Schools and Schooling

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Paul F. Grendler

Schools are intimately linked to European society because almost every schooling decision has had social consequences. Schooling divides the population into the educated elite and the unschooled or less-schooled mass. Education also creates new social distinctions. Different groups have received more or less schooling or distinctive schooling according to their economic condition, intended occupation, religion, and gender. Education has enabled a limited number of academically gifted individuals to rise from the ranks of workers, peasants, and the lower middle class into the professional elite and sometimes higher. European schooling has gradually been extended to include a larger proportion of the population and to give the majority of the population more years of schooling. On the other hand, curricula have remained remarkably stable. Italian Renaissance humanists created a classical curriculum that from then on served to educate most of Europe's elite. Finally, almost all the political, religious, and private authorities who created schools intended to impart civic, cultural, linguistic, moral, religious, and social values as well as academic skills. Because the results have seldom satisfied the founders and because values change, every century has seen attempts to reform European schooling.


Renaissance Europe inherited from the Middle Ages an uncoordinated and diverse school structure. Different kinds of schools competed with or complemented each other.

The organization of schooling, 1400–1500. One way to understand schools is to note their sponsors, that is, the institutions, entities, or persons who governed or paid the expenses for schools. A single schoolmaster wishing to create an independent school—the equivalent of an American private school in the twentieth century—typically opened a one-room school in his home or in rented quarters, and neighborhood parents paid him fees to teach their sons. His only qualifications were his teaching skill and his ability to persuade parents to send their children. The teacher might possess a university degree, which meant facility in Latin and acquaintance with higher learning in rhetoric, philosophy, law, or theology, or he might be little more learned than his pupils.

The tutor was another independent schoolmaster. He lived and taught in the home of a noble or wealthy merchant, or he visited the household daily. In both cases he taught only the children of the household or of two adjacent households. On occasion a tutor was the constant guide and companion, at home or in travel, to a single boy or youth of considerable wealth and social standing.

Other independent masters presided over their own boarding schools that housed, fed, and instructed children sent to them. A master of this kind became a substitute father to his charges. He taught boys in the classroom, chided their manners at table, and improved their morals throughout—at least parents hoped that this happened. Some of the most notable humanistic schools of the Italian Renaissance, operated by famous pedagogues such as Vittorino Rambaldoni da Feltre (1373/1378–1446/1447) and Guarino Guarini of Verona (1374–1460), were independent boarding schools.

The endowed school was an independent school that endured beyond the lifetime of a single teacher or founder. A wealthy individual left a sum of money for a school; endowment income paid the master's salary and rent for a schoolroom or building, where boys learned for free. In England before the Reformation, the master of an endowed school often had to be a priest so he could celebrate daily a mass for the repose of the donor's soul. Schoolboys learned reading, Latin, and sometimes chant. A very large endowment could create a boarding school, in which boys both studied and lived. An inadequate endowment might mean that boys had to pay supplementary fees. Sometimes endowed schools became municipal schools when the town council paid additional expenses and took over direction. Some English endowed schools founded in the late Middle Ages or the Renaissance are still teaching boys and girls. Different kinds of independent schools existed all over Europe and probably made up a large majority of schools.

The local civil authority, such as the town council, might sponsor a school. The town government chose and paid the master, occasionally imposed curricular directives, and sent a visitor to see that teacher and pupils performed satisfactorily. Sometimes municipal schools were free; but they never enrolled all the school-age boys of the town and very seldom taught girls. The town government typically supported only one or two municipal teachers, who taught a small number, perhaps fifty or sixty, of the town's schoolage boys. Often the town permitted the municipal teacher to collect fees from the students to augment his modest salary. Universal public education, with or without fees, did not arrive until the nineteenth century and only gradually won acceptance.

A third kind of school was the church school. Until the Protestant and Catholic Reformations of the sixteenth century, schools opened by an ecclesiastical authority or institution, such as a bishop, a cathedral chapter of canons, a monastery, or even the parish priest, were not numerous. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries church schools dominated the educational landscape.

Regardless of their sponsorship, actual schools were usually modest. Normally a single teacher instructed a group of boys of varying ages and abilities, anywhere from a half dozen to thirty, in a single room. If the teacher had forty pupils or more, he might have an assistant who drilled the younger boys in their lessons, such as Latin conjugations and declensions. The schoolroom might be in the teacher's home or in a separate rented room. It is unlikely that the school had an outdoor area for play or physical exercises. Drinking water and food had to be brought in. If the schoolroom had a stove, each pupil might be required to bring a stick of wood on cold days.

Only a minority of boys and a tiny minority of girls aged six to fifteen attended school. Probably about 28 percent of boys attended formal schools in Florence, Italy, in 1480, and 26 percent of boys attended formal schools in Venice in 1587. The girls' percentage was very low, probably less than 1 percent. About 20 to 25 percent of boys in England attended school in the sixteenth century and less than 5 percent of girls. About 40 percent of boys received enough schooling to become literate in the town of Cuenca (in Castile, Spain) in the sixteenth century, and perhaps 12 percent of Polish males attended school in the 1560s.

School attendance closely followed the hierarchies of wealth, occupation, and social status. Sons of nobles, wealthy merchants, and professionals, such as lawyers, physicians, notaries, high civil servants, university professors, and preuniversity teachers, were more likely to attend school than sons of craftsmen, artisans, small shopkeepers, wool workers, laborers, and servants. The primary reason for the different schooling rates was that schooling almost always cost money. The social and occupational expectations of parents were an additional factor.

Boys needed schooling, especially in Latin, in order to qualify for positions of leadership in society. But those positions and all the learned professions were barred to women. Hence few parents believed that daughters needed formal education. Some girls received informal teaching at home, but the number is impossible to estimate.

Urban dwellers were more likely to attend school than those who lived in the countryside or in farming villages because more teachers were available in towns and cities. Rural areas had few resources to dedicate to schooling and few available teachers. The distances that students might have to walk to get to school and the exposure of the schoolroom to the elements, a serious consideration in northern Europe, help explain the lower schooling rate of rural children. Although in theory schools taught all year, numerous saints' days and civic holidays, long vacations at Christmas and Easter, and carnival before Lent broke up the schedule. The need to work in the fields during harvest interrupted classes. And extremes of summer heat and winter cold closed schools or kept children home.

The classical Latin curriculum of the Renaissance. The most significant event in modern European schooling was the Renaissance adoption of a classical curriculum for the Latin schools in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Medieval Latin schools taught a mixture of manufactured verse texts of pious sentiments, grammar manuals and glossaries, and limited material from ancient classical texts. Renaissance humanists discarded the medieval curriculum in favor of the works of Virgil, Cicero, Terence, Caesar, and other ancient authors. These authors taught grammar, rhetoric, poetry, history, and moral philosophy—together the humanistic studies that imparted virtue and eloquence to the free man, or so the Renaissance believed. Students learned to write Latin in the ornate and highly rhetorical style of the Epistolae ad familiares (Familiar letters) of Cicero (106–43 b.c.), which was very different from the clear, functional, and sometimes graceless medieval Latin. They studied Virgil and Terence and read Caesar and Valerius Maximus for history. Humanist pedagogues sought guidance on Latin rhetoric and ancient pedagogy generally from the Institutio oratoria (Institutes of oratory) of the ancient Roman teacher of rhetoric Quintilian (c. 35–after 95). Italy adapted the classical Latin curriculum in the first half of the fifteenth century, and the rest of Europe followed in the early sixteenth century.

Because Latin was the language of law, medicine, science, and theology into the eighteenth century and beyond, attendance at a Latin school to learn classical Latin was the prerequisite for every professional career; all university lectures, texts, disputations, and examinations were conducted in Latin. To mention one scientific work among many, Isaac Newton (1642–1727) wrote his masterpiece, Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica (Mathematical principles of natural philosophy; 1687) in Latin. Even after Latin ceased to be the universal language for learning, pedagogues and parents believed that the study of Latin and Greek grammar prepared the mind for any intellectual endeavor. Latin and Greek literature also conveyed the high purpose and lofty moral sentiments that society and parents wanted its leaders to emulate.

