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Now that you have some knowledge of the system, it would not perhaps be foreign to our purpose to say a few words about its results. It is not enough to comprehend the mechanism and organization; one must also be able to judge of the work. Having described the tree, we must also look at its fruits.
At the present moment there are teachers nearly everywhere, except perhaps in some secluded districts in the mountains of Auvergne or in Lower Brittany. I maintain, therefore, that it is not in the number of teachers that we are deficient. And yet we are in reality behind the other nations in matters of education. Whence does this arise? There are several reasons. In the first place, the children are not sent to school, or are taken away too young. Every commune, as I told you, pays its own teacher. It gives him a fixed salary, varying between four hundred and eight hundred francs a year. But this salary paid, the instruction is still not free. Each child has to contribute in addition what amounts to about a sou per day. Now, fathers - in districts where civilization has not yet penetrated - hesitate to pay this assessment. These people cannot themselves read, they cannot write, and yet they have lived, eaten, even amassed a little wealth, and perhaps have bought a piece of land. Very well; what need of learning in the management of their affairs! To milk cows or hold the plough requires no great amount of science. Then, too, the child can be useful on the farm, and is never too young to work. He drives the cows to pasture, weeds the garden, etc. Thus, even supposing that he is sent to school during the few winter months, from the time he partakes of his first communion, (and in the Roman Catholic Church this takes place at the age of ten or eleven,) he is finally withdrawn from school. The little he knows is now forgotten; for the peasant, once having left school, writes or reads no more. He has a natural horror of books and paper. He looks back upon his school days as the most unhappy of his life. It was then that he suffered and he abominates everything that was an instrument of his tortures.
This antipathy is, if anything, a greater cause of ignorance than the expense which schooling involves. Our instruction, it is true, is not free. Yet very few can allege poverty as the cause of their ignorance. Besides the fact that a son a day is not a large sum to find, every year the prefect makes out a list of the indigent; that is to say, that in each village there are ten, fifteen, or twenty-five children who receive their education free. This system, it must be admitted, has several faults. These objects of charity go to school generally unwillingly, and ordinarily are neglected by the teacher. Their comrades, too, know their position, and either despise them or reproach them on account of their poverty. It is, in fact, a humiliating favor. For this reason it is now proposed to do away with this list of children who don't pay and make instruction free to all. But even were education obligatory and free, we still should not occupy a very high position among enlightened nations. And that this is the case is not due solely to the fact that the peasant does not like school, not knowing the value of education, nor yet is it because of the cost of procuring an education, that our schools do not realize the good that we have a right to expect of them; there are yet other reasons which affect the very foundation of things.
First, the teacher is not his own master. Placed between the cure and the prefect, he is obliged to do the bidding of both. Under the control of the cure because the cure is a man of great influence, he is also attached to him by other ties. A teacher is usually very poor. The minimum salary that he receives certainly cannot make his position brilliant. It does not even render him independent. A capable and intelligent man rarely remains a teacher, because he has few chances of advancement, and is almost sure to die of hunger. Consequently, capable men are not found in the corps of instructors. In regard to others, they are obliged, in order to live to take up other employments outside of their school. Thus they become frequently secretaries of the mayor, and on Sunday sing in the church. They are, therefore, under the surveillance of the mayor and dependent upon the cure. But what is still worse, the instruction itself is wholly at the discretion and subject to the approbation of the cure and the bishop. Schools are in such a manner dependent on the Church, that they are scarcely more than a fief of the latter. Now you know that the Catholic clergy of France are not in sympathy with any enlightenment of the people. As a result, it is as much religious instruction that is given in our schools as primary instruction. The pupils learn little reading or writing, but much catechism; little history, but in its stead prayers to the Virgin. While, as regards giving our children some indispensable principles of life, some idea of their rights and duties as citizens, - for they must some time become citizens, good or bad, - that is not to be thought of. That would be an unheard-of piece of audacity, a wild undertaking, the thought of which none but the brain of a wicked enthusiast could ever have entertained.
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