In Search of the Victorian Education

Why Can’t Education Change?


Queen Victoria became Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1837 and reigned continually until her death in 1901. The UK was the preeminent Colonial Super Power when she came to power, although that term was not used. Spain and Portugal lost their colonies in the New World. The Holy Roman Empire gone. Russia emerged from the Napoleonic Wars as a great empire but was not a global competitor with the UK. France, changed by the Revolution, lost the Napoleonic Empire, and the United States ended at the Mississippi River.

Wealthy British children in 1837 were educated at home by governesses until about age 10 when the boys went off to Public Schools like The Rugby School, The Harrow School, or The Perse School and girls continued education at home. Poor British children grew without formal education and most could not read or write. In 1870 a law passed for compulsory education of all children 5 to 10 years old. As most poor children worked, this put a great strain on many British families to maintain even a subsistence living. Nevertheless, the push was to end child labor, not necessarily to provide education. This movement spread like Abolition and proved as irresistible.

The United States education was different in 1837. The large number of religious dissenters who settled in the colonies influenced education. After the Reformation that began in 1524 Martin Luther called for mandatory education laws in Europe to ensure that more Christians could read the Bible. Massachusetts passed a compulsory education law in 1647. Unlike their British peers, most American children learned to read from the Bible at an early age.

Spread of Compulsory Education

Compulsory education spread across Europe and by the 1830s most countries were using the Prussian Model of education. The Prussian Model of Gottlieb Fichte provided hierarchical education for commoners, guided by those who determined the needs of society. Called “Prussian” because it was supported by the Emperor. His army’s defeat in 1808 at the hands of Napoleon seemed to come from too much individuality in the army. He proactively sought a solution.

The Prussian Educational System consisted of tiers. All education would be free for eight years. During that time, elite pupils would be elected to continue their educations at a secondary level and would be trained to think, control, educate, and rule the country in their adulthoods. The rest of the students, the 99%, would, during that same eight year education, be trained well enough to subserviently work in the lower sectors of industry, agriculture, and the military.” (From Weebly.com. See the reference below.)

Prussian Model of Education
The Prussians Set the Bar

The British compulsory education act curbed child labor, but Americans, particularly American industrialists saw the benefits of the Prussian Method and led the way in education. Massachusetts expanded the compulsory education law in 1852 to require every city and town to offer primary school, focusing on grammar and arithmetic. The secular philosophy prevailed. The state fined parents who refused to send their children to school. Egregious cases required the state to strip parental rights. The children taken from a bad environment were apprenticed to other families to be schooled.

By the 1850s most places continued to provide education through private schools and through churches. The Common Schooling Movement of Horace Mann took hold as communities tried to curb the influence of parochial schools on the immigrant children coming from Catholic countries. This moved the emphasis from church and private schools to secular public schools.

Compulsory Education Law

Compulsory education is the still the law. Exemptions exist for homeschooling and the Amish, but every state requires that the homeschoolers follow specific regulations. Ironically, the most pressure for home schooling now comes from Christian dissenters who are not happy with the results of government common school where it is unlikely children are exposed to the Bible. Private schools must also comply with education law. In every sense public school, common school, and compulsory school is government school. What was just a vision for European, British, and American reformers at the start of Queen Victoria’s Reign, is now an accepted right of the state, the law of the land.

The vision realized, now public schools take responsibility not just for compulsory attendance to limit child labor, but following in the early Massachusetts model, they aggressively take responsibility for the welfare of the child, often protecting the child from the family. Today Social Services and Foster Care provide this government intervention, but the philosophy of enforcing the government’s rights over children remains the same as it began in Massachusetts 168 years ago. During the strictest COVID-19 lock-down in 2020 when public schools provided no classroom education, they still provided meals and health care to students. When all education stopped, or went online, the schools still provided social services. Public schools may not create good industrial workers anymore, but the central mission is unchanged. Compulsion. Control. Schools delivers social welfare. It really does take a village to provide public education in America.