The adoption of a classical humanistic curriculum had profound social consequences. The division of European education into a classical Latin curriculum for the leaders of society and professionals, and a vernacular education for the rest (see below), made schooling the key to social hierarchy. Certainly social divisions existed before the adoption of the classical curriculum and would have continued without it. But at the time a Latin classical education was crucial for anyone who wished to obtain or hold a certain position in society. Even a bright child could not learn Latin without long and difficult study. Only parents possessing a certain amount of income could afford the fees to send a son and occasionally a daughter to Latin schools for many years, and to forgo the assistance and income that a working child brought to the family. From the Renaissance to the late twentieth century, the classical curriculum defined the academic secondary school, which divided the upper and middle classes from the working class. Using a classical education as the gateway to advancement also meant that boys, and later girls, of poor and humble origins might advance through merit if they could obtain a Latin education. Free Latin schools eventually became available to some children.

The remarkable but strange decision to adopt a curriculum based on the ancient works had farreaching intellectual consequences as well. Ancient civilization, culturally Greek, spiritually pagan, and politically united under a militaristic Rome, differed greatly from contemporary European civilization, which was deeply Christian and politically divided into numerous states. Yet Europe's intellectuals and political leaders decided it was the study of the classics of ancient Rome and Greece that would render future leaders of society eloquent and morally upright. That decision held until the late twentieth century.

The classical curriculum also imparted a secular spirit to European schooling. Even though western European civilization was profoundly otherworldly in its ultimate goal, the Latin classical curriculum emphasized education for this life. Cicero, Virgil, and the other ancient pagan authors did not urge men and women to do what was morally right so as to enjoy union with the Christian God in the next world. Of course Renaissance educators were convinced that Christianity and the classics taught an identical morality of honesty, self-sacrifice for the common good, and perseverance. But the classics did not teach one to love either enemy or neighbor. Even though Catholic religious orders and Protestant divines added considerable religious content to the classical curriculum, its secular spirit remained a significant part of European education far beyond the Renaissance.

Vernacular schools. Vernacular schools also existed in every region of Europe. For example, in the major commercial city of Venice, half the boys in school attended vernacular schools in 1587 and 1588. The schools taught reading and writing in the vernacular, and often commercial mathematics to boys (and a small number of girls) destined for the world of work. This curriculum emerged from the practical experience and lay culture of the merchant community. Vernacular schools probably underwent little change during the Renaissance and beyond. Since church and state authorities did not hand down directives for vernacular schools, the teachers, who were almost always modest independent masters, taught what they pleased. Hence the children learned to read from the same adult books of popular culture that their parents enjoyed. Indeed Venetian boys sometimes brought to school from home popular vernacular books that parents wanted them to learn to read. The vernacular texts were a diverse lot, ranging from medieval saints' lives to Renaissance chivalric romances. Obviously they imparted conflicting moral values. Students would read about heroic saints who endured martyrdom for Christ, then read about knights who killed for revenge and ladies who committed adultery for love. Italian vernacular schools also taught advanced commercial mathematical skills and elementary bookkeeping. Vernacular schools in other parts of Renaissance Europe taught arithmetic, but not the rest of the commercial curriculum of Italian vernacular schools.

German vernacular schools were called Winkelschulen (backstreet schools) because they lacked official sponsors and might be found in humble locations. There male and female teachers of modest backgrounds taught boys and some girls basic literacy and elementary education as quickly as possible for small fees. Other European countries had similar vernacular schools.

Printing and the expansion of schooling. Printing aided schooling by making available multiple copies of textbooks. The use of movable type began about 1450, and by the 1480s and 1490s publishers were producing significant numbers of reading primers and manuals of Latin syntax (the construction of sentences according to the rules governing the use of verbs) and morphology (the inflected forms of words). No longer would students have to rely on handwritten manuscripts available only to the teacher or to wealthy students. As the cost of printed books declined in the sixteenth century, all pupils could own a grammar manual and primer. Whether or not they did is impossible to determine.

Historians often assume that greater availability of inexpensive printed books accounts for the increase in schooling and literacy in the Renaissance. Rather, it was most likely this factor in combination with three others—greater availability of free or nearly free schooling, the desire of students and parents for more education, and society's willingness to reward those who took the trouble to learn—that increased the amount of schooling by 1600.


Martin Luther (1483–1546) argued for universal compulsory education, at least at the elementary level. When German princes accepted Protestantism, Lutheran clergymen drafted new arrangements for the church and state that almost always included a Schulordnung (school order). Protestant school orders firmly placed the state (prince or city council) in charge of the schools. By the 1560s and 1570s Protestant school orders created a relatively integrated set of schools, beginning with an elementary school to teach reading and writing. Abler students advanced to a higher school that taught Latin; the most gifted and socially more privileged went to an advanced secondary school that led to university. The goals were twofold: (1) to train future clergymen and administrators of the state and (2) to impart to a larger fraction of the male population enough reading and writing to function in an appropriate station in life. The students studied the same classical curriculum taught in Catholic lands along with a great deal of catechetical instruction in Lutheran Christianity. Protestant Germany and nearby border regions, such as Strasbourg, had a number of excellent secondary-level Latin schools.

It appears that the number and possibly the quality of schools increased during the age of the Protestant Reformation in Germany. But the Protestant Reformation did not mark the beginning of modern schooling. The goals were high, but the results were often modest, and the level of instruction was not always elevated. The schools still frequently charged fees, which poor parents could not afford. Sometimes parents could not even provide the stick of wood that a child was expected to bring for the school fire in winter. A school seldom enrolled all the boys in the village, and enrollments waxed and waned according to the work seasons. Even though the state was supposed to organize and direct schools, humble private schools, Winkelschulen, continued. Finally, because Protestantism abolished religious orders, it did not enjoy the new schools that religious orders of the Catholic Reformation provided. It seems unlikely that the Protestant Reformation produced more schooling than that available in Catholic Europe.

The thesis that Protestantism created a permanent expansion of schooling and literacy so that every individual could read the Bible cannot be proven on the basis of current research. The only example in which the Protestant Reformation achieved almost total reading literacy occurred in Sweden in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. There the state Reformed (Lutheran) Church undertook to teach the entire population, male and female, how to read. Thanks to great effort and governmental threats, such as refusing permission to marry to those who failed to learn to read, the effort succeeded. It was an impressive achievement but unique: nothing comparable occurred anywhere else in Protestant or Catholic Europe.


The Catholic Reformation religious orders of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries altered the educational landscape of Catholic Europe. The Society of Jesus (founded in 1540) and other religious orders who followed their pedagogical example created new schools and sometimes took control of existing municipal schools. Because they did not charge fees, the schools of the Jesuits, Piarists, and other orders expanded educational opportunities and dominated education in Catholic countries in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The Jesuits. The Jesuits had not intended to become educators. In December 1547 the city government of Messina, firmly nudged by the Spanish viceroy who ruled Sicily for the Spanish Crown, petitioned Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, to send ten Jesuits to the Italian city, five to teach and the rest to undertake spiritual and charitable activities. The city government promised food, clothing, and a building. Recognizing this as an intriguing opportunity and understanding that one did not refuse a viceroy, Loyola managed to send seven Jesuits, including some of the ablest scholars of the young order. According to the agreement with the city, the Jesuit fathers would teach nine classes. In effect, they created a classical Latin elementary and secondary school, along with higher studies in philosophy. The city erected a building, the people of Messina supported the Jesuits through freewill offerings, and the viceroy also helped. The school formally opened in October 1548. It was an immediate success, as two hundred boys enrolled by December. The school averaged an enrollment of about three hundred boys in the next two decades.

Free instruction largely explained the instant success of the Messina school. The Jesuits inaugurated the first systematic effort to provide free education for several hundred boys in a town, something entirely new for Italy and Europe. The opportunity must have seemed heaven-sent to the boys and their parents. In addition the Jesuit fathers were learned scholars and teachers. Many other Jesuit schools followed.

The Jesuit schools offered the same Latin curriculum that the Italian humanists of the fifteenth century had created and that Desiderius Erasmus (1466–1536) and other northern humanists promoted. But they made several additions: prayers, religious training, and insistence that the boys attend mass, confess, and communicate; better pedagogical organization, including imaginative teaching techniques; and higher subjects such as philosophy, mathematics, Hebrew, and theology.

The Jesuit schools soon refined their goals. Beginning in 1551 they phased out the introductory class that taught beginning reading and writing and the rudiments of Latin grammar; a boy had to learn these before entering a Jesuit school. The Jesuits decided to concentrate their energies on those likely to stay in school for many years. With this decision, partly provoked by a shortage of teachers, the Jesuits narrowed their educational mission chronologically and socially: they taught the Latin humanities to upper- and middle-class boys aged ten to sixteen. Since the Jesuits followed the policy of free education until the nineteenth century, they sought and received financial support from wealthy lay or ecclesiastical leaders of the community, and sometimes from the local town government.

