumstances, grants of public money might not be made to educational institutions other than Board schools, without regard being had to the distinctive character of their teaching, over and above that required by the State in colleges and schools entirely under the control of the Educational Department. In like manner, the second system of religious instruction to which I have referred, providing a book of selections from the Bible to be read, might be permissible in other special cases; for instance, in thinly populated districts, in which the local committee might be of opinion that the schoolmaster was practically the only person who could give regular religious instruction to the children of his school.

[364] Licensed Teachers for Day Schools.--In connection with this subject I would recommend the immediate formation of a body of licensed Lay teachers, male and female, to cooperate with the clergy in imparting religious instruction in the day schools of the diocese. A formal licence issued by the Bishop, on the recommendation of the clergyman of the parish or district, as in the case of Lay Readers, would doubtless strengthen the position of such coadjutors, and encourage them to improve the special talents committed to their trust, for the glory of God and the feeding of the lambs of Christ's fold. Such teachers would very properly be encouraged to present themselves for examination by the Board of Theological Studies under the direction of the General Synod, at the annual examination; as has already been done by female teachers of this diocese.

Project Canterbury