The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Bishop of London on Religious Education

Volume 2, 1891/92, pg. 801-803

The Bishop of LONDON said: "The matter we have met to consider is one of considerable importance, and it is time we paid particular attention to it, to see if we cannot do systematically and efficiently what is very largely done already, but with very little system, and I am afraid in very many cases with nothing like efficiency. There are two distinct classes we have to bear in mind. We think immediately of the teachers, because all the rest of the education of the children is for the time being practically handed over to them, and it is, therefore, quite natural that we should endeavor, if possible, to entrust to them the religious instruction of the young--inasmuch as it is certain that the knowledge would be more thoroughly imparted through the means they would use than in any other way we could devise. The power a master necessarily acquires over the minds of his scholars is one, to be used for the purposes of religious education, which no one else could possess. The other class of persons of whom we think when speaking of this subject is the parents, and they unquestionably can do, and if there is to be any success must do, a very considerable part of the work. Unless the parents are willing themselves to attend to the matter there must always be a real defect in all the teaching.

"Much of the best teaching we can have is that which is given in very early youth by the mother--and there is nothing we can put in its place. It is not so much the amount of knowledge a mother is able to impart as the kind of feeling with which she can instruct her children to regard that knowledge. She alone can begin to cultivate a spirit of reverence, without which religious knowledge fails really to be religious. We do, therefore, beg of mothers to make use of their knowledge for the instruction of their children from the very earliest opportunity. Of course, as the child grows older the other parent ought to take his place. The mother having begun the work, it is the duty of the father to take it up in so far as he has the ability to do it.

"Although the later education which is given by schoolmasters and schoolmistresses is much clearer, more logical, hangs together better, and very often enlightens the mind a good deal more, there is nothing which holds the affection or touches the conscience so surely or so permanently as the teaching given by religious parents. It is the early training which gives true life and reality to all that may follow afterwards. It is not good that such training should consist of mere vague talk; there ought to be systematic instruction, and, generally speaking, there is something systematic about a mother's teaching if she really cares about it. She reads part of the Bible with her children, asks them to read to her and remarks upon the passages as they are being read. She explains difficulties which they find in the course of their reading, and encourages them to ask questions whenever they become perplexed. Of course, she would do all this very much better if she took pains to prepare for such lessons by going over them beforehand and filling her mind with such thoughts as they suggested. If we could persuade parents to do something of this sort for their children, then we would know that the true beginning of religious education was obtained.

"It would be a great thing if parents would accustom themselves to looking upon this as a necessary part of their domestic duties. There is no doubt that they very often neglect their duty from a feeling that they cannot do it well enough, or that they do not know how to do it. There can be no doubt that the religious instruction of the middle and upper classes has not received the same attention as the religious instruction of the children in the elementary schools, which has been so cared for that public notice has been drawn to it.* I constantly find, from the accounts that come to me from the clergy, that when candidates are being prepared for confirmation, over and over again the children of the upper and middle classes are not nearly so well informed on this matter as the children of the class below them. That ought not to be the case. I suppose that such a state of things is to be found more frequently in London than in the West, and I have often consulted my clergy to see what can be done to remedy it.

"It is not possible to leave religious education to take care of itself whilst we are throwing all the forces of the State, of the Church, and of public opinion in the direction of promoting secular education. Everybody is being taught to know, and, what is more important, to think, and it is quite out of the question that we should teach people to think, and have no regard as to how they shall think upon the most important subject of all. It is out of the question that we should teach people to know, and be indifferent as to whether they are ignorant of those matters which rank above all other knowledge. The old world is determined that there shall be general education, and there ought to be at the same time marching side by side with it organised religious education. If we go back fifty or a hundred and fifty years we should see that the education of those days was entirely confined to religious instruction. Education, even long before the Reformation, was the instruction of the children in their faith and in their duties as Christians. There is a risk that all this old religious training will be thrust aside because the desire for secular education has grown so big. Like a cuckoo, it has got into the nest, and if we do not take care it will shoulder out the original inhabitants and leave them to perish. As Christians we cannot agree that this should be so. We are bound to see that religious instruction holds its proper place."

*At a meeting of teachers and parents at Exeter.

Typed September 2013