A handful of Jesuit schools in large Italian cities, such as Rome and Milan, taught several hundred boys between the ages of ten and sixteen and a few older students. Jesuit schools in France, Germany, and Portugal often taught five hundred to fifteen hundred students. The large, famous Jesuit schools taught university-level philosophy, mathematics, and physics to the older and brighter students. At the same time the vast majority of Jesuit schools enrolled only one hundred to two hundred students, who studied the Latin humanities curriculum and religious instruction under four or five teachers.

The Jesuit schools appealed to the community at large with their public programs. Students at Jesuit schools in Spain and Portugal began to give public performances of Latin tragedies with scenery, stagecraft, and music. They also presented what might be called achievement days, in which students orated, recited, and debated before parents and dignitaries of the city. The schools of other Catholic Reformation teaching orders, such as the Barnabites (Clerics Regular of St. Paul) and Somaschans (Clerics Regular of Somascha), did the same.

Schools for nobles. Boarding schools limited to boys of verified noble lineage were a feature of the stratified society of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Princes and other nobles founded boarding schools for noble boys, who mixed with their peers from different parts of Europe. Entering between the ages of eleven and fourteen, they might stay until the age of twenty. The schools for nobles supplemented the standard Latin curriculum with lessons in singing, dancing, designing fortifications, French, and above all, horsemanship. These schools cost a great deal. Ranuccio Farnese (1569–1622; ruled 1592–1622), duke of Parma and Piacenza, founded a famous school for nobles in Parma in 1601 and gave the Jesuits direction of the school in 1604. It had a peak enrollment of 550 to 600 boys between 1670 and 1700, then began to decline. The Jesuits were the teachers in many noble schools and boarding schools with upper-class boys. Other religious orders followed their lead but to a lesser extent.

France. In the early sixteenth century many French towns established Latin classical schools that were open to the boys of the town and were staffed by teachers who had imbibed the Renaissance humanistic curriculum in Paris. Then the Crown in the early seventeenth century encouraged the Jesuits and other orders to establish schools in the kingdom. Through financial subsidies or royal commands, King Henry IV (ruled 1589–1610) persuaded the religious orders to take direction of the town schools. Sometimes the towns agreed because the schools were going poorly. The town could not provide enough funding, teachers were in short supply, enrollments were declining, academic standards were falling, and the students were disorderly. Under the protection of the Crown, the new religious orders of the Catholic Reformation became the schoolmasters of France.

Numerous towns across France replaced their secular schoolmasters with the Jesuits, the French Congregation of the Oratory, and the Doctrinaires (Secular Priests of the Christian Doctrine), all of whom established some remarkable schools. In 1603 Henry IV gave to the Jesuits a château in the town of La Flèche on the Loir River. The College Henri IV at La Flèche (usually referred to as La Flèche) began with that gift. The king provided additional financial support in the following years and encouraged members of his court to send their sons there. The school was an instant success, boasting an enrollment of 1,200 to 1,400 students, of whom 300 were boarders, in a few years. Among La Flèche's most famous pupils was René Descartes (1596–1650). Entering in 1606, Descartes spent nine years at the school. He devoted the first six to studying Latin grammar, humanities, and rhetoric and the last three to studying philosophy, which included mathematics, physics, and Galileo's telescope discoveries. Although he eventually rejected the philosophy he learned there, Descartes in 1641 endorsed La Flèche for the excellence of its instruction, its lively students who came from all over France, and the spirit of student equality that the Jesuits fostered.

The Collège de Clermont (1560–1762), renamed the Collège Louis-le-Grand in 1682, was a Jesuit school in Paris that enrolled boys ages twelve to twenty. The number of students steadily rose from 1,500 (including 300 boarders) in 1619 to 2,500 to 3,000 students (including 500 to 600 boarders) in the late seventeenth century.

Students in the Jesuit schools and probably in most Latin schools in both Catholic and Protestant Europe were placed and promoted according to their achievement, not their ages. This meant that boys of many ages might be in a single class. For example, in 1677 the rhetoric class at the Collège de Clermont in

Year Total Number of Schools
(Farrell, 1938, pp. 365, 431 –435; Brizzi, 1976, pp. 20, 22; Brizzi, 1982, p. 919; and Palmer, 1985, p. 15)
1556c. 35 (18 in Italy)
1575121 (35 in Italy)
1599245 (49 in Italy)
1626444 (80 in Italy)
1710612 (111 in Italy in 1700)
1749669 (105 in France in 1762)

Paris had 160 pupils (obviously taught by more than one teacher). One student was ten years old, three were eleven, eight were twelve, fifteen were thirteen, thirty-four were fourteen, thirty-seven were fifteen, twenty-five were sixteen, twenty-eight were seventeen, six were eighteen, two were nineteen, and one was twenty. While the rhetoric class normally took two years to complete, some pupils may have required more time.

Jesuit schools in Europe, Asia, and the Americas followed the program of studies minutely organized in the Society's Ratio studiorum (Plan of studies) of 1599. It prescribed texts, classroom procedures, rules, and discipline. The Ratio frowned on corporal punishment; if its use was unavoidable, a non-Jesuit should administer it. Other Catholic religious order schools offering Latin education copied Jesuit educational procedures to greater or lesser degrees.

Piarist schools. Not all schools of the religious orders taught a Latin curriculum to middle-class and upper-class boys. The Basque priest José Calasanz (1557–1646) had the revolutionary idea of offering comprehensive free schooling to poor boys, and he opened his first Pious School in the working-class area of Trastevere, Rome, in 1597. The first Pious School accepted only pupils presenting certificates of poverty issued by parish priests. It aimed to educate poor and working-class boys so they might earn a living in this life and attain salvation in the next. The school offered free instruction in vernacular reading, writing, and arithmetic plus some Latin to bright boys, an early attempt to combine the vernacular and Latin curricula. It also furnished books, paper, pens, ink, and on occasion food, to needy pupils. In 1621 Calasanz established a religious order, the Poor Clerics Regular of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools, usually called the Piarists, to carry on his work. In time the Piarists dropped the certificate of poverty as a prerequisite for enrollment and accepted students from the middle and upper classes. Nevertheless, they continued to see the poor as their primary student constituency. Their schools enabled poor boys to move up the social ladder, those who learned Latin into professional positions. In 1784 the Piarists ran over two hundred schools, the majority in Italy and Spain and a smaller number in central Europe.

Education for girls. Boys and girls almost always attended separate schools in both Catholic and Protestant Europe. A large number of female religious convents educated Catholic girls as long-term boarders. Parents sent a girl to a convent for several years to be educated and to learn sewing and manners. She emerged educated, virtuous, and ready to marry. Some girls decided to remain as nuns. Indeed, professed nuns living in convents had a higher literacy rate and were consistently better educated than laywomen.

Church organizations also offered charity schools for poor girls. For example, in 1655 the papacy contributed funding to hire numerous female teachers to staff free neighborhood schools for girls in Rome. Each schoolmistress taught vernacular reading and writing to classes ranging from a few to more than seventy girls. These schools lasted until the Kingdom of Italy seized Rome in 1870. Catholic Europe also had an abundance of catechism schools, called Schools of Christian Doctrine, which taught the rudiments of Catholicism and a limited amount of reading on Sundays and numerous religious holidays to boys and girls in separate classes. Protestant Europe also had catechism classes or Sunday schools, about which less is known. Numerous clergymen who lacked benefices, livings, or parishes in both Protestant and Catholic Europe supported themselves as schoolmasters.


To this point central governments played no direct role in schooling, with the partial exception of state-church collaboration in some small German Protestant states. In the 1750s educational reformers argued that the state should become the directing force in education and that the church should be displaced.

Beginning of state schooling and attacks against church schools. Enlightenment reformers, who always came from the upper ranks of society, believed that the absolutist state could and should improve humankind through reform from above. They accepted the psychology of John Locke (1632–1704), who held that the child was a tabula rasa (blank slate) on which anything could be written. Thus the right early education would impart useful skills to the child and instill the proper values, which included good manners and deference to authority. Children so formed would become useful and loyal citizens. Hence the central government, rather than local authorities, should control schools and choose the teachers. Church schools, which taught useless spiritual doctrine, in the opinion of the reformers, had to be eliminated.

