The Search for Enlightenment: The Working Class and Adult Education in the Twentieth Century

The Search for Enlightenment: The Working Class and Adult Education in the Twentieth Century

The Search for Enlightenment: The Working Class and Adult Education in the Twentieth Century

The Search for Enlightenment: The Working Class and Adult Education in the Twentieth Century

Excerpt

Working-class involvement in adult education has a history as long as that of the working class itself. From the late eighteenth century workers, caught up in the turmoil of industrial development, sought to understand the reasons for their consequent suffering. Thus the group of mechanics who formed the Sheffield Corresponding Society in the early 1790s, asked at a trial to explain the object of their meetings, replied:

To enlighten the people, to show the people the reason, the ground of all
their complaints and sufferings; when a man works hard for thirteen and
fourteen hours a day, the week through, and is not able to maintain his
family; that is what I understand of it; to show the people the ground of
this; why they were not able.

‘Instruction is the want of all’, declared a publication of the London Corresponding Society at the same time (1794), and ‘the Society ought to favour with all its powers the progress of human reason, and to place instruction within the reach of every citizen’.

This book is devoted to illuminating aspects of this long-standing struggle for education during the present century. The field is a complex one, since several different groupings and organisations, each having different objectives, have been involved over the period, while at the same time the composition and character of the working class has itself undergone considerable change. In addition, the political context has changed radically over time. Unravelling the threads, therefore, is not easy; our intention, however, is to cast new light on areas which have, till now, been little studied.

As outlined briefly at the start of the first essay, working-class adult education emerged at the turn of the century in two main forms. On the one hand there was the self-help tradition, originally developing from the work of the Corresponding Societies, which came to be known as independent working-class education. On the other, the . . .

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