Industrialization and Public Education: Social Cohesion and Social Stratification

  • Jim Carl

The expansion of public education and industrialization went hand in hand. After all, had not the pioneering philosopher of free-market capitalism, Adam Smith, foreseen good reasons at the outset of the industrial revolution for nations to educate their populations? “The more they are instructed, the less liable they are to the delusions of enthusiasm and superstition,” he argued. “An instructed and intelligent people, besides, are always more decent and orderly than an ignorant and stupid one” (Kandel, 1933: 51). Before the industrial age, provision of formal schooling virtually everywhere was scarce — dependent on tuition and fees, voluntarist, and usually limited to males. Education belonged to the church in feudal Europe, and with seven out of every ten workers engaged in agriculture, the slender surplus enabled only small percentages of people to earn their bread through the written word (Bloch, 1963; Cipolla, 1993). Although some states, especially in Protestant regions, required villages and towns to keep schools, such edicts were subject to the wants and resources of the localities, and often had little material effect. With the growth of industry, support for public education grew, and the result was a transformation of schooling from limited provision into widespread and hierarchical educational systems (Katz, 1987).

Precise relationships between industrialization and the rise of public education are difficult to pin down, however. If we take as our unit of analysis the long nineteenth century that stretches from the dawn of the industrial revolution to the eve of World War I, then we discern a general correspondence between the spread of industry and the rise of mass schooling. The industrial revolution sparked prolonged, rising rates of productivity, first in the British economy and then in continental Europe, the northern United States, and Upper Canada (Madrick, 2002). As educational access widened, the education of women increased, the study of the classical curriculum declined, and, by the twentieth century, the importance of schooling for both national economic development and individual mobility took on the status of an “education gospel” (Grubb & Lazerson, 2004: 1–2). Gains in income and wealth during the industrial age made possible larger public expenditures for the welfare of the general population, and all governments considered schooling in their expanded social calculus.

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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

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  • Jim Carl

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