Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic. : 1855 -1918)
Saturday 4 February 1871
In continuing this subject we have the advantage of the speech of Sir ‘ James McCulloch to the electors at Mornington to assist us in understanding the bill so far as it embodies the intentions of the Government. The proposal to make education compulsory by means of penal clauses is a novelty, Sir James pointed out, in a British community. All laws which have been passed effecting society have been for its protection in the repression of crime, but in no instance in modern times has it been attempted to interfere with the subject, or dictate to him what he should do, so long as he conformed to the laws in force. If we can compel a man to educate his children according to our present notions of the right of the State to interfere with the privileges of the subject, we can compel him to dress his children according to State regulations.
The moment we penetrate into the inner shell, and get fairly into the domestic circle with an Act of Parliament, it follows that we can do pretty much as we please. This is a startling proposition, and one that ought not to be adopted without considerable discussion. The fact that it is not new in other countries, and has been attended with considerable success in Prussia, is no argument to us in its favor, for the simple reason that we are not Prussians but British. We claim to stand almost alone in our sacred regard for personal rights and personal freedom. If we are to infringe these it must not be because some other country has done it, but because we are satisfied that it is essential for the protection and preservation of society that it should be done. In considering the proposal to make education compulsory two questions present themselves : is it required, and is it practicable? To the first, no one who has considered the large proportion of uneducated children we have the number of Bedouins in our towns and cities ; and that greatest of all colonial pests, ” larrikinism,” can arrive at any other conclusion than that some steps are necessary to meet and put down so great an evil. It is an evil not of a temporary character, but an incident peculiar to our colonial life. The parental tie is almost nominal over the precocious youth in the humbler grades of life. He is able almost from the time he has passed his fifth year to find for himself abundant food, money easily earned, and a genial climate enables him to dispense with the care, comfort and accommodation of home. It is almost an impossibility that a man so reared should be other than a hardened criminal, accustomed from his earliest youth to a lile of idleness and to prison associations. In the interests of society it is necessary that provision should be made to house and bring under control this class. Will a general law compelling all children to be educated meet such a difficulty as this ? Who is to send those who have left parental control — if ever they were conscious of such a thing existing — to school, and maintain them? The proposed bill will not. If the bill is not practicable in towns and cities, let us. see what will be the effect of it in country districts ? As population spreads, and the work of colonisation goes on, we shall always have a large population scattered, and far away from centres of civilisation. In the remote gullies, where perhaps the nearest hut may be a mile away, and the nearest school fifteen or twenty miles away, how can any law force a man to send his children to school ? Stern necessity knows no law, and the poverty and isolation of such persons will compel them to disregard the law which requires them to send their children to school. The evil which this bill attempts to grapple with is patent and admitted, but no declaratory law, to be enforced by. penal ties on persons who cannot be reached, will meet it. It is, however, a difficulty which can be met by a series of provisions ; but, unfortunately, the bill proposed by the Government does not contain them. To put down what may be termed city Arabs and larrikins an extension of the vagrant law is required.
All children found at large sleeping out at nights, and infesting, as they do now,the public thoroughfares at nightfall, should he liable to, be arrested and taken before a magistrate, where their antecedents could be enquired into, and unless it was proved that they had parents or guardians who would take charge of them and be responsible for their conduct and education, they should be sent to an industrial school to learn some trade or calling. To meet the next class of children, whose parents prefer to employ or to send them out to earn money instead of giving them an education, a law prohibiting the employment of any child under a certain age, and not even then, if he has not the education fixed by the State, will be found most effectual.
A similar bill to protect young children being employed in factories has had almost wonderful effect in the manufacturing towns in England. To the last class — those living in the outlying districts — the State should provide itinerating teachers, who should visit each locality once a week and give the required instruction to educate them up to the standard fixed by the State. With these provisions the clause proposed in the Government bill would be unnecessary, and what it would fail to effect could be accomplished.