The attack on church education occurred in Catholic countries just as the ruling classes were finding the most famous of the church schools, those of the Jesuits, less attractive. For example, enrollment at La Flèche dropped to four hundred, of whom two hundred were boarders, by 1760. The Society of Jesus was expelled from Portugal in 1759, France in 1764, and Spain in 1767; its schools (105 of them in France) were closed or assigned to other religious congregations. Bowing to pressure from governments, the papacy suppressed the Jesuits in 1773. But, needing to maintain educational institutions for their Catholic subjects, Frederick the Great of Prussia and Catherine the Great of Russia refused to publish the papal bull and maintained the Society's institutions in their domains. State authorities across Europe also confiscated numerous church buildings and properties during the last years of the eighteenth century and through much of the nineteenth century, further weakening the capacity of church groups to support schools. Governments seldom succeeded in eliminating church schools in either Catholic or Protestant lands, but they seriously weakened churches as rivals to the central state governments as the chief force in schooling.

Enlightenment reformers further believed that state schooling should be free for lower-class boys but limited to elementary education, ending at the ages of ten to twelve. Otherwise these boys would aspire to rise above their stations, thus depriving society of their labor and upsetting the right order of things. By contrast, the sons of the ruling classes seldom attended state elementary schools but continued to study with tutors or attended elite schools. They went on to secondary schools, including boarding schools, with the classical Latin and Greek curriculum. Despite its limited vision, the central governmental control of education fostered over the course of the next 250 years the slow expansion of free, compulsory elementary and secondary state education to a growing percentage of the population.

Prussia and France, 1750–1850. Both Prussia and France were leaders in education. The Prussian government, the pioneer in state education, asserted state control over schools in several ways in the late eighteenth century. It reorganized the finances of local schools, established inspections, and organized some teacher training. Other German states followed the Prussian example in the first half of the nineteenth century.

France did the same. The different factions that ruled France during the French Revolution of 1789 to 1799 shared one belief about education, that is, the state should control the schools. Napoleon Bonaparte came to power in 1799 and in 1802 brought all education, from primary schools through the universities, under the control of the state by law. Although the immediate results were limited, he established the principle that every French government subsequently followed, that state control and uniformity of the schools is essential. In 1808 Napoleon established new secondary schools called lycées with a curriculum of Latin and Greek, French literature, logic, and mathematics. In a revolutionary precedent, entrance to the lycée became dependent on passing a rigorous examination that required considerable preparation beyond what a student could learn at an elementary school. Although the vast majority of pupils in lycées came from the upper-middle class and the aristocracy, a few students from other groups entered. Napoleon also established a state engineering school, École Polytechnique, and a state professional school, École Normale Supérieure.

Some German states established teacher training schools, the first of them in Berlin in 1756. The first French government écoles normales (normal schools) to train elementary teachers opened in the 1820s, and by 1863 half of the elementary teachers in France came from these schools. Teacher training schools also began in England in the 1840s. Although the normal schools mostly taught future teachers the same skills that they would teach their pupils, including orderliness and respect for the hierarchy of society, these schools helped men and women rise from peasant and working-class ranks to become teachers, especially at the elementary level. The graduates of French teacher training schools were often militantly antireligious and supporters of state education.

Teachers commanded some respect in a society in which not everyone could read and write and few people did so well. But a large social gulf separated teachers from the representative of the state or the local aristocrat who gave them orders. Moreover, the teacher was greatly enmeshed in the society of his or her local community and its values. Often teachers were required to perform other duties. For example, in Germany teachers were obliged to ring church bells, to assist at church services, and generally to help the local Protestant pastor or parish priest. They had to be pious according to the precepts of the local religion.

Another step in the process of creating state education was erecting buildings. Governments increasingly constructed either a building with multiple classrooms for several hundred students in large towns or a one-room schoolhouse in the country. The expression "go to school" began to have a physical meaning.

Individual classes, especially at the primary levels, still had many pupils, sometimes a hundred or more. State schools had more students per teacher than the Latin schools of the religious orders or the independent vernacular schools of previous centuries. The large classes meant that much learning consisted of simultaneous rote learning: students shouted letters and words in unison or did simple arithmetical calculations together.


As the national governments of England, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Russia, Spain, and Austria-Hungary grew stronger, they expanded centralized, compulsory, lay state education.

France. Because some 38,000 towns and villages in France lacked elementary schools, the 1833 Guizot law, named for the minister of education François Guizot (1787–1874), obliged every town to establish a public elementary school. But it did not order all students to attend them. Free primary education grew but was not universal. In the 1850s and 1860s Catholic religious organizations, again assuming an important position in French education, often operated local public schools under contract with towns. Between 1879 and 1886 the Ferry laws, named for the minister of education Jules Ferry (1832–1893), made public primary education free, tax-supported, and thoroughly secular. A law in 1882 required schooling for all boys and girls between the ages of six and thirteen.

Country 1820 1850 1870 1883 1900
* Estimate
The Russian figure is adult male literacy in 1897, and the Austrian figures include boys and girls. (Maynes, 1985, p. 134; Florinsky, 1964, p. 315; Zeps, 1987, p. 11)
Prussia598193 97
Bavaria 8384 96
France 6088 94
England and Wales 66  90
Scotland  80 99
Sweden 59  90
Italy  34 57
Russia    29
Austria  578397*

As a result, literacy rates for the whole population, men and women, grew from 60 percent in 1870 to 95 percent in 1900.

Various Ferry laws practically eliminated Catholic schools in France and prohibited priests, brothers, and nuns from teaching, even in private schools, although Catholic schools returned in later decades as private schools. Other laws vastly expanded the ranks of teachers, especially female teachers, who replaced teaching nuns. The curriculum emphasized civil history and ignored France's religious past. For example, geographies passed over the great medieval cathedrals and paid little attention to Joan of Arc. In place of religious instruction, the public schools taught thrift, obedience to authority, and orderliness. The government in Paris dictated every aspect of French public education. Supposedly a minister of education looked at his watch at three o'clock on a Monday afternoon and said, "At this minute every pupil in every fifth-year class in France is studying Racine," referring to the dramatic poet Jean Racine (1639–1699). True or not, the story expressed the goal of the French educational system, the most centralized in Europe.

The standardization of schools and the establishment of links among primary, secondary, and higher schools probably had the most enduring effect on French society. Primary schools served the lower classes, while lycées were for the children of the upper and middle classes. Indeed lycées had their own preparatory schools, which began teaching Latin as early as age nine. In the 1860s and 1870s a new kind of secondary school developed, offering more practical instruction than the severely classical lycée. The new school provided what was called a "modern" education, consisting of general education in French, science, and history as well as commercial courses and manual training. Members of the lower-middle classes found them particularly attractive. In 1902 the French government placed the "modern" curriculum on an equal basis with that of the classics-oriented lycée.

At the age of eleven, the French pupil began a seven-year secondary school program divided into two parts. In the first four years the student followed either a classical or a modern curriculum. For the next three years a student chose more intense study of either Latin and modern languages or science or the other secondary school program of modern languages and science. In the second year of the second cycle (the sixth year overall), students took the first part of the baccalauréat (school-leaving certificate) examination. More than half of the students failed the first part of the examination and had to repeat the previous year. Those who passed spent another year preparing for the second part of the baccalauréat examination. Only those who successfully completed both parts of the baccalauréat were eligible for higher training at universities or other schools, such as the École Normale Supérieure. The fortunate graduates ruled France and became especially prominent in the civil service and the university professoriate—a fact of French life that remained constant through the end of the twentieth century.

France simultaneously created an inclusive, broad primary school system for the working and peasant classes and a rigorous, socially exclusive form of elite secondary education. A few talented children from the working and peasant classes, with financial assistance, made the transition from the standard primary schools to the secondary schools at the age of eleven. A somewhat larger number of lycée students came from the lower-middle class, the ranks of clerks and shopkeepers. But the majority of students in the elite schools came from the upper-middle and elite classes.

The rest of continental Europe. Every other country in continental Europe developed a similar structure of state schools. All forced children to make a choice among three different secondary schools at the ages of ten, eleven, and occasionally twelve. A fortunate few, usually the offspring of upper and upper-middle class and professional parents, went on to the secondary school with the classical curriculum, modern language training, and a limited amount of mathematics and science. Called Gymnasium in Germany, Austria, and Russia, gimnázium in Hungary, and liceo in Italy, the classical academic secondary school was the same everywhere.

