The 19th Century Educational System (or Lack Thereof)
“Public” schools were founded through generous donations for the male children of the towns of Eton and Harrow, and they were originally open to all. The concept of the “grammar” school came from the fact that Latin and Greek grammar was the basis of the program. Eventually, these public schools began to operate as private schools for the children of rich patrons.
These “public” schools were a social experiment in an era when education was patchwork at best. No national school system existed at the beginning of the 19th Century. The rich hired a governess to teach their female children and a tutor to educate their sons until the boys could go off to Eton, Harrow, Oxford, and Cambridge. Children of the poor were sent off to work the fields, or if fortunate, to an apprenticeship.
From Eton and Harrow of England, we learn,
“Eton College and Harrow School are both all-boy boarding schools. When the boys enter, they are 13 years old, and they spend five years before they graduate when they become 18 years old. Eton was established by King Henry VIII (1491-1541). Harrow started as an exclusive school for boys in 1243, but moved to the present location during the period of Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603).
Until recently, most of the prime ministers came from Eton or Harrow. These schools used to teach their boys how to run the British empire. These days, they are interested in teaching them how to run international corporations. This does not appear to be an easy transition.”
Women were not taught Latin or Greek. From Making Home Life Attractive, we learn, “Gentlemen should not make use of classical quotations in the presence of ladies, without apologizing for or translating them. Even then, it should only be done when no other phrase can so aptly express their meaning. Much display of learning is pedantic and out of place in a drawing room. All topics especially interesting to gentlemen, such as the turf, the exchange, or the farm, should be excluded from general conversation. Men should also remember that all ladies are not interested in politics, and dwell, of preference, upon such subjects as they are sure to be acquainted with. Never talk upon subjects of which you know nothing, unless it be for the purpose of acquiring information. Many young ladies and gentlemen imagine that, because they play a little, sing a little, draw a little, frequent exhibitions and operas, and so forth, they are qualified judges of art. No mistake is more egregious or universal. The young should never be critical. A young person of either sex can but appear ridiculous when satirizing books, people, or things: opinion, to be worth the consideration of others, should have the advantage of maturity.”
The idea of children not able to read their Bibles spearheaded the movement toward true public education. In 1811, the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church was formed. By 1839, Parliament took up the cause of these “national” schools. In that year, Parliament granted 30,000 pounds to the running of these open schools.
The “national” schools ran on what was known as a monitorial system, meaning teachers taught monitors (selected students), who then taught the enrolled children. This system evolved into “training colleges,” another term for a teacher’s college.
In 1862, standards were implemented to set a “standardized” program for all children. These standards included the 3R’s.