Play into Game: Fitting Education to the Masses (around 1800)


In the late eighteenth century in Britain, a number of social and economic conditions converged to make it seem desirable for education to be more widely available than it had been before. The population had increasingly concentrated in urban centers to find employment as small farms had difficulty surviving. When the people whom one educational writer referred to as the "industrious poor" worked in urban manufacturing, they were often obliged to leave their children unattended (and thus to make them "latch-key children"). At the very end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, educational writers developed schemes for providing education for such children (in London, in Madras, and then, most prominently, in the United States). These writers hoped to reduce the cost of education so that it could be extended to more students, but in the process of economizing, they changed fundamental elements of previous understandings of education – particularly by moving away from an emphasis on individual teachers and individual students to an emphasis on classes of students. This talk will take up the importance of these developments and about the debates over the proper relation between schools and the Church of England that delayed universal elementary education in England until 1870. In particular, this talk will address the importance of a move away from rote memorization to the development of an appreciation for facts.