From the Renaissance onward the classical secondary school was at the center of European elite education, even though classical Latin no longer had a practical use, except to some scholars, after the eighteenth century. Nevertheless, educational leaders, and probably the majority of society, believed that learning ancient languages and literature best enabled a boy and (later) a girl to realize his or her potential. The concept was called Bildung (cultivation) in German, culture générale in French, and liberal education in English. According to this view, the study of Latin and Greek grammar developed mental discipline, while ancient Latin and Greek literature offered examples of the highest human culture in the original language. The classical curriculum benefited the student regardless of future career because it developed the individual—but only a few. In 1883 the German historian Heinrich von Treitschke justified the classical secondary school and its social exclusiveness with the statement, "Millions must plow and forge and dig in order that a few thousands may write and paint and study."

Graduates of the classical secondary school went on to universities; took civil service positions; joined the professions of law, medicine, and theology; and became leaders of the nation. For example, until 1902 German students had to attend the Gymnasium to obtain the Abitur, the school-leaving examination certificate that permitted them to attend university. Only university graduates were allowed to sit state examinations for the civil service, the ministry, the medical and legal professions, and secondary school teaching. In 1902 Germany began to allow graduates of the other secondary schools to attend university under strict limitations, and other countries followed the German example.

The secondary technical school also developed in the nineteenth century. It combined a lesser amount of theoretical training and some ancient-language training with more scientific and technical education. Its graduates normally did not go on to the university, but they could attend advanced technical schools. Students from this stream often became managers and technicians in commerce and industry. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries some countries developed nonselective secondary modern schools, offering vocational and practical training. They educated workers for occupations in which they would follow instructions. Finally, most countries added an additional three years or more of elementary school after the age of ten. Students who continued in elementary schools ended their schooling at the ages of thirteen, which was slowly raised to fourteen, fifteen, or sixteen. Some entered apprenticeships that might include limited additional schooling.

Only a few students attended a secondary school of any sort in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the majority of students entering secondary school at the ages of ten or eleven did not finish. In 1911 only 2.6 percent of students up to age seventeen attended secondary schools in France, and 3.2 percent of students up to age nineteen attended secondary schools in Prussia. Poorer countries, such as Italy, Spain, and particularly Russia, had fewer schools and a smaller percentage of the population in school, especially in secondary schools.

Neither the curricular streams nor the social exclusiveness of secondary education changed much from the late nineteenth century through the 1950s. For example, in one state of the Federal Republic of Germany in the 1950s, two-thirds of the students left elementary school by the ages of fourteen or fifteen. No more than 20 percent of German children tried one of the secondary schools. Of the age group ten to fourteen, 10 percent studied in an academic secondary school (Gymnasium), but only 3.3 percent graduated. Of Gymnasium graduates, 97 percent went on to higher education, normally university training. Only 5 to 6 percent of the students in all three secondary schools combined were the children of laborers, though laborers made up about half of the population. At the other extreme, 25 percent of the children in secondary schools had academically trained parents, usually Gymnasium or secondary technical school graduates, but the academically trained made up only 2.5 percent of the population.

Nineteenth-century governments across Europe decreed that all children must go to school to a certain age, which was gradually raised. An increasing number of boys and girls attended elementary schools, although the elementary curriculum was not extensive: reading, writing, arithmetic, and outside of France, religion. Governments provided more but never enough schools and teachers. Nevertheless, the expansion of schooling for the children of the working classes and peasantry across western Europe in the nineteenth century was impressive.


European schooling in the nineteenth- and twentieth-centuries pursued cultural, national, and social goals considered as important as academic skills and knowledge. The results were often tumultuous.

The nation and its minorities. Every national school system resolved the linguistic issue of multiple dialects by teaching one version of the national language, that of its most accomplished authors. For example, Italian schools taught Tuscan Italian, the language of the Florentine Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), instead of Milanese, Neapolitan, Roman, Venetian, or another regional dialect. In practice this meant that students, especially those in elementary school, learned the national language in school but spoke the regional language at home, in the street, and in the shop. Every national school system also taught a minority of children whose mother tongue was completely different from the national language. School systems sometimes permitted extensive bilingual education and other times imposed schooling in the national language on children of another mother tongue.

School officials and national leaders saw education, especially at the elementary level, as a means of creating national unity. For example, Italian schools, after Italian unification in 1870, taught a relentless patriotism emphasizing the exploits of Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807–1882), the attractive military hero of the battle for unification. Students wrote essays on such topics as "Why I love Italy." In 1886 Michele Coppino, the Italian minister of education, justifying this policy, issued a circular that stated, "We must not forget that the primary school aims at rearing a population as instructed as possible, but principally honest, hardworking, useful to the family and devoted to the Country and to the King." Other European governments made similar statements.

The desire to produce honest, hardworking, and loyal subjects led all governments outside France to allow religious instruction in state schools and often to permit the existence of religious schools, despite official anticlerical policies and rhetoric. For example, the Prussian state within united Germany wished to integrate both Catholic and Protestant children into the same schools, which would be nonconfessional. But strong opposition from both Catholic and Protestant church leaders caused the government to retreat. Successive governments found that maintaining good relations with the two religions through confessional primary schools was necessary to preserve the state's monopoly over education. By the early twentieth century almost all Protestant children in Prussia attended Protestant schools, while almost all Catholic children attended Catholic schools. Even in the Weimar government period, 1919–1933, 92 percent of Catholic school children attended Catholic schools, and 95 percent of Protestant children attended Protestant schools. Jewish children attended Jewish schools or Protestant schools where they had separate classes for religion.

When a minority both practiced a different religion and spoke a different language, toleration sometimes evaporated. The schooling of the Polish Catholic minority in the German state between 1870 and 1918 involved linguistic, national, and religious issues. Prussia, the largest state in united Germany, had a substantial number of Catholic Poles. It was reasonably tolerant of this minority and had permitted extensive bilingual education before unification of the German state in 1870. However, beginning in the 1880s the central German government, dominated by Prussia, increasingly imposed German language instruction on Polish children, with one concession. Bowing to the argument, advanced by both Polish Catholic and German Protestant clergies, that only religious instruction in the mother tongue could reach a child's heart and soul, it permitted Catholic religious instruction of Polish children in Polish.

Otherwise the German government increasingly attempted to germanize its Polish school population. It reduced Polish language instruction and teachers. It spent so little money on schools in Polish-speaking areas, whose population was expanding rapidly, that some elementary schools in Polish areas had three shifts a day, giving each child only about two hours of instruction, often in classes of well over one hundred students. When the government finally insisted that Catholic religious instruction should be delivered in German to Polish-speaking children, the children and their parents resisted. In 1901 a teacher caned pupils who refused to recite a psalm in German. In October and November 1906 up to 46,000 Polish-speaking school children refused to speak German during Catholic religious lessons. The government imposed fines on the parents and broke the strike by May and June 1907 without solving the dispute. This example and many other others demonstrate that governments often suppressed the religious rights and the languages of minorities in the schools or were forced into uneasy compromises. The creation of a Polish state in 1919 out of territories formerly ruled by Germany and Russia moved most of the Polish-speaking children out of Germany. Then it was Poland that had linguistic and religious minorities.

Fascist and Nazi schooling. Neither the Fascist government of Italy (1922–1943) nor the Nazi regime in Germany (1933–1945) made significant changes to the structure of schooling. Instead they added ideological themes to the curriculum. The schools stressed militarism, nationalism, and service to the country (patria or Vaterland) more strongly than before. They added material in the secondary schools that explained and promoted Fascism and National Socialism. Both governments taught an ideology that emphasized the leader (duce or führer) who embodied the will of the people and should be obeyed without question. Both promoted a conservative and traditional view of women's role, embodied in the Nazi slogan "Kirche, Kinder, und Küche" (church, children, and kitchen). But both regimes relied on youth organizations and a general indoctrination of the populace more than the classroom to propagate their views.

Italy expelled all Jewish teachers and students from elementary and secondary schools, some five thousand students and two hundred teachers, in October 1938. However, the government immediately established and financially supported Jewish elementary and secondary schools. With excellent teachers, some of the lowest teacher-pupil ratios in Italy, and dedicated students, they were among the best schools in Italy.

