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Schooling and the Making of Citizens in the Long Nineteenth Century: Comparative Visions

reviewed by John L. Rury - October 11, 2013

coverTitle: Schooling and the Making of Citizens in the Long Nineteenth Century: Comparative Visions
Author(s): Daniel Tröhler, Thomas S. Popkewitz & David F. Labaree (eds.)
Publisher: Routledge, New York
ISBN: 0415889006, Pages: 328, Year: 2011
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A longstanding criticism of the history of education as a field concerns its largely national orientation.  Schooling, for the most part, has been sponsored by nation states, or by such smaller geo-political entities as states or cities and towns.  And the historical study of education has followed accordingly for the most part, focusing on the development of schools and other educational institutions and practices in particular places.  Truly comparative work in the field has been rare, a fact that makes this volume, edited by a European and two American scholars, quite remarkable.  With fourteen chapters and as many contributors, dealing with a defining era in modern schooling, it offers a perspective on the rise of western education systems that can be rather illuminating.

Following Eric Hobsbawm, the book's title refers to the era spanning the republican (representative and anti-monarchical) revolutions of the late eighteenth century to the opening decades of the twentieth, when national systems of education had become well established.  During this time, schools came to be seen as integral to the formation of republican national identities, which supplanted religious and aristocratic authority as the prevailing ethos in western political life.  This is not to say that the churches and nobility lost all influence, but they increasingly were required to assert their views within popular systems of republican governance.  Control of education, in that case, became quite significant, as schools were often seen as crucial determinants of what children—and eventually adults—were to believe.  Suddenly popular education mattered to a degree unimaginable in earlier times.

As the editors note, this general process of transformation has been widely acknowledged, with republican forms of government, reformed Protestantism and education driving change as a "globally successful amalgam, the engine of global development" (pp. 8-9).  Yet they also argue that the manner in which such changes unfolded differed a great deal from one setting to another.  This, as it turns out, is perhaps the principal contribution of the book, as the chapters following the editors' Introduction each deal with the transition to republican forms of education in specific settings, mostly in western Europe, but also Argentina and the United States, as well as Australia.  It makes the collection implicitly comparative, even if relatively little attention is given to matters of systematic or otherwise explicit comparison of the various nations, states and cities that are collectively discussed.  

This observation is not necessarily a criticism.  The chapters deal with a wide variety of periods and circumstances, providing a rich and highly instructive mélange of cases for weighing the various factors contributing to modern forms of schooling.  The connection between religion—especially Protestantism in various forms—and republican political impulses is highlighted in Part 1 of the book, with chapters on Sweden, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Scotland.   As this list suggests, republican-style debates over schooling occurred in Catholic counties too, as mobilization of nationalist sentiments was deemed imperative far and wide.  Older religious texts and instructional traditions often were adapted to new socio-political purposes, and conflicts between cultural conservatives and liberal proponents of change were recurrently resolved by negotiation and compromise.  The result was a seemingly ubiquitous and yet uneven, bumpy movement toward universal mass education, which only became clear toward the end of the period.  

At the center of these changes lay the concept of citizenship, which is wholly or partly a topic of historical exposition and analysis in Parts 2 and 3 of the book.  If republican forms of political organization were to function effectively, after all, members of the polity needed to be informed, morally upright, responsible and most of all, loyal to the nation state.  Chapters on Argentina, the city state of Zurich, the United States, France, Australia and the Netherlands comprise these parts of the book, offering a variegated sampling of the conflicts and changes that contributed to modern expectations of citizens, and how mass systems of education contributed to them.  While each case represented a fresh and somewhat distinctive take on the question, there certainly seemed to be convergence over time.  

The quality of research, writing and interpretive analysis throughout is quite high, with few exceptions.  For the most part, this is intellectual, political and institutional history of education, dealing largely with the evolution of ideas about republicanism, schools and the preparation of children learning to become citizens.  The sources include books and religious tracts, political decrees and legislative debates, along with a wide assortment of other documents.  There is a wide swath of secondary literature cited, from a variety of counties.  Some get greater attention than others, such as the Netherlands and Zurich, featured in two chapters each.  Given the contributions of such prolific historians as Jeroen J. H. Dekker and Daniel Tröhler on these places, it is little wonder that there is more historical work on them.  David Labaree and Thomas Popkewitz offered chapters on the United States, each providing a distinctively familiar frame of reference on sweeping changes in American education since the 19th century.  Other chapters feature careful use of primary and secondary sources, often focusing on particular times and places.  For some it is clear that English is not a first language, although the writing is reasonably clear throughout.  Altogether, the book offers an interesting variety of approaches to historical scholarship, as well as topics and locales.  

As indicated earlier, this book is largely a collection of national case studies, some conceived on a grander scale than others, and not explicitly comparative apart from the editors' helpful opening chapter.  By and large this is western history, starting with Europe and extending around the globe to the Americas and Australia.  As such, it is largely represents the European Diaspora of the early modern period, extending through the long nineteenth century.  It would be most interesting to conceive of a companion volume examining the development of republican forms of political and social nationalism and education in the so called developing world during the twentieth century.  This, of course, would require the collaboration of a wholly different group of educational historians, and perhaps new conceptual frames of reference, including colonialism.  The history of schooling and citizens during the "long nineteenth century," after all, hardly tells the whole story of education and national development.  There is yet more history to contemplate, and vast regions of the globe that extend beyond the purview of this highly informative volume.  

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: October 11, 2013
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17277, Date Accessed: 5/26/2022 7:09:49 PM

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About the Author
  • John L. Rury
    University of Kansas
    E-mail Author
    JOHN L. RURY, professor of education and (by courtesy) history, University of Kansas, is the author of Education and Social Change: Contours in the History of American Education and other publications on the history of American education, race and education, and urban education.
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