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Defined as an increase in the percentage of children receiving some sort of schooling each year, educational expansion did not depend upon the creation of a state school system. Its origins were not only local but rural, and the big surge probably occurred between and Although its magnitude and its causes are murky, the religious and political as well as the economic purposes of schools played Education and social change in nineteenth-century Massachusetts a role.

Chapter 2 explores the evidence on this problem. In the period of increasing state involvement after about , enrollment rates in Massachusetts stabilized at a high level. A second trend in school participation then looms more important, an intensification rather than an expansion of schooling. As annual school sessions lengthened and average daily attendance increased, the amount of education received by the average child increased.

The details of this process, and some of its possible ramifications, are also presented in Chapter 2. The third major trend in Massachusetts schooling concerned organization, not participation. From the mid-nineteenth century on, schooling became more centralized. At the local level this meant the development of more tightly organized urban systems and pressure to consolidate independent rural districts into town units as we detail for Lynn and Boxford in Chapter 6. At the state level the existence of a school fund, a board of education, and a growing body of educational legislation did not constitute anything approaching the extensive state regulation of education to which we have become accustomed in the late twentieth century; however, the new influence of the state was clearly evident, and it appeared sufficiently potent to contemporaries to rouse considerable opposition, as our analysis of politics in Chapter 8 illustrates.

The first trend, expansion of enrollments prior to , is only tentatively supported by the limited evidence; if it actually took place, however, it is important, and the occurrence of such a trend is supported not only by our work but by the ongoing research of others as well. The second trend, the intensification of schooling per child after , is indisputable and should be seen as the most substantial quantitative impact of educational reform in mid-nineteenth-century Massachusetts.

The third trend, toward centralization and bureaucracy, has been strongly emphasized by recent historians of education. It was against this trend that most resistance was directed. In the course of the analysis we discuss many further educational trends, such as the shift from private to public schooling, and we treat some special aspects of school attendance in depth. Chapter 3 explores age of school entry as a way of understanding changing definitions of educational responsibility between the school and the family.

Chapter 4 investigates the age of school leaving as a way of measuring the differential use of schools by different social groups. Whereas Chapter 4 analyzes schooling differences among groups within communities, Chapter 5 investigates differences among communities by analyzing the characteristics of towns associated with high levels of educational activity.

On questions of social context, our neg- Massachusetts as a case study ative findings are as important as our more complex positive findings. When controlling for a variety of other factors, we found that neither a town's size nor its extent of manufacturing activity was a key predictor of educational activity, contrary to what one might expect from recent works emphasizing urbanization and industrialization as causes of educational activity.

Of course, such associations are not wholly mistaken, but multivariate analysis reveals some of the complexity of the process of education on the one hand and of indicators of social change on the other. In the case of urbanization, the problem is partly one of definition, which we explore in detail. Some measures of educational participation are indeed ranged along a rough rural-urban continuum, best measured by an index of the population density and agricultural land in a community, rather than by simple population size.

But other cultural and economic factors were also relevant, and population size itself appears to have played an important role in the organization and bureaucratization of schooling, a process difficult to quantify but evident in our analysis of Lynn and in other scholars' recent studies of urban education. The finding that, among Massachusetts towns, manufacturing was not strongly associated with measures of educational participation or measures of supply, such as the length of the school year, raises doubts about the relationship of educational reform and factory labor.

It is difficult to state a summary conclusion about the complex social context of educational change, but the following generalizations held true in our various analyses and capture part of the ecological picture. On the one hand, high annual enrollments were associated with rural communities, rural life-style, and Protestant churchgoing. The social context of our first trend, then, was rural, and it built upon traditional schooling practices. On the other hand, the intensification of education and the support for centralization were associated with those dense urban places that were highly developed economically.

For example, commercial activity was strongly associated with high average days of schooling per child see Chapter 5 , and both commercial and manufacturing towns displayed legislative support for the state board of education see Chapter 8. During the period to , on which our statistics concentrate, there was a tendency for the educational practices of Massachusetts towns to converge in terms of enrollment, age of students, expenditures, use of female teachers, and other matters, although some of the characteristic differences still persisted.

Furthermore, the homogenization and escalation of schooling across different groups and different communities should not be allowed to obscure resistance to the kind Education and social change in nineteenth-century Massachusetts of educational system that was being created, resistance voiced throughout the nineteenth century and lingering to some degree at its close. Although there was virtually no opposition to school going as such, many Democrats opposed the creation of state power over education and voted accordingly, many Catholics resented the Protestant bias of public schools and created their own schools instead, many rural communities resisted consolidation and clung to district control, and many urban employers flouted early compulsory school laws and hired youngsters anxious to augment family income.

None of these were simple battles, however, as we hope to show in Chapter 8 in the case of the board of education. No single characteristic is sufficient to predict how a person or community would stand on the many educational issues of the day. Furthermore, opposition to state involvement in schooling was somewhat compromised by the almost universal support for formal education; and opposition to increased expenditure was eventually overcome, not only by this traditional support for education, but by the expansive economy of Massachusetts, which, as we show in Chapter 7, helped to support a simultaneous transfer from private to public education and an increase in per capita expenditure for schooling.

At the same time, the absolute scale of things was increasing rapidly, both in cities of Massachusetts and in the state as a whole. Systematization was to some extent a response to population growth.