England. England followed the general European pattern, with the major exception of the English public school. England emerged from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with the educational mix, found all across Europe, of limited elementary schools, called "petty schools," teaching basic literacy in English, and grammar schools, which boys normally entered between the ages of nine and twelve, teaching Latin. In towns a host of endowed schools existed, usually founded through the modest bequest of a local patron and sometimes operated by a clergyman as part of the village church. England probably lagged behind the rest of western Europe in the percentage of children of school age who attended school in 1800.

The late-eighteenth-century industrial revolution created factories filled with working children, whose plight caught the attention of social reformers. The reformers set up Sunday schools, to which working children could go on Sunday or after working hours on other days, to teach elementary literacy skills and a catechism, usually that of the Church of England but sometimes that of other Protestant churches. The Sunday schools employed techniques of mass education, such as using older children to instruct the ablest younger children, who in turn instructed their peers, and recitation in unison.

Slowly the notion grew that the state should provide a limited amount of schooling to those without funds to pay fees or provide a school where one was lacking. But the question of the role of the Church of England, which wanted a strong voice, blocked massive state intervention and led to a series of partial measures. In the first, in 1833, the government made available funds to build more schools. An increasing number of reformers argued for greater state intervention in education on the grounds that the country needed a more educated citizenry to compete industrially with France and Germany, which already had state schooling. The Education Act of 1870 established that, where schooling was inadequate, a local school board of five to fifteen members elected by the local taxpayers would create and run schools, which would be financed by taxes, government grants, and pupil fees. It also permitted elementary schools operated by the Church of England. The overall result was much more elementary schooling. England had 1 million pupils in state elementary schools in 1870 and 6 million children in elementary schools, evenly split between board (that is, state) and church schools, in 1900. Thereafter the number of children in board schools increased.


Despite the name, English public schools were in fact expensive private schools. Seven boarding schools, Winchester (1382), Eton (1440), Shrewsbury (1552), Westminster (late sixteenth century), Harrow (1571), Rugby (1576), and Charterhouse (1611), were held in the highest esteem. Two day schools, St. Paul's, founded by the English humanist John Colet (1467–1519) in 1508, and Merchant Taylors (1561), completed the highest group. But England had many other boarding and day public schools of varying quality and prestige. All were independent, expensive, and filled with boys from the highest ranks of society. They taught a traditional Latin and Greek curriculum and maintained close ties with Oxford and Cambridge.

By the time the nineteenth century opened, the public schools had fallen into numerous abuses and difficulties. Thomas Arnold (1795–1842), headmaster of Rugby from 1828 to 1842, led a reform movement. He had three goals, listed in descending order: (1) he wished to imbue boys with Christian religious and moral principles, (2) he wanted them to conduct themselves as gentlemen, and (3) he wanted to train them intellectually. To achieve these ends, he emphasized Christian, specifically Church of England, religious training through the master's sermon and good example, and he gave the older boys a share in the governance of the school. They served as examples of leadership and good morality to younger boys. Arnold also emphasized sports as a means of fostering sportsmanship and loyalty, an emphasis that expanded greatly later in the century. He moderated but did not eliminate physical hazing and the faggot system, a form of bullying servitude imposed by the older boys on the younger ones.

Thomas Hughes (1822–1896), who began at Rugby at age thirteen, when Arnold was still headmaster, wrote Tom Brown's School-days (1857), which presents a wonderfully appealing picture of public school life. Thanks to the publicity generated by Hughes and others and an economic boom, which created a wealthy middle class that wanted its children to rise socially, the public schools enjoyed a golden age from 1860 to 1918 as more public schools, including some for girls, were founded. They spawned continental imitations, which never were as numerous or important as the English originals.

Boys went off to board at public schools as early as seven years of age, more often at ten to twelve, and remained there until they finished at eighteen. At their best the schools socialized boys into the habits of subservience and fellowship as younger students and of leadership and responsibility as older students. They also created lifetime bonds that had enormous practical benefits and social consequences. Old boys, graduates of a particular public school, helped one another throughout their lives. The public school ethos, including the view that gentlemanly behavior and loyalty were more important than intellectual achievement, permeated the higher ranks of English civil service, army, government, and society. Public school graduates comprised two-thirds to three-quarters of the judges, ambassadors, lieutenant generals and higher military officers, bishops, chief executives in the one hundred largest firms, and Conservative members of Parliament as late as the 1950s and 1960s. Public schools played a major role in perpetuating class distinctions and slowing the development of a merit-based society.

Unlike school boards on the Continent, where complete authority over the schools resided with the central government, the English local school boards had extensive powers. Nevertheless in 1880 the central government obliged all children to attend school to the age of ten, the first compulsory school law in England. Elementary schools were still not free, but in the 1890s the central government began to grant schools small amounts of money to replace the fees previously paid by parents.

A series of reports followed that documented the inadequacies of secondary education, and the Education Act of 1902 abolished the school boards. In their place, the law made local county and borough governments responsible for both elementary and secondary education by constituting them as local educational authorities with all the legal powers of the former school boards and additional new powers. They were expected to coordinate primary and secondary education and to offer scholarships for poor children to attend secondary schools, which charged fees, and eventually to enter university. Local governments were obliged to provide scholarships (that is, free places) for a quarter of the students in the state secondary schools. They also provided partial financing to church schools operated by the Church of England, other Protestant churches, and the Catholic Church.

The English government slightly modified and extended educational benefits in the twentieth century. Scholarships were awarded on the basis of a competitive examination given to children at the age of eleven (the so-called eleven-plus), and the successful students studied at a grammar school for free. This became the English equivalent of the qualifying examinations for secondary school in continental Europe, the examination that determined a child's future educational career and life prospects. The grammar school remained classical in its curriculum; technical and vocational secondary education developed slowly.

The Butler Act of 1944 abolished fees for state secondary schools, provided more financial support for church schools, and proclaimed the principle that every child should receive both primary and secondary schooling. In recognition of the last, the government raised the school-leaving age to fifteen in 1947 and to sixteen in 1972. But only 20 percent of the children successfully passed the eleven-plus examination to enter the grammar (Latin) schools, which led to the university at that time. The others attended technical schools or modern secondary schools, which had a mixed curriculum. Many parents considered them inferior to the grammar schools. The failure to advance to the grammar school through the eleven-plus examination often left a legacy of bitterness among children and their parents. The Butler Act also made religion classes compulsory in state schools for the first time in English history, although almost all state and church schools already had some religious education.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s England moved toward comprehensive secondary schools intended to replace partially the grammar schools, still seen as the place for students of economic and social privilege as well as academic excellence. At the conclusion of secondary education, the General Certificate of Education, begun in 1951, was earned through examination and offered admission to the universities. The Certificate of Secondary Education, begun in 1965, was awarded to students of lesser achievement.

Scotland Although ruled by the English Crown, Scotland followed a different educational path from England by more quickly developing a centralized state educational system.

In 1560 the Scottish Protestant leader John Knox (1513–1572) called for a system of parish schools; such a system developed over the next two hundred years. Legislation required landowners to appoint a schoolmaster for each parish, to pay him a small salary, and to build a schoolhouse. Parish schools enrolled both boys and girls, although girls' education emphasized reading and sewing rather than the broader range of academic skills imparted to boys. All children had to pay small fees, but the church or community paid the fees of poor children. Although parish schools were less numerous in remote and poorer regions of Scotland than in the affluent lowlands, it was a national system of elementary education, supplemented by a limited number of other schools. By the eighteenth century Scotland had one of the highest schooling rates, especially for girls, in Europe.

The parish schools provided the model for a national system of education. In the early nineteenth century secular leaders influenced by the Scottish Enlightenment, and clergymen of the Church of Scotland, agreed that the state should take the lead in education. Their efforts culminated in the Education (Scotland) Act of 1872, passed by the British Parliament, which transformed Presbyterian parish schools into state schools. The Act of 1872 established school boards to take direction of parish schools, to levy taxes, and to take other measures for the schools. It also decreed compulsory education for all Scottish children from the ages of five through twelve. The new state schools still provided Presbyterian religious instruction, but a conscience clause allowed children of other religions to absent themselves.

State-directed Scottish schools provided more elementary education than did the decentralized English system. In 1871 approximately 80 percent of Scottish boys and girls aged six through twelve attended school. But because schooling was not compulsory beyond age twelve, school attendance dropped to about one-third for boys and girls aged thirteen and fourteen. In 1901, 99 percent of Scottish boys and girls aged six through twelve attended school. The number dropped to 85 percent for boys and girls aged thirteen and to 35 percent for those aged fourteen. In the twentieth century Scottish education conformed more closely to the English system.

