Technical Memories (Part 15) Awake, Arise or Forever Fallen
Sligo born William Joseph Myles Starkie (1860 - 1920) was a noted Greek scholar and translator of Aristophanes. He was President of Queen's College, Galway (1897–1899) and the last Resident Commissioner of National Education for Ireland under British rule (1899–1920). He was the second of the keynote speakers at the eleventh annual congress of the Irish Technical Instruction Association on 5 June 1912, which was held at the Crawford Municipal Technical Instruction, Sharman Crawford Street, Cork.
William Starkie was well known for his controversial reform packages in education. He was appointed Resident Commissioner of National Education for Ireland in February 1899. He started with abolishing the 'results' system in which the amount of a teacher's salary depended on the results of the annual oral examinations of their pupils. This, he argued in documents in UCC’s library, tended to produce a very mechanical form of teaching aimed mainly at satisfying the Inspector. A child could pass a Reading Test and not understand a word of it.
Introducing the payment of a regular salary improved matters. In 1904 he began a campaign to amalgamate small schools, but here he ran foul of the Catholic bishops and clergy. Some clerics opposed the amalgamation of boys and girls schools as being morally dangerous. In the end, the Catholic authorities prevailed.
William Starkie was responsible for making Shakespeare familiar to the boys and girls in the National Schools throughout Ireland, and he also introduced Irish History into the National School's primary curriculum. Up until then the authorities forbade lessons in Irish History or even Geography in order to prevent any chance of nurturing independence in the classroom. He authorized the distribution of a ‘pro-establishment’ Irish history text by Patrick Weston Joyce.
Dr William Starkie’s paper at the Crawford Institute congress, which was published in the Cork Examiner, was on the importance of creating continuation schools or a technical form of secondary schools. He said the motto he had selected for his paper was from John Milton’s Paradise Lost and the address by Lucifer, the Fallen Angel to the angels of heaven, “Awake, Arise! Or be forever fallen”. In Milton’s book I, Satan lures the angels to his side by making them believe that to follow him is to rise above God and that if they do not, they will be fallen angels.
Starkie continued in the early parts of his speech to criticize the House of Commons approach to Irish education, that in a sense it was a fallen angel of interest in Irish political affairs. He argues that the important debate on Irish education estimates was conducted in 1911 by about forty Irish members of parliament.
Starkie’s interest in education across religious groups is interesting. For example he drew strongly on the words of Sir Edward Carson that “the neglect and starvation of Irish education, has been a reproach to the intelligence and humanity of successive administrations”. Carson was leader of the Irish Unionist Alliance and Ulster Unionist Party between 1910 and 1921 and strongly against the Home Rule Bill going through in 1912. He also drew on the strong speeches and words of Otto Von Bismarck, the German statesman who unified numerous German states into a powerful German Empire under Prussian leadership in the 1860s and 1870s:
“We shall be ruined by examinations, the majority of those, who pass them are naturally so run down that they are incapable of initiative ever afterwards. They take up a negative attitude towards everything that is submitted to them; and, what is worst of all, they have a great opinion of their capabilities because they once passed their examinations with credit."
Speaking on this Starkie continued, “What we want is not learned Mandarine, but men of energy and intellectual grip…after all, the only searching examination is that of real life; and if we fail in it, all academic successes are mere vanity and vexation of spirit”.
In his speech, Starkie described that whilst traveling about Ireland in 1903, that in many parts of the country, where the children were brightest, and the schools most efficient, there was an almost complete dearth of higher education suited to their needs. Thus in Kerry and West Cork, where primary education was according to him “probably the most excellent in the country”, there were no secondary schools except in Dingle, Tralee, Killarney and Macroom and Skibbereen.
As there were no state bursaries available, and few traveling facilities, the existing secondary schools could not be utilized by the outlying population except by candidates for the priesthood, who received ecclesiastical help. A similar lack of higher education he noted existed in Donegal, Mayo and Galway.
He gave the example of the Scotch educational system, who were well supplied with what he called intermediate schools. They had found it necessary to establish thirty-five higher grade schools. Starkie spent some time visiting some of these schools in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Such schools in Ireland, according to him, would have two aims, first to continue education beyond the elementary stage, and secondly to communicate branches of knowledge as to suggest various occupations in life to students.
To be continued…