THE AMERICAN CHILD AS SEEN BY BRITISH TRAVELERS, 1845-1935
Richard L. Rapson
The only sure way to detect and analyze the causes of change, some historians claim, is through comparative study. When two broadly similar societies or cultures are compared, the variables that determine the differences between them may be identified. Foreign travelers have been an important source of comparative data and opinion, although their observations must be evaluated in the light of their biases. British travelers to this country provide a particularly useful approach to the study of American education because their culture and traditions were close enough to American conditions to make an intelligent study of them possible, yet sufficiently different to throw our native peculiarities into relief. In the essay below Richard Rapson studies some of the variations between the two countries in their ways of child rearing.
While British travelers to American shores disagreed with one another on many topics between the years 1845 and 1935, they spoke with practically one voice upon two subjects: American schools and American children. On the whole they thought the public school system admirable; with near unanimity they found the children detestable.
This adds up to a paradox, for if the innovation of free public education was, as most of these visitors contended, the best thing about America, surely some decent effect upon the schools' young charges should have been faintly discernible. Yet the British were not at all