victorian education

As a newcomer to home education (my new family have been in this social system for many years but I was only introduced four years ago) it has been interesting to see this different way of learning from all angles. As a previous teacher (hating the bureaucracy involved) I could see the demand for a means of educating a large number of students. However, when I become a tutor to the home educated and eventually a father of unschooled children, it allowed me to see the upsides to home education as well.

There’s a difficulty for all sides with the systems involved. Many have our passions, let downs or fear of the unknown. Those who parent via the 9 to 5 system (well 8 to 3.30 really) don’t understand what home schooling is about and hence are apprehensive. Our brain’s are psychologically designed to have a fear of what we don’t understand and, whilst this is unfair and should be overcome rather than used to protest, at least its a reason. On the other hand, many home education families have been let down by the educational system, as well as the local education authorities that supply it. How many times have I tutored pupils who haven’t been given the appropriate help, have been bullied at school, or are intimated by the academic examination system. I even have family members who become severely stressed while sitting a primary school test.

But maybe I just inexperienced in the whole thing.

Anyway, I’m digressing. The reason why I’m spouting on is that I’ve recently become interested in how this system came about, how home education has developed and what the future of education will and should be. Personally, I can’t see a way to educating the millions of children in the world unless there is some commercialised system (yuch) but I also believe there will be a niche for those who want to educate by a more individualised means. These are the home ed who will strive to provide for their children’s personalities rather than the rules and regulations.

So where did the compulsory system we have today all begin and why is it there? I suppose you have to ask yourself just what education is for. In today’s world there are completely different reasons for it but the place we live also in is completely different to that which existed a hundred years ago. Apprenticeships date back to the 12th century, ironically providing an education that many home ed families seek. Rather than a child learning in an academic system they learned skills that they needed for everyday life right up to the 20th century. No-one had to read or write: being able to carry out carpentry or repair a roof was much more important!

However, such systems failed due to their abuse, using children for money rather than to allow them their own future. Don’t get me wrong, maybe in those days such things were needed. It wasn’t until 1880 that this use of children was finally stemmed (at least for those aged 10 or under) and I’ve often read about six year old children sent up chimneys during the Victoria era. In the developing world a child’s life is often seen as a resource rather than something to cherish and as sad as this is it is one of the harsh realities of life. I guess we must remember that this isn’t a system to make one person extremely rich or for a parent to put their feet up but instead it allowed a family to survive.

In 1870 the Elementary Education Act, or Forster’s Act, was passed to force children between 5 and 10 into education. This was with the exception of those families who could not afford to give up their children as part of the family workforce. There were several reasons for this act and some of the more cynical can easily see what the government had to benefit. Parents had to pay for the education if they could afford it and I am sure the government had its cut.

There was a fight to keep the British Empire competing with the rest of the world (such as the rapidly growing US, unified German Empire and stale but still strong Russian Empire) and the way to do this was to improve the skills of the workforce. New technology that formed the backbone of the industrial revolution required engineers and not just labourers.

On top, Britain would be introducing new voting Acts to bring more of the public into the election. The Ballot Act of 1872 made voting secret and so more people were happier to vote rather than be threatened or bribed. However, this would require the public to be able to read and write (to an extent) if politicians were to have a better chance of putting their arguments across to the people.

Maybe I’m getting old and bitter but personally I think the new system was for money.

In the end, I believe this reasoning for the Compulsory Education Act in 1880 is seriously outdated. The government now funds education, rather than taking their cut, and many parents are educated enough to provide their children with the three R’s that apply to life. We no longer have a developing country where Imperialism is of the utmost importance but a developed world where culture and creativity can be a driving force behind our economy. Of course, this is just the beginning of the system’s development and maybe we can find more legitimate reasoning for compulsory education in the 137 years that have since passed. But those are for another article.

Picture taken from on-this-day-elementary-education-act-passed-in-1870-11363823327455