The Age of Reform, 1815-1870

By E. L. Woodward | Go to book overview

II
EDUCATION, 1815-70

THE changes in the character, scope, and extension of schools and universities throughout the United Kingdom between 1815 and 1870 might well be taken as the central feature of the age of reform. These changes, which affected the manners, outlook, and capacity of every class in society, were part of the general movement towards a higher standard of life. Furthermore, while the political and administrative measures of the time were directed towards a better arrangement of things, the educational reformers aimed at the improvement of people, though by increasing the supply of persons qualified to serve the administrative and technical needs of an industrial society they were solving a problem as practical as the problems solved by the engineers. The new schools were as necessary as the new machine tools and the new railways.

There were deep-seated prejudices against educational reform, and an indifference which was almost more troublesome than prejudice. The engineers and inventors also had to deal with opposition of this kind; but their discoveries and processes offered immediate results, and appealed to motives of personal gain. Educational reform was expensive; it brought no immediate results, and was concerned, in the hands of its best advocates, with values which could not be measured in commercial language. Self-made and successful men, quick to see the possibilities of a new machine or the importance of a good water- supply for their towns, did not show the same alertness of mind in considering the economic advantages of an educated working class. From their point of view an educated working class meant an increase in labour troubles. They were less likely to agree with Carlyle's view: 'Who would suppose that Education were a thing which had to be advocated on the ground of local expediency, or indeed on any ground? As if it stood not on the basis of everlasting duty, as a prime necessity of man.'1

The prejudices against book-learning were not altogether unfounded. 'Education' as a subject was not properly studied; existing schools and universities were not producing very striking results. They did little to improve the standard of technical

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1
T. Carlyle, Chartism, p. 98 ( 1842 ed.).

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