Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see – Neil Postman

The invention of schools – part two

In the last post on this topic, I argued that schools began as a moral project of the churches. I acknwledge the importance of this as noted by a follower, and frequent commenter, who stated that they were invented to prevent children from being exposed to the devil, in an idle hands are the devil’s playground (also, ironically drawn from a Biblical expression) kind of way. This post, I’m going to explain the model of schools that were fighting it out to be the head prefect in the battle of school models. There were notionally two models of schooling that were popular, the first was the monitorial school and the second was the gallery school.

Schools as we know them today are the product of two competing ideas. One was called the monitorial school and the other was called a gallery school. Monitorial schools were pretty ad-hoc affairs. Their instructors, because teacher would be too strong a word, were drawn from managers of factories and adults, and older children, who monitored the younger children. There was little formal instruction, limited attendance requirements, offerings were generally irregular and the good ones offered some instruction in a religious curriculum (Kendall & Wickham, 1999). The others were not really very good at offering instruction in anything (cf. Kendall & Wickham, 1999). These were probably not pleasant places to be sent. I think that, in many, the children were probably flogged, frequently. However, there were some that were dedicated to the moral and religious guidance of children as a means of helping the children to acquire good values and live good lives.

The gallery school was, as its name suggests, based on a gallery. Much like a lecture hall or picture theatre, it had rows of chairs ascending a wall. These chairs faced towards a platform with a teacher at the front. They were invented by a social reformer from Scotland named David Stow who was concerned that, if schools wanted to really affect the morals and lives of their pupils, the schools themselves needed to behave in a more morally consistent fashion. He set up a Christian pastoral style of education with small classes, regular instruction from a teacher who was to behave in a sympathetic, pastoral fashion. The children were to receive regular instruction in Christian morals. He invented the playground too so that the children could have a form of supervised freedom (Kendall & Wickham, 1999). As you can probably guess, the gallery school won the argument and it is on this model that most schools are currently based. However, while the instructional environment was taken on board, the curriculum was not, which probably greatly upset David Stow.

By the 19th Century, the British House of Lords Education Committee had decided that the gallery school would be the best model of schooling to institute into Britain, and her colonies. It struck a chord with popular ideas at the time, for example, the rise of experts (teachers), the management of the self by the individual and the use of bureaucracy to manage the population (Kendall & Wickham, 1999).

In following posts, I’m going to give you some examples from my own teaching experience that show how schools are still moralising, however in a non-religious fashion, with the children they teach. I will say no more now except that I had to teach ‘Personal Grooming’, you think about that for a minute. Personal Grooming, 90 minutes a week, grade 9.


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