The Soviet Union, 1917–1989. Russia lagged behind other nations in the percentage of children attending schools of any kind or level. In addition to the country's problems of vast distances and poverty, some tsarist governments feared extending education on the grounds that learning led to sedition, hence schooling was allocated according to class. Count Ivan Delianov, the minister for education in 1887, wanted the children of "coachmen, footmen, cooks . . . and other similar people . . . who should not be led to break away from the milieu to which they belong" barred from the classical gymnasia. Although this did not happen, in 1913 less than 40 percent of the population over the age of eight could read and write. Literacy was lower in the countryside and the vast Asiatic part of the Russian Empire.

After the 1917 Russian Revolution, the Communist government determined to change the schools and to provide free, compulsory state education for all. The educational ministry created a new unified school called the Free Labor School, which provided nine years of schooling for ages eight to seventeen, divided into five lower grades and four upper grades, for all. The schools were free and provided materials and lunches. The Free Labor School eliminated Latin, Greek, and religious education and attempted to integrate learning and life. The goal was for children to learn actively about farming and trades by caring for plants and animals and operating tools; about society by visiting institutions and organizations; and about the arts by drawing and singing. Subjects would lose their specificity. The schools also taught a considerable amount of Marxist-Leninist theory.

In reality, Russia had few schools, and those often lacked blackboards, pens, and paper. Despite the government's wish to open schools to all social classes, few children of workers and peasants remained the whole nine years. Sons and daughters of the middle and upper classes dominated the upper grades in the mid-1920s. In the 1930s, in a reversal of policy, the government forced some children of middle- and upper-class parents out of school. In that decade the Stalinist purges, some of whose victims were teachers, and the extermination of the kulaks (free peasants) further disrupted the schools. Yet despite the lack of resources and the political and human disruptions, the Soviet Union did succeed in building more schools, educating more children, and sending more sons and daughters of the working class and peasantry into the secondary grades by the 1930s.

After 1931 Soviet education became less revolutionary and more traditional. The school system was oriented toward creating the workers, engineers, and technicians needed by the state for heavy industrialization. Examinations, stricter grading, and subject content were emphasized. Tuition fees for the upper grades of the secondary school were introduced in 1940, then abolished in 1956. Free boarding schools for boys and girls were established in 1956. On the other hand, the government in 1958 mandated that all applicants for higher education work for two years in industry or agriculture. They also needed the approval of organizations, such as trade unions and the Young Communist League. In the last decades before the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the social result of Soviet schooling was a contradictory mix. Soviet education attempted to create a classless society, but the sons and daughters of Communist Party officials, members of the government, and the professional classes enjoyed more educational benefits than the rest.

Eastern Europe. Before 1945 the countries of eastern Europe—Poland, Czechoslovakia (later divided into the Czech Republic and Slovakia), Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia (later divided into several states), and Albania—had the same basic school structure, characterized by the same sharp social divisions, as western and central Europe. The major difference was that eastern Europe was poorer and, therefore, offered fewer schools and less opportunity, especially in the countryside. World War II had a devasting effect on education in eastern Europe. German special forces shot an estimated 27,000 Polish teachers. An estimated 10,000 teachers lost their lives in Yugoslavia, either in the struggle against the Germans or in the brutal fighting between ethnic and political factions. An unknown number of schools were destroyed. Immediately after World War II, Communist governments, supported by the Soviet Union and its conquering army, took control of all of Eastern Europe and part of Germany. The new Communist governments effected an educational revolution.

All education became state education, with the exception of a few remaining private schools in Poland. The eastern bloc countries often provided state preschools, nursery schools, and kindergartens for children from one to six. These served as instruments of socialization as much as learning centers.

The fundamental unit was the basic school, which followed the Soviet model. The basic school had seven to ten (most often eight) years of compulsory schooling that was the same for all pupils from six or seven to fifteen or sixteen. In addition to reading and writing in the national language and mathematics, the basic school taught history and economics according to Marxist-Leninist principles; a foreign language, usually Russian instead of the French or German taught in pre-Communist years; and a considerable amount of biology, physics, chemistry, and polytechnical training. Latin and religious training were eliminated.

At the age of fifteen or sixteen the student either left school or entered one of three different kinds of secondary schools. If the student passed the appropriate examination, he or she entered the general secondary school, which concentrated on academic studies. Similar to the lycée or Gymnasium, it lasted three or four years and concluded with a certificate, like the French baccalauréat or the German Abitur. The certificate was a prerequisite for university entrance but not a guarantee of admission because places were limited. The second form of advanced secondary school was the vocational secondary school, also three to four years, which prepared students for a particular occupation, anything from engineering to kindergarten teaching. Those who finished might also apply to enter universities. Third were trade schools, lasting one to three years, which offered both classroom and factory instruction, amounting to apprentice training, for particular trades.

Advancement also depended on ideological and political conformity. In the German Democratic Republic students had to participate in the Jugendweihe (youth consecration), a Communist ceremony that replaced the Christian religious rite of confirmation. School children had to be enthusiastic members of Communist youth organizations, such as the Young Pioneers and Free German Youth, whose leadership exercised veto power over a student's chances of entering a university.

The schools of the Communist bloc eliminated illiteracy and the social stratification characteristic of eastern European education before World War II. But they also developed their own social and political divisions. Sons and daughters of high Communist Party officials received educational preference, especially for coveted spots in universities. Higher education remained limited to a few. For example, the German Democratic Republic sent a smaller percentage of its university-age population to universities than did the Federal Republic of Germany. On 3 October 1990 the two Germanies legally reunited, and the five new states (Länder) of the former German Democratic Republic adopted the educational system of the German Federal Republic.

Western Europe. A series of educational changes swept across Europe in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. The school-leaving age was raised even before this, along with the expansion of state support for universities. The French government provided nursery school education to practically every child between the ages of three and five. Other French changes were designed to give all students some kind of secondary school graduation certificate and to increase greatly the number of university or university-level students. By the late twentieth century over a third of all French students went on to postsecondary institutions. France even gave local authorities some control over schools and involved parents in their operation. In Germany parents and the child, not the teacher or an examination, decided if the twelve-year-old child continued to the Gymnasium or another secondary school. Students more easily moved from one secondary school to another, and the classical secondary school lost some of its importance as the gateway to leadership positions in the state. Graduates of both the Gymnasium and the secondary technical school had the option to attend a university, but not the graduates of the secondary modern school. Similar changes were implemented in Italy and Spain, but slowly in the latter because of a shortage of state funding. Most state school systems offered optional religion classes, and central governments provided complete or limited funding to private and religious schools. Religion ceased to be an area of controversy.

Overall, the systems established by the late nineteenth century were modified but not undone. The social exclusivity of European education lessened, but did not disappear. The children of immigrant guest workers from outside the European Community presented a new area of concern because they usually landed in the secondary vocational school with little or no opportunity for further academic training.


The social history of European education after the Renaissance saw the extension of schooling to the entire population and the gradual lowering but not elimination of class barriers. The state assumed the commanding position in education that individuals, local authorities, and church organizations formerly held. Several features did not change a great deal over the centuries, notably the classical curriculum, religious training, and the belief that schools should also teach cultural and social values.

See alsoSecularization (volume 2);Social Class; Students (volume 3);Youth and Adolescence (volume 4); and other articles in this section.


Social historians have devoted a considerable amount of scholarship to schooling, especially for France and Germany, from about 1750 onward. The period 1600–1750 for Europe outside of France and the impact of the Protestant Reformation in the German states have received less notice. Most historians have studied education within larger political, social, and religious contexts and have made excellent use of the abundant statistical information for the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But statistics have been difficult to compile for earlier centuries. Historians have paid less attention to the intellectual content of schooling, that is, curriculum, textbooks, and how resources were used, except for the Fascist and Nazi periods. Some historians, especially in France, have seen schooling as social control or "policing the village," that is, as a means of compelling the lower classes to conform to social norms imposed from above. This approach risks missing the broader importance and complexity of education.

General Works

Cruz, Jo Ann Hoeppner Moran. "Education." In Encyclopedia of the Renaissance. Edited by Paul F. Grendler et al. 6 vol. New York, 1999. Volume 2, pages 242–254. A good pan-European survey.

Grendler, Paul F., ed. "Education in the Renaissance and Reformation." RenaissanceQuarterly 43, no. 4 (winter 1990): 774–824. European coverage with an extensive bibliography.

