From the creation of the first charity associations in the early 1800s, from the opening in New York and Philadelphia of the first Lancastrian schools for pauper boys, and until the 1830s and 1840s, education confined the children of the poor in overcrowded, correction-dominated quasi schools. It restricted pauper boys to enormous classrooms of 300 to 1,000, seeking to order and control their minds and bodies. Through these impersonal pedagogies of surveillance, correction, and confinement, these extraordinary efforts to improve the morals, perceptions, and responses of the poor, the charity schools shaped the understandings and practices of educational institutions in the United States for a century and more.
We must try to imagine, then, those first moments in U.S. history when a righteous people established these first schools for the poor. We must try to describe, from the beginning, those forms of discipline and pedagogy that consigned individualism and learning to one side while glorifying all that was uniform and routine. We want to try to imagine the overworked youngster sitting stiffly at attention on long wooden benches, answering questions mechanically in drafty, unheated rooms, submitting meekly to the schoolmaster in order to avoid the punishments that were routinely meted out to idlers and malcontents.
We must think, too, of the boys who were not in school, whose families would not allow their children to be schooled under the stigma