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School, State, and Society: The Growth of Elementary Schooling in Nineteenth-Century France, a Quantitative Analysis.

School, State, and Society: The Growth of Elementary Schooling in Nineteenth-Century France. A Quantitative Analysis, by Raymond Grew and Patrick J. Harrigan. Ann Arbor, Michigan, University of Michigan Press, 1991. 324 pp. $39.50 U.S.

Raymond Grew's and Patrick J. Harrigan's quantitative analysis of elementary schooling in nineteenth-century France has long been anticipated by those interested in French education. Although the results are not strikingly revisionist, they do reinforce and extend recent arguments by "optimists" about trends in French education. The basic theses here are that schools developed earlier, especially in the 1820s and 1830s, and more main impetus for schooling came from below, notably from parents and local authorities, rather than from the central government. After these early decades, the development of schooling occurred in a "remarkably systemic way." Thus the famous national laws on primary education, the Guizot Law of 1833, the Falloux Law of 1850, and the Ferry Laws of 1881-82, did not so much initiate as recognize and codify developments already well under way.

The chapter topics unfold from the more quantifiable subjects to the more peripheral: the number of schools, enrolments (the growth of schools preceded enrolment), the Catholic contribution, the schooling of girls, the teachers, the slower development of kindergartens, adult classes and secondary schools (still elitist and separated from primary schooling) and, finally, finances (an increase in financing followed rather than preceded the growth of schools and enrolments).

Although highly quantitative, with sixty-three pages of tables and no bibliography, detailed statistical explanations are kept to a minimum. Grew and Harrigan worked with some two million items and more than two thousand statistical variables, most of them drawn from the published Statistique de l'enseignement, in which they found "remarkably few statistical anomalies." And, as the authors point out, most of the analysis is necessarily a means of discovering and measuring relations among departments and of identifying patterns of change; it does not directly describe local realities.

Grew and Harrigan identify three periods in the growth of primary schools in France: rapid growth from 1821 to 1837; moderate growth from 1837 to 1867, as schools spread to sparsely populated areas; and slight growth from 1876 to 1906, when the emphasis shifted to improving the quality of schooling by reducing class sizes, improving libraries, and the like. As for enrolment, "most surprising of all," the numbers "proclaim" that the educational system was established earlier in the century and that "more students attended school sooner than is conventionally assumed." Surprising, according to Grew and Harrigan, because historians have for too long accepted the accounts of the pessimists, especially impatient school inspectors and reformers, who left the impression that primary schooling in France was for a long time inadequate, that it progressed slowly and late and had to overcome great local resistance. Instead, we have here evidence for a relatively rapid achievement of one of the most demanding, complex, and expensive of liberal dreams, and one that spread from the bottom up as well as from thee top down. Why, the authors ask, has this been so often overlooked or underestimated? Also, "the spread of schooling should not be seen simply as the imposition of an overweening state or the intrusion of middle-class goals."

The Catholic role in education is seen more as contributing to, rather than competing with, the development of universal secular schooling. The most surprising suggestion here is that in aiding and co-operating in the establishment of universal education, the church in effect acknowledged the state's pre-eminent responsibility and thus helped establish a single system of universal elementary education, "incidentally undermining the basis in theory or practice for a pluralistic system of the English or American kind."

Girls' schools, Grew and Harrigan argue, need to be considered separately because they lagged behind and because at the time many thought their education should be different, and usually Catholic. But here, too, the lag was not as great as hitherto assumed: as early as 1837, the number of girls enrolled was 70 per cent of the total for boys. Once again, systemic growth prevailed: those departments in the lead by 1837 remained so, although the lagging departments tended to narrow the gap.

Regionally, Grew and Harrigan have used the computer to cluster departments according to various variables. Although too complex to go into here, it is a suggestive methodology. For education, they find seven such clusters of departments, based especially on number of schools and enrolments, more useful than the traditional geographic divisions, whether it be the old provinces, the administrative academies, the North-South St. Malo-Geneva division, or even the western wedge or triangle of lagging development.

Throughout, the authors acknowledge the limits of quantitative analysis, most notably perhaps with respect to instituteurs and institutrices, where such analysis "can add little" to the celebration of the French teachers in "song, poetry, fiction, journalism, and political speech." Indeed, as the analysis marches relentlessly on, considering variable after variable with an increasingly smaller return; one's interest tends to wane, and one would welcome a bit more poetry.

Another problem is that the numbers relate to departmental totals, and thus while the analysis can compare these in the search for trends and relationships, it cannot compare what is perhaps the fundamental split, that between urban and rural areas. As Grew and Harrigan admit, ". . . data aggregated by departments mask much that we want to study." And yet they argue that the steady spread of schooling leaves little evidence of sizeable or persistent popular resistance, and then ask why attending school was so acceptable even to peasants and the poor. In this they question assumptions about rural intransigence and rigidity made by not only nineteenth-century bourgeois reformers but also, perhaps, by twentieth-century professors. But unless we can measure the rural-urban split within departments, we cannot really know how sizeable the resistance was. In any case, what the statistics cannot tell us is the answer to that why question.

Nevertheless, anyone who has used, even tentatively, the voluminous and varied numbers in the Statique de l'enseignement will be grateful that we now have this handy reference. Its functional limits also highlