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The Problem of Moral Instruction 5

shocks of outward fortune ; and that it has been able to
give men assurance of their personal relationship to an
unseen order of things.

Long established tradition makes the first beginnings
of direct instruction in moral principle the special con-
cern of religion. For this power of religion in education,
especially in the training of younger children, it will be
hard indeed to find a substitute. Nevertheless, it is much
to be desired that, in the upper classes of higher secondary
schools, an effort should be made to supplement the re-
ligious and moral teaching which has gone before by a
philosophical presentment of moral principles as deduced
from human needs. What is wanted is not so much a
course of formal lectures as a wise use of the opportunities
which would present themselves in a course of lessons on
great thinkers such as Plato, Epictetus, Shaftesbury and
Kant. The need for such a course of instruction in the
principles of morals is increased by the fact that doubts
concerning the traditional forms of religious teaching lay
hold of the minds even of the young.

For the purpose, however, of moral influence, training
is much more important than instruction. But here too
more will be achieved by indirect methods, and when the
teacher pursues his aim with caution and reticence. Noth-
ing, however, compares in importance with the fact that
moral aims and moral achievements should be rightly
valued in the pupil's home and in the school community
in which his education is carried forward. The pupil
should always be treated as one who is called to the high
task of a good life and to the bearing of responsibility.
As Plato and Aristotle urged long ago, the chief thing in
education is that the young soul should learn with all its
might to love good and to hate evil. The school indeed,
within its province, can do much towards attaining this
end. But let us never forget that it can only work effec-

6 Moral Instruction and Training in Schools

lively in moral training when it is supported by the wider
influence of the life of the whole community. Nowadays
we are far too prone to exaggerate the power of the
direct influence of the school.




THE present question ultimately resolves itself into the
old one of heredity versus environment. There is a great
mass of floating conviction, opinion or prejudice standing
in the way of agreement, and it sometimes takes a
scientific or rather a pseudo-scientific form. The following
declarations are representative :

"The vilest abortionist is he who attempts to mould
a child's character " (Mr. Bernard Shaw). " Conferring
knowledge is not the teacher's business. . . . He has
not to put something into the child, but to draw out from
him what is in him " (Mr. J. L. Skrine). " It is an error
to say that the child's mind can be built up from without
and its form and tendency determined by an (artificial)
arrangement by another of the ideas it is to assimilate "
(Prof. Welton). All these quotations state or imply the
impossibility of " character building ".

The question was considered by Herbart in 1804 when
he asked whether a child " brought with him into the
world his future shape or not " ; and he expressly dis-
tinguished between physical qualities (undoubtedly in-
herited) and mental and moral ones. He rejected the
"plant" metaphor as implying an affirmative answer to
the above, and preferred to say that man's mental and


8 Moral Instruction and Training in Schools

moral life was rooted entirely in presentations or ideas
(Vorstellungen). " He wills only presentations and knows
only presentations." Thus, education must probably con-
sist mainly in the supplying of presentations. Education
and environment appear in this way as more powerful
than "heredity" the latter term, indeed, standing for
something less and less intelligible the more it is studied.

Powerful support to the side of heredity is nevertheless
given by Mr. Galton and Prof. Karl Pearson. The
former, for example, considers that gentleness, conscienti-
ousness, etc., have largely been "weeded out" of the
human race by mediaeval celibacy and persecutions ;
" prudence " is being weeded out to-day by the higher
birth rate existent among the "improvident" than among
the "provident". Prof. Pearson claims to have shown
statistically that mental and moral qualities are inherited
in just the same degree as physical, and asks why we
should demand a " special evolution " of man's mental and
moral side.

Many sociologists, on the other hand, are coming to
Herbart's view that the moral life is " rooted in presenta-
tions". Thus Dr. Archdall Reid (following Buckle and
others) asserts that national characteristics are the results
of " social heredity," i.e., of an ethical tradition or environ-
ment handed down from one generation to another. A
Chinaman brought up from the first in England would
have all the qualities of an Englishman ; a savage in the
same circumstances would also become an Englishman,
except for a certain (problematic) difference of tempera-
ment, especially at adolescence. Dr. Reid calls attention
to the rapid changes of civilisation, morality and religion,
to which universal history testifies. These are unintelli-
gible on the supposition that they are determined by here-

But this view implies that heredity has little or no

The Need for Improved Moral Instruction 9

significance in moral and, to a less extent, intellectual

This view is being increasingly held by evolutionists.
They admit that an element of "moral selection" may
have been the beginning of social life in the human race
unsocial tribes being killed off in the struggle for existence.
But they regard as the chief factor in man's ascent from the
brute his increasing brain capacity consequently his in-
creasing power of memory in other words, the increasing
power of his ideas over his instincts. The last factor, in-
stincts, became less and less important and definite in man ;
many of them are now highly dirigible, and others have
almost ceased to hold any place in his nature. In short,
man differs from the brute in his plasticity, modifiability,
educability ; and this is pre-eminently so with regard to
moral matters. A " special evolution " seems indeed to
have taken place. Man is " Nature's Insurgent Son ".

Mr. Galton and Prof. Pearson's explanations are thus
open to the gravest doubt. Qualities like gentleness, con-
scientiousness, prudence, are the results of ideas, ideals,
standards ; and these last are the results of social traditions
and of education. Man's brain at birth is pre-eminently
plastic, vacuous, hungry, and consequently educable. This
point once admitted, the whole series of concepts re-
presented by the above quotations (Mr. Bernard Shaw,
etc.) appear false, or at the least extremely misleading.
The main purpose of education will be to introduce the
child to the knowledge (moral and other) accumulated by
the human race. This sociological doctrine links on
exactly with the Herbartian doctrine of " apperception,"
with recent demands for moral instruction, and with the
whole Church tradition.

io Moral Instruction and Training in Schools


The objections to direct moral instruction seem to
spring from several distinct sources, among which may
be specified :

(1) A mistaken identification of direct moral instruc-
tion with certain dull and unpedagogical methods dating
from the eighteenth century a time before modern edu-
cational science had arisen.

(2) A second cause for the prejudice against direct
moral instruction is a widespread and almost morbid fear
of sanctioning anything suggestive of " priggishness ".

(3) A third cause is a lack of clear views upon the
relative functions of Instruction and Training. The con-
fusion between these two agencies is inveterate and almost
universal. A school may give first-rate training, and yet,
as a distinguished writer on the great public schools
asserts is often the case, the boys may remain " morally
colour-blind," owing to the distrust of actual instruction
that prevails in many educational circles.

(4) A fourth objection is pseudo-scientific, and based
on certain broad but somewhat misinterpreted results of
" child study ". The view is that the conscious moral life
only begins at about sixteen years of age, a view which
seems contrary to every one's experience of children and
remembrances of himself, and represents rather an im-
portant tendency than what actually happens in modern

(i) With regard to the first objection, probably trace-
able to chapter xxxi. of Dickens's Old Curiosity Shop and
to similar works, and based on the supposition that direct
moral instruction is dull, prosy, eighteenth-century and
uneducational, I would point out that no teachers who
have ever voluntarily taken up the subject seem to have
found it " dull " to their pupils. That the pupils " like it "

The Need for Improved Moral Instruction 1 1

is the invariable report, and the reason obviously is that
the simpler problems of conduct are constantly facing
children, and come home to their " business and bosoms " ;
thus, within certain limits it may be said that such problems
appeal specially to children, the subject-matter being in a
measure familiar. But inasmuch as moral terminology is
over-familiar to adults, they themselves may attribute to
these lessons a dullness which they would feel if they
were the recipients ; over-familiarity is admittedly de-
structive of " apperceptive interest ". No doubt there are
dangers in "premature" treatment of moral questions,
but a certain prematurity simply cannot be avoided amid
modern conditions ; the problems are before the children's
eyes. The passage from "concrete to abstract" is quite
as easy in this department of work as in any other.

Again, direct moral instruction, as conceived by its
advocates, makes use of copious historical and literary
examples; in a sense it is only a form of the teaching of
history and literature. As such it is as pedagogical and
scientific as any subject in the curriculum. So far as
lessons in history, literature and religion can be made to
cover moral topics successfully, to that extent other moral
lessons are unnecessary. But experience shows that
there is a sphere for the latter. The civic side of life, and
various decencies and proprieties need special stress. At
the same time, only towards the top of the school need
the moral instruction be formal and systematic; in the
lower classes it would mainly take the form of " stories,"
the element of reasoning or reflection being kept quite
subordinate. There is no need to stimulate the "dear
delight in dialectic".

So far as can be observed the method of moral instruc-
tion as conceived by Mr. F. J. Gould is exactly similar to
the method adopted when the parable of the Good
Samaritan was first told.

12 Moral Instruction and Training in Schools

(2) The second cause mentioned for the prejudice against
direct moral instruction may be summed up in the words
of Mr. A. C. Benson :

Nowadays our horror of priggishness, and even of serious-
ness, has grown out of all proportion ; the command not to be
a prig has almost taken its place in the Decalogue.

From the same source spring various interesting pheno-
mena of modern morals ; the attempts of people to make
themselves out worse than they are, in order to prove that
there is nothing of the " strait-laced " in them ; the forma-
tion of Anti-Puritan leagues, etc. Mr. Pinero in his latest
play feels called upon to demonstrate the ingenuousness
of his heroine by equipping her with a cigarette case, and
many clergymen seem to feel the need of a similar equip-
ment. This morbid horror of " priggishness " is doing
much to prevent schools from exerting their legitimate
influence on moral conduct. It is probably traceable to
the second chapter of Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit.

The very word " moral " sounds objectionable to many
people, and some teachers prefer for their lessons the
names " character," " conduct," " civic," or some other.

(3) The third cause above specified is the confusion
between instruction and training. The latter aims at
creating good habits, the former at giving ideas, ideals,
moral insight, or " apperception power " ; in other words,
at clearing up moral ignorance, delusion, thoughtlessness
or prejudice. The confusion between instruction and
training is the result partly of our lack of an educational
science, and partly of such educational science as we
possess being dominated by one-sided doctrines which
underestimate the power and value of ideas as springs of

Teachers have been known to say, " We are giving it
(moral instruction) all day long," though in point of fact

The Need for Improved Moral Instruction 13

moral training is meant, or perhaps scarcely even that
only school discipline, whose value is perhaps far less than
commonly supposed. Those who depreciate the value of
moral instruction seem to be ignorant of certain important
aspects of the psychology of evil. They need to be re-
minded of Prof. Adams's words :

The state of a soul that is ill-supplied with good ideas calls
for little comment. Such a soul can hardly be said to be
tempted. The soul must be continually choosing among the
ideas presented to it, and if the supply of good ideas is inade-
quate, it must of necessity choose the evil.

The notion that the moral life can be built up almost
without instruction has taken the form of the dogma of
" formal training," a dogma which is all-powerful in second-
ary schools and largely influential in primary schools. It
assumes that by a course of hard work in any subject the
will can be " trained " for any other task ; that " accuracy "
in general or " neatness " in general can be cultivated by
" accuracy " or " neatness " in certain school pursuits, and
so on ; in short, that the whole moral life can be satis-
factorily treated with little or no reference to ideas, ideals
or standards. There must be no "preaching," no
" moralising," etc. The moral life must grow uncon-
sciously. The main thing is habit.

The best refutation of the dogma is found in chapter v.
of Prof. Adams's Herbartian Psychology, where it is
shown that capacity is rooted in " apperception masses "
and does not extend beyond them. Recently some ex-
periments have been performed in America which go to
confirm this view statistically. It has been shown that
"accuracy" is not transferable from one subject to
another ; that " neatness " is, similarly, not transferable, or
rather that such qualities are not transferable unless there
is more than mere unconscious training', there must be
instruction, or at any rate the express recognition of the

14 Moral Instruction and Training in Schools

value of this quality or that. 1 The general conclusion is
that habits cannot be generalised except by means of ideas.
Thus the dogma of formal training, the dogma which
stands in the way of the fuller recognition of moral in-
struction, is refuted. Training and instruction are both
needed, but training is possible for animals and plants,
while instruction is distinctively human, and therefore of
far greater educational significance. Habits must be
cultivated for their own sakes, and not for their alleged
training power.

Closely akin to the exaltation of training at the ex-
pense of instruction is the depreciation of direct methods
in favour of indirect. It may be pointed out that advo-
cates of direct methods are fully in favour of indirect ones
also, and regard them as perhaps ultimately the more
valuable; but they are convinced that direct methods
have a place, at any rate during the present chaotic and
unscientific state of the curriculum, in which humanistic
subjects like history and literature do not get their fair
share of attention.

That there is a power in ideas and even in the much
despised " moralisings," seems indicated in a passage from
Hugh Rendal:

The warning had sunk into his mind, as everything said to
a boy will, however deaf he may seem.

The opponents of moral instruction have mistaken the
boy's apparent "deafness" for a real disease. If it is a
disease at all, it is the direct result of our own neglect
Boys will necessarily be " morally colour blind " if we
avoid giving them light. Moral insight is not innate.
(4) An attempt has been made to find a scientific basis
for opposition to moral instruction, but the attempt is
based on a too academic treatment of child life. Teachers

* See Bagley's Educative Process,

The Need for Improved Moral Instruction 15

are warned against " prematurely" opening up moral ques-
tions, but the fact is ignored that years before the age of
sixteen (at which these controversialists sanction moral
instruction) children, especially in poor districts, are face
to face with problems of gambling, intemperance, thrift-
lessness and the like. Children catch up wrong ideas
fast enough ; it is the business of the school to see that
they catch up some right ones also. Moreover these
views, though no doubt based on certain broadly true
aspects of child life, attribute to the child a lack of reflec-
tiveness that is contrary to experience. Long before the
age of sixteen children have begun to think about con-
duct, and even general principles of a certain kind are able
to be grasped. No doubt child study is right in urging
that altruistic sentiments receive their richest development
after adolescence, the time when the call of the race is
heard ; but there is a sphere for reason and reflection long
before then ; and indeed the concrete examples of con-
duct that are everywhere around children stimulate nascent
reflection, whether we approve of such stimulus or not
These views * may represent a truly scientific pedagogy as
applied to middle-class schools in Utopia ; but as applied
to modern schools, especially in poor districts, they are doc-
trinaire, contrary to experience and morally mischievous.
Indeed one may doubt whether they could be put forward
by any one who knew well the lower type of school.


(i) The necessity for moral instruction will be obvious
to any one who notices the thousand and one acts of im-
propriety or inconsiderateness to use no stronger words
performed by his fellow-men, and then asks himself:
" Do not many of these acts spring from ignorance,
thoughtlessness, prejudice or delusion ? " In other words,

1 Prof. Findlay may be regarded as representing them,

1 6 Moral Instruction and Training in Schools

" Is there no element of insight (or moral perception) in
good conduct ? " The fact that some evil acts spring from
weakness of will does not overthrow the other fact that
many spring from weakness of a different kind. I have
on several occasions asked the above question of eminent
educationists, some of them opponents of direct moral in-
struction, and I have never received a negative answer ; still,
as already indicated, there is a widespread prejudice against
what is called " mere instruction," the objectors failing to
realise that if many evils spring from ignorance, thought-
lessness, prejudice or delusion, such evils can be removed
by instruction, even if other evils remained. Archdeacon
Wilson said years ago that in schools " we have too much
underestimated the virtue of knowledge," and the recent
anonymous writer " Kappa" urges brilliantly, " Let Youth
But Know ". As this depreciation of knowledge prevails
in many high educational circles, there is nothing surpris-
ing in its prevailing when the problem of moral instruction
arises. The underlying fallacy is that the " faculty " of the
will is separate from the " faculty " of knowledge or insight
and cannot be influenced by it. That consciousness or
conscious reflection can work downwards into the develop-
ing organism seems largely ignored, not only by the
conventional depredators of knowledge, but by some
academic expositors of the results of child study. But
take even some ridiculously simple instances of conduct
such as the careless throwing about of orange-peel, or the
habit of promiscuous public spitting that prevails among
many working-men ; if all the scientific students of edu-
cation in existence said that instruction was useless in such
cases they would be wrong. Instruction does help to
correct moral thoughtlessness. There is more science in
the maxim, " Evil is done from want of thought as well
as want of heart," than in most of the utterances we hear
on this subject

The Need for Improved Moral Instruction 17

In the best-known work on child study (Kirkpatrick's)
we are told that " formal statements and the discussion of
general principles of morality are valuable as giving
youths clearer and better standards of action ". This is
perfectly obvious, and would not need to be mentioned
except that it seems so often forgotten.

For the same reason Dr. Stanley Hall, in his Youth,
recommends "talks" on a list of moral subjects; such
talks would be " nothing more nor less than conscience-
building". "The higher intuitions . . . are only made
definite by such talks." Possibly a solution of the present
problem may be found along these lines; the apparent
formality of a " lesson " being avoided, and yet all the
essential elements of " systematic moral instruction" being
preserved in a series of ostensibly spontaneous " talks ".

If it be said that we may " see the better and yet follow
the worse," and that therefore moral instruction is a feeble
agency, the answer is that there is at least considerable
doubt (vide Plato) whether if we really " saw " (i.e., apper-
ceived) the better we should "follow the worse". The
difficulty is to make us "see". But this difficulty will
not be removed by avoiding all moral instruction, but by
using every resource that the pedagogy of the future can
supply in order to give moral insight. Merely " verbal "
knowledge may be feeble indeed, as it is not genuine
knowledge; the latter is probably indissolubly linked
with conduct.

(2) That there is a prima facie case for direct moral
instruction seems indicated by various independent at-
tempts to introduce moral instruction on single subjects.
I have noted the following attempts during the last few
years : Kindness to animals, dangers of gambling (in-
struction on this subject is recommended in Mr. Rown-
tree's book), dangers of smoking, value of temperance
(many British Colonies have introduced lessons on this
VOL. I. 2

1 8 Moral Instruction and Training in Schools

often in connection with hygiene), thrift (suggested by
the Charity Organisation Society), courtesy, civics, and
lastly patriotism. I would also refer in passing to the
fact that many educationists, like the present Head-
master of Eton, have traced some sexual evils to " ignor-
ance," and here again there are proposals of instruction.
If these attempts have severally any justification, it is
hard to see how the definite recognition of direct moral
instruction can be regarded as a retrograde step.

(3) Again, we are not actually going to exclude direct
moral instruction by branding it as impossible or unscien-
tific. It is in the schools already, though often in un-
systematic form. The Churches are not likely to agree
with any " sixteen-year-old " doctrine, even if that doctrine
were not founded partly on quicksands. " Duty towards
one's neighbour " is in the Catechism. Hence there is a
very practical reason for making efforts in the direction
of a proper grading and systematising of the subject.
At the same time there are reasons for leaving the subject,
while in its present transitional stage, to those members
of the school staff who have a special interest in it ; per-
haps the head teacher can here render especially valuable
service, though I believe that in the end nearly all teachers
will gladly give it and may even derive a reflex benefit
from it.


I now pass on to actual experiments in systematic moral
instruction. I would say that there are head teachers of
Catholic, Church and Council Schools [I emphasise
" Catholic " and " Church " because we have a right to
infer that even the most careful religious instruction leaves
some moral gaps] who have felt the need for such ex-
plicit instruction, and gladly introduced it when its import-

Online LibraryMichael SadlerMoral instruction and training in schools; report of an international inquiry .. (Volume 1) → online text (page 5 of 45)