Education and Social Change

But none of this seemed simple or inevitable at the time. Nor would it have seemed very likely to a Massachusetts resident in We return, then, to the beginning of the story, and to the beginning of our analysis of education and social change in nineteenth-century Massachusetts. Trends in school attendance in nineteenth-century Massachusetts The "sleepy" period: enrollment levels in the American Northeast, Leading political theorists of the Revolutionary generation considered an educated citizenry essential to the survival of the American republic.

Some, like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Rush, devised plans for systems of common schooling.

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Florence S. Boos, “The Education Act of Before and After” | BRANCH

If the fragile American nation could be saved only by an educated citizenry, and if an educated citizenry could be maintained only by a state system of common schools, why were two generations of town officials and state legislators so lackadaisical about providing systematic, universal education?

Why was there a lag of forty years between the creation of the republic and the creation of a state board of education in Massachusetts? Perhaps the public did not share the anxieties of the Founding Fathers about the American polity. Perhaps they shared their anxieties but did not share their faith that schooling would preserve republican institutions. Perhaps, on the contrary, they agreed with both propositions but believed that schooling in their society was ample and that most children received the kind of rudimentary intellectual and moral training the political theorists had in mind, even though much schooling was neither publicly controlled nor free.

We believe that this third explanation best fits the evidence, and we believe that research into the educational history of the early United States should, for its central focus, turn from the unfulfilled plans of political elites to local patterns of schooling and other forms of education, that is, from the intellectual to the social history of education. Economic historians, like historians of the family and childhood, wish to know more about actual patterns of mass education than about the impressions of reformers, and although we have long known that the two are not synonymous, it has been difficult to get at the educational behavior of ordinary children in a prestatistical age.


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Education and social change in nineteenth-century Massachusetts Americans' apparent indifference to the educational schemes of republican theorists in the early days of nationhood led to the myth of the "sleepy" period in our educational history. The illusion that there was little schooling prior to in the American Northeast can be traced to school reformers like Horace Mann and Henry Barnard, who were hostile to private schools, such as academies, as well as to the small district schools that prevailed in rural areas.

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They preferred the model of the mid-seventeenth-century New England town, where schools served the whole town and were required by colony-wide laws. As population dispersed, however, the district system developed in rural areas; and in the eighteenth century urban development fostered private educational alternatives. The evolution of American public schooling was checked by the Revolutionary War, wrote Ellwood Cubberley, and "something like half a century of our national life passed before we note again the rise of a distinctively American educational consciousness and the development of distinctively American schools once more begins.

Yet even if we wipe away these preconceptions and set out tabula rasa to assess the extent of schooling in the early republic, difficulties loom. Precisely because schooling was unregulated and voluntary in the early national period, records are scarce. It is not accidental that the appearance of the first systematic school statistics coincides with the educational reforms of the late s and s. The data were a crucial tool of the reformers in their public relations efforts.

To get comparable data for the "sleepy" period from the s to requires some hard digging and some cautious extrapolations, but it can be done. A key criterion for the extent of schooling is the percentage of school-age children enrolled, so we shall concentrate on enrollment as 10 Trends in school attendance the starting point in assessing assertions about the rise or decline of common schooling.

If we wished to assess the "impact" or "influence" of schooling, we would need to know more about daily attendance rates, the length of the school year, the average number of years attended per child, the distribution of schooling patterns by social groups, the quality of instruction, the organization of the schools, and the curriculum.

Even with all this information it would be difficult to infer what children actually learned in schools. But the first task is to determine how many people were going to school. If total enrollment is accepted as a crude index of the extent of schooling, the thesis of a rise in common schooling during the s or s in the Northeast is open to challenge. Albert Fishlow, writing in , questioned the assumption that the efforts of Horace Mann and his fellow reformers had increased the amount of education received in New England.

Industrialization and Public Education: Social Cohesion and Social Stratification

Fishlow's regional figures for total annual enrollments between and showed a slight decline in New England, a slight rise in the Middle Atlantic states, and more substantial gains in the South and West. Maris Vinovskis has refined the data for Massachusetts by controlling for age and has somewhat qualified Fishlow's denial that Horace Mann greatly affected enrollment in his home state; but the main outline of Fishlow's argument about the period to remains valid. Using scattered reports, and extrapolating for missing data, he produced a state-level comparison of annual enrollment in and , concluding that "little change occurred between the two dates.

Fishlow concluded that "what scattered reports are available suggest a more optimistic evaluation of the state of educational facilities prior to the reform efforts of the s and s. Fishlow thought not.

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Though admitting that estimates for the years before are "more hazardous," he nonetheless concluded tentatively that "education was being prosecuted with comparable vigor over the whole period" from to We have converted his rates to percentages of the estimated population aged birth to nineteen for comparability with later tables. This generalization is not only very speculative but very important, and it deserves to be pursued.

It has ramifications for the administrative and political history of education as well as for the economic history of the new nation.


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Some recent historians, influenced by the reform failures of the s, have questioned the efficacy or the desirability of state intervention in such activities as schooling. Because the enrollments of the early nineteenth century were the product of a mixed private-public, nonregulated mode of education, accurate estimates of school participation for different social groups and different regions prior to state systematization could be helpful in providing perspective on the necessity and the effects of intervention.

Fishlow, for example, argued that estimates of increased schooling per capita between and were greatly exaggerated and that therefore we should be skeptical about any alleged contribution of education to rising productivity during this early period of industrialization.