Online Resources:

The Prussian Model

Compulsory Education Law

Victora

Historic Maps 1837 

Victorian Children

Early British Public Schools

 

Teaching Yourself and Your Own Children

We make choices for children to further some unstated goal. We live in the best place we can afford to live. We make choices about neighborhood safety. We try to sort out bad influences. We control the content of social media and entertainment. We monitor online activities to protect kids from predators and the wild impulses of their peers. We try to live a life by example. We teach them our values. We make choices. Schooling choice, for example. People know the neighborhood schools before buying a house. Knowing where the neighborhood school sits is not the same as knowing that it is the right choice for your kids.

The next step is knowing what certifications the children will need. Public schools provide a standard set of certificates, maps of progress K-12, records of periodic proficiency test scores, aptitude test scores and graduation certification. Human Resource Administrators use these to evaluate job candidates. Post-secondary schools use the transcripts for admissions. These certifications are the most common reason people who cannot afford private school choose the neighborhood school. Private schools provide all this and allure, that is, an aura of merit for the students who go private. So you found the house. Now the choice is can I map out the necessary certification and learning for my child? Can I afford private school? Or do I schedule a visit to the admissions officer at the local public school.

private school child

Believe it or not, the answers to those questions will be driven by your core values. NPR progressive values, traditional conservative values, Christian, Islamic or secular values all require different learning paths. Any values can be wedged into any choice in the child’s preparation for a career at a company, working for the government, working at the local garage, or in an insurance agency. All schools bring baggage. Life at school becomes more productive when the school shares the family’s values. If your values are preeminent, then teaching yourself and your own children falls into the same bucket as the good neighborhood. People who are motivated by creed might find common public education resistant, since a part of public school is inculcation of a specific ideology. People who are more secular may not care what the school injects. Those who chose private schools probably chose specifically for this socialization. Government common schools and public education make life difficult for families who do not share their values, so these are well advised to homeschool, or find a strong alternative suitable to their core values, like Hebrew Day School for religious Jewish parents.

I’m sure you get the point. Most parents use their education as a guideline for their children. If a parent is content with his or her education, choices are easy. If the experience was unhappy, new things are attractive. For example, the adult with means who attended private boarding school will try to send the child to the same or similar school. The parent who attended public school or Catholic School, will probably send the child to a similar school. Unfortunately, many parents make the wrong choice. They sent the kids to private schools that will move the kids into a different class than the family. Or they choose the neighborhood school because they need the “school-care” provided, and they are surprised by the continual friction against their own beliefs.

This brings up social status. The choice of schooling, private, public, or home, has implications in the stability or mobility of the family and the child in relation to the family. Income goals and social status are decided here. Do you want your kids to have what you have? Something better? Something different? Surprisingly few parents look honestly at this issue. A poor child with the right advanced degree can rise to any level in society. A rich kid may just coast and never have a reason to get good at anything. A smart kid, or an independent kid, can be permanently stunted in a public school.

Academic certification is the key to social mobility not wealth.

Many entrepreneurs got an education, but did not bother with academic certification. As Bunker Hunt, the billionaire oil tycoon said at a business seminar at University of Texas, “I dropped out of college because I didn’t want to work for someone else. Doctors, lawyers, and business executives all work for someone else. They needed college to get that job. I didn’t.” Elon Musk, Larry Ellison, Bill Gates and many more have the same story. It works for the smart, independent kid, but is not for everyone.

Those who want to work for themselves require education, not certification. As Elon Musk says every so often, you can learn almost anything on the internet. You don’t need a degree for that. The people who work for him need degrees. He didn’t. This is true for all but the richest 1% who are not reading this anyway. 

Teaching yourself and your own children is simple once the difference between education and certification is understood. The choices between institutional learning and education are obvious. If you want your child to be President, then you have a set of tasks to get the right certifications. If that child is destined to be an organic farmer or eCommerce shop owner, then just educate.