Maynes, Mary Jo. Schooling for the People. Comparative Local Studies of SchoolingHistory in France and Germany, 1750–1850. New York, 1985.

Maynes, Mary Jo. Schooling in Western Europe: A Social History. Albany, N.Y., 1985. A good survey for the period 1750–1850.

Ringer, Fritz K. Education and Society in Modern Europe. Bloomington, Ind., 1979. A good comparative study of secondary education and universities in France and Germany with some material on England c. 1850–1960.


Digby, Anne, and Peter Searby. Children, School, and Society in Nineteenth-CenturyEngland. London and New York, 1981. Contains 175 pages of interesting original documents.

Honey, John Raymond de Symons. Tom Brown's Universe: The Development of theEnglish Public School in the Nineteenth Century. New York, 1977. A good account offering reasons for the appeal of English public schools.

Hughes, Thomas. Tom Brown's School Days. Harmondsworth, U.K., 1973. The novel describes in lively terms the education of a fictional boy at Thomas Arnold's Rugby; first published in 1857.

Lawson, John, and Harold Silver. A Social History of Education in England. London, 1973. A comprehensive account.

Martin, Christopher. A Short History of English Schools, 1750–1965. Hove, U.K., 1979. A good succinct account enlivened with many interesting

Tuer, Andrew White. History of the Horn Book. New York, 1968; reprint, 1979. A study of the primer with many illustrations; first published in 1897.


Anderson, R. D. Education in France, 1848–1870. Oxford, 1975.

Chartier, Roger, Dominique Julia, Marie-Madeleine Compère. L'éducation en France du XVIe au XVIIIe siècle. Paris, 1976. Statistical information.

Chisick, Harvey. The Limits of Reform in the Enlightenment: Attitudes toward theEducation of the Lower Classes in Eighteenth-Century France. Princeton, N.J., 1981.

Corbett, Anne, and Bob Moon, eds. Education in France: Continuity and Change in the Mitterrand Years, 1981–1995. London and New York, 1996.

Delattre, Pierre, ed. Les établissements des Jésuites en France depuis quatre siècles. 5 vols. Enghien, France, and Wetteren, Belgium, 1949–1957. Articles on all the Jesuit schools in France.

Farrell, Allan P. The Jesuit Code of Liberal Education: Development and Scope of theRatio Studiorum. Milwaukee, Wis., 1938.

Grew, Raymond, and Patrick J. Harrigan. School, State, and Society: The Growth ofElementary Schooling in Nineteenth-Century France. Ann Arbor, Mich., 1991. Useful statistics.

Huppert, George. Public Schools in Renaissance France. Urbana, Ill., 1984. Describes the municiple Latin secondary schools in sixteenth-century France.

Moody, Joseph N. French Education since Napoleon. Syracuse, N.Y., 1978. A general survey.

Palmer, R. R. The Improvement of Humanity: Education and the French Revolution. Princeton, N.J., 1985. Covers the French Revolution and the Napoleonic period.

Stearns, Peter N. Schools and Students in Industrial Society: Japan and the West, 1870–1940. Boston, 1998. A good brief account with some documents for France.


Albisetti, James C. Secondary School Reform in Imperial Germany. Princeton, N.J., 1983. Covers the period 1800–1914 well.

Blackburn, Gilmer W. Education in the Third Reich: A Study of Race and History inNazi Textbooks. Albany, N.Y., 1985.

Friedrichs, Christopher R. "Whose House of Learning? Some Thoughts on German Schools in Post-reformation Germany." History of Education Quarterly 22 (1982): 371–377.

Lamberti, Marjorie. State, Society, and the Elementary School in Imperial Germany. New York, 1989. A good account of the religious, political, and linguistic issues.

Phillips, David, ed. Education in Germany: Tradition and Reform in Historical Context. London and New York, 1995. Good on developments since the 1960s and on the former German Democratic Republic.

Strauss, Gerald. Enacting the Reformation in Germany: Essays on Institution and Reception. Aldershot, U.K., and Brookfield, Vt., 1993. Includes several essays on schools in the German Reformation.

Strauss, Gerald. Luther's House of Learning: Indoctrination of the Young in the GermanReformation. Baltimore, 1978. A critical assessment of the aims and results of schooling in the Lutheran Reformation.


Barbagli, Marzio. Educating for Unemployment: Politics, Labor Markets, and theSchool System—Italy, 1859–1973. Translated by Robert H. Ross. New York, 1982. An indictment of Italian education for training too many lawyers and civil servants and not enough engineers and others useful to the economy; first published in 1974.

Brizzi, Gian Paolo. La formazione della classe dirigente nel sei-settecento: I seminaria nobilium nell'Italia centro-settentrionale. Bologna, Italy, 1976. A study of Jesuit boarding schools for nobles in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Brizzi, Gian Paolo. "Strategie educative e istituzion: Scolastiche della Controriforma." In La letteratura italiana.Vol.1: Il letterato e le istituzioni. Turin, Italy, 1982. Pages 899–920.

Grendler, Paul F. Schooling in Renaissance Italy: Literacy and Learning, 1300–1600. Baltimore, Md., 1989. A comprehensive study of all forms of preuniversity education in Italy.

Pelliccia, Guerrino. La scuola primaria a Roma dal secolo XVI al XIX. Rome, 1985. A comprehensive account of Roman elementary education from 1513 to 1829.

Toscani, Xenio. Scuole e alfabetismo nello Stato di Milan da Carlo Borromeo allaRivoluzione. Brescia, Italy, 1993. A model study of schooling and literacy in Milan from 1560 to 1800.

Williams, George L. Fascist Thought and Totalitarianism in Italy's Secondary Schools:Theory and Practice, 1922–1943. New York, 1994. An excellent account with information on policy, textbooks, and preferred themes for compositions.

Woodward, William Harrison. Vittorino da Feltre and Other Humanist Educators. New York, 1963. A description of the most famous humanist schools and English translations of four fifteenth-century humanistic pedagogical treatises; first published in 1897.

Russia, the Soviet Union, and Eastern Europe

Alston, Patrick L. Education and the State in Tsarist Russia. Stanford, Calif., 1969. A general history of 1700–1914 that focuses on oscillation between centralization and local control of education.

Florinsky, Michael T. Russia: A Short History. New York, 1964.

Grant, Nigel. Society, Schools, and Progress in Eastern Europe. Oxford and New York, 1969. Covers Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and Albania in the twentieth century.

Hans, Nicholas A. The Russian Tradition in Education. London, 1963. Russian pedagogical thought in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Holmes, Larry E. The Kremlin and the Schoolhouse: Reforming Education in SovietRussia, 1917–1931. Bloomington, Ind., 1991.

Muckle, James. Portrait of a Soviet School under Glasnost. New York, 1990. A first-person account of teaching in schools in Moscow and Leningrad in 1988 by an English teacher.

Sinel, Allen. The Classroom and the Chancellery: State Educational Reform in Russia under Count Dmitry Tolstoi. Cambridge, Mass., 1973. Describes conservative and progressive tendencies, 1866–1880.


Anderson, R. D. Education and the Scottish People, 1750–1918. Oxford, 1995. An excellent account of the development of Scottish education.


Boyd-Barrett, Oliver, and Pamela O'Malley, eds. Education Reform in DemocraticSpain. London and New York, 1995.

McNair, John M. Education for a Changing Spain. Manchester, U.K., and Dover, N.H., 1984. Focuses on the twentieth century.

Puelles Benítez, Manuel de. Educación e ideología en la España contemporànea(1767–1975). Barcelona, Spain, 1980. A good survey.

Other countries

Boucher, Leon. Tradition and Change in Swedish Education. Oxford and New York, 1982. After a brief historical survey, the book describes post-1945 developments.

Melton, James Van Horn. Absolutism and the Eighteenth-Century Origins of Compulsory Schooling in Prussia and Austria. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1988.

Rust, Val D. The Democratic Tradition and the Evolution of Schooling in Norway. New York, 1989. Norway developed a common school for all pupils before the rest of Europe.

Zeps, Michael J. Education and the Crisis of the First Republic. Boulder, Colo., 1987. A brief survey of Austrian education from 1770 to 1962, with a focus on 1919–1934.

The author is grateful to Professors Istvan Bejczy, Constantin Fasolt, and Erika Rummel, who recalled their schooling in the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria respectively, and to Catherine Schmitt for information on contemporary English schooling.