The crucial importance of the study of education can best be appreciated in terms of the school's role, alongside the family, in the communication process which gives form and meaning to social life. The purpose of this chapter is to consider the development of a key social institution by examining the development of school networks, of pedagogical practice and of attitudes towards education within evolving and varied social and geographical contexts.
The educational system developed within limits set by the interplay between the objectives of governments, the practical efforts to realize these and the attitudes of children and of their parents. From the point of view of legislators, the primary purpose of education was socialization - the transmission of the values of the social élite to both the younger generations of that élite and to outsiders, in the hope of establishing social concensus and of securing the willing collaboration of subordinate social groups. This would limit the risk of social unrest and the need for repressive activity by state agencies.
There were, in practice, two educational systems in France. For those who could afford it, the secondary schools, together with the elementary classes attached to them and in some cases higher education, created a distinctive culture which identified them as members of the propertied classes, both to other members of these classes and to outsiders — in the latter respect helping to preserve a 'social distance' between members of different social groups. In utilitarian terms, an education of the right sort was a means of entry into prestigious, well-paid positions in the administration, the liberal professions and business. In these various respects, education was a source of social power. The vast majority of children were restricted, however, if they received an education at all, to the primary schools. These had more limited objectives, essentially to provide elementary instruction. Adolphe Thiers wrote in 1848 that, 'To read, write and count, that is all that is necessary to learn; the rest is superfluous.' From a belief that inequality was inevitable, it followed that children ought to be taught only what was fitting for the role in life into which they had been born. This served to restrict social mobility and to reinforce class barriers. Only those with exceptional ability and/or luck were able to overcome their educational handicap and to improve their social status. Furthermore, as