Sunday, August 3, 2008

"On Secular Education"; John Stuart Mill

"SIR, the commencement at Manchester of a movement for a national education not under the control or management of either established or non-established clergy [ ] is not merely a good thing, but [ ] a thing destined to succeed...The promoters doubtless thought no less, but they probably did not expect so early a recognition of their prospects.

"If this is only a change in words and means nothing it deserves no better name than that of deception ; if it does mean anything, if by unsectarian is to be understood something different from secular education, the broad principle of religious freedom which was to be the foundation of this great educational movement is abandoned.

"There is not a better defined word in the English language. Secular is whatever has reference to this life. Secular instruction is instruction respecting the concerns of this life. Secular subjects therefore are all subjects except religion. All the arts and sciences are secular knowledge. To say that secular means irreligious implies that all the arts and sciences are irreligious, and is very like saying that all professions except that of the law are illegal. There is a difference between irreligious and not religious, however it may suit the purposes of many persons to confound it.

"To know the laws of the physical world, the properties of their own bodies and minds, the past history of their species, is as much a benefit to the Jew, the Mussulman, the Deist, the Atheist, as to the orthodox churchman ; and it is as iniquitous to withhold it from them. Education provided by the public must be education for all, and to be education for all it must be purely secular education.

"I cannot help remarking how much less confidence professed Christians appear to have in the truth and power of their principles than infidels generally have in theirs. Disbelievers in Christianity almost always hail the advance of public intelligence as favourable to them ; the more informed and exercised a mind is, the more likely they account it to adopt their opinions : but I cannot find a trace of similar confidence in most of the professedly religious. If they hold their belief with the same full assurance as the others their disbelief, surely infidels and the children of infidels are those to whom, even more than to any others, they would be eager to give all instruction which could render their minds more capable of pursuing and recognizing truth."

John Stuart Mill (Not delivered : written in 1849)
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