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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XXIII. Education

§ 33. Labour and Education

During the thrid, fourth, and fifth decades of the century another class of periodicals disseminated much material on education and exerted a peculiar influence on the developing ideas of the new democracy. These were the labour publications, particularly The Workingman’s Advocate, The Daily Sentinel, and The Young American. Those enumerated were all issued in New York, but similar publications appeared in Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Cincinnati. The labour element, which during this period came into self-consciousness and achieved organization, took greater interest in education than at any subsequent time, but was peculiarly interested in the establishment of free public education of democratic character.

The most succinct and effective of the statements of labour on education is found in a series of six articles first issued in 1830 and republished subsequently in a number of publications. The first essay addressed itself to the question “What sort of an education is befitting a republic?” and answered “One that is open and free to all.” An education, such as then prevailed, which shut the book of knowledge to one and opened it to another, was undemocratic. The second essay discussed the source of support, and asserted that it should be “from the Government,” because education was in reality a form of legislation and if wisely cared for might to a great extent supersede the necessity and save the expense of criminal law, jails, and almshouses. The third essay considered the question “What sort of an education should the people have?” and answered “Whatever is good enough for human beings.” The current aristocratic education “of adornment” was rejected, “not because Hebrew and velvet painting are good only for the rich and privileged, but only because we think them useless for any one.” The purpose of education is to make men “not fractions of human beings, sometimes mere producing machines, sometimes mere consuming drones, but an integral republic, at once the creators and employers of industry, at once master and servant, governor and governed.” The specific scheme recommended was a combination of industrial and agricultural training with a more practical literary education than that in vogue at the time.

These educational demands of labour were combined with many other calls for social reform. Some of these, long since attained, such as free access to public lands, abolition of imprisonment for debt, adoption of general bankruptcy laws, removal of property qualification for voting, have an antiquated sound at present. Some, such as abolition of monopolies, shorter working hours, equal rights for women with men in all respects, are still familiar slogans; some, such as the abolition of all laws for the collection of debts, the housing of all children in barracks for educational purposes, possess a radicalism which puts them in the realm of Utopias, desired or undesired.

With the substantial achievement of free public education, at least in theory, by the middle of the century, the labour groups lost their interest in education and in large public questions in general, and transferred it to the economic problems in which they were interested.

During this period America was peculiarly conscious of its growth in national independence and sensitive as to its provincialism. This sensitiveness was not rendered less acute by the comments of friendly visitors such as Miss Martineau (Society in America, 1837) and Charles Dickens (American Notes, 1842), guests not inclined to “see Americans first.” Some of these foreign commentators on educational America were more generous in appreciation. George Combe, the celebrated phrenologist, in his three volumes of Notes on the United States of America (1841), makes frequent reference to educational affairs in which he was much interested; the Swede, Siljestrom, published in 1853 The Educational Institutions of the United States, the most elaborate description and most favourable commentary of all.