European Experiments

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European Experiments


Lancasterian Schools. Educational trends emanating from Europe appeared in various experiments that flourished and ebbed in the unrestricted atmosphere of the West. In 1798 the British Quaker Joseph Lancaster, lacking funds yet eager to teach literacy to children in Londons slums, devised an educational plan through which student monitors would aid a single teacher, enabling him to simultaneously instruct several hundred children. Arranging his school into small classes of equal ability, he placed each monitor in charge of about ten boys, teaching them letters of the alphabet and simple words, which they traced in dry sand. For more difficult lessons the students switched to slates, copying from cards that the monitors read aloud and passed from group to group. The bedlam that could have resulted from several hundred children in one room was avoided by Lancasters insistence on uniform, drill-like behavior. Students were constantly marching, reciting, and responding to verbal commands. They also were motivated by emulation and were encouraged to compete with each other by earning and wearing a card indicating their rank in the class. Earning tickets similar to wages, they could purchase a toy to take home as a prize. Legislators and promoters in the United States extolled the Lancasterian system for its economy, efficiency, and machinelike replicability. During the urban depression following the War of 1812, the system was adopted by the Pennsylvania legislature for education of the children of the poor, and in 1818 it became the first public school system in the state. The New York legislature followed Pennsylvanias example in 1825 when they adopted as a public school system the citys existing Lancasterian primary schools and new monitorial high school. In the 1820s the New York teachers were called operatives, and the machinelike replicability of the system was considered an educational panacea. Yet the schools were established not only in manufacturing areas but also throughout the nation. Children learned literacy, drill-like behavior, and the practices of a cash economy in more than 150 Lancasterian schools, not only in eastern states but also in such western locations as Cincinnati, Detroit, New Orleans, and Mexican Los Angeles.

School Reform

Legislation providing district schools on the New England model was enacted in Ohio in 1821, but school reform similar to that advocated by Horace Mann was promoted in the state in 1837 by Calvin Stowe, a professor at Lane Seminary who had married Harriet, a daughter of the seminarys president, Lyman Beecher. Stowe was a participant in Cincinnatis Western Literary Institute and College of Professional Teachers, which evolved from a conference in that city in 1831. Authors, teachers, clergymen, and other professionals met annually to deliver papers on Western education, which they published in the Institutes Transactions. Providing self-appointed leadership on such topics as female education and teacher training, the group sought to influence educational policy in the West. When Stowe embarked on a trip to Europe to purchase a library for Lane, he was asked by these individuals to observe the methods of Pestalozzi and the Prussian public schools. In the Report on Elementary Public Instruction in Europe he prepared for the Ohio legislature, Stowe argued that if monarchies could create affectionate patriotism through education, it was even more important for a republican government to awaken national spirit and develop and direct the talents of its citizens. Advocating republican education for immigrants and for girls who would be future wives and mothers, he called for dedicated teachers, supportive parents, and an eight-year continuously attended, gradually graded course for children. The report was printed and disseminated in ten thousand copies by the Ohio legislature, arousing the interest of educators in other states and influencing legislators throughout the antebellum period.

Sources: Edgar W. Knight, ed., Reports on European Education (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1930);

Milton Rugoff, The Beechers: An American Family in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Harper & Row, 1981).

New Harmony, Indiana. In the same decade different educational methods based on precepts of Heinrich Pestalozzi found expression in the West. As a young man in the 1770s at his farm near Bern, Switzerland, Pestalozzi had attempted to apply the principles of Jean-Jacques Rousseaus educational treatise Emile (1762) to destitute orphans. Drawing on that experience, he wrote Leonard and Gertrude in 1781, followed by How Gertrude Teaches Her Children in 1811, in which he explained how a childs nature could unfold through discovery of the environment and self-directed activity in an atmosphere of affection. From 1804 to 1825 Pestalozzi conducted a teachers institute at Yverdon, Switzerland, training assistants and visitors who disseminated his ideas across the Continent and greatly influenced the state-supported school system of King Wilhelm III in Prussia. On a tour of Europe the English industrial reformer Robert Owen was so taken with these methods that he enrolled his sons Robert Dale and William in an academy directed by a follower of Pestalozzi, Philipp Emanuel von Fellenberg. After experience with his model textile mill village at New Lanark, Scotland, Owen came to believe that education included all aspects of society. In 1817 he devised his educational parallelogram, a planned community of family living quarters, childrens dormitories, communal dining rooms, chapels, and schools, all supported by the communitys stables, farms, and factories. Hoping to implement his ideas in America, in 1824 Owen purchased a religious community at New Harmony, Indiana. Since 1806 one of Pestalozzis Yverdon assistants, Joseph Neef, had been joined by a Scottish scientist, William Maclure, in applying the masters principles in a Philadelphia school. Accompanied by other progressive teachers and scientists, Neef and Maclure came to New Harmony in 1825, where they conducted Pestalozzian boarding schools for infants and children and industrial training schools for adults. As the community deteriorated, these experiments were shortlived. Nevertheless, Robert Owen brought to the West a secular vision that education was the means to a perfect society.


Lawrence A. Cremin, American Education: The National Experience, 1783-1876 (New York: Harper & Row, 1980);

Robert B. Downs, Heinrich Pestalozzi, Father of Modern Pedagogy (Boston: Twayne, 1975);

Carl F. Kaestle, Joseph Lancaster and the Monitorial School Movement (New York: Teachers College Press, 1973);

Joseph Lancaster, Improvements in Education as it Respects the Industrious Classes of the Community (London: Darton & Harvey, 1805).

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European Experiments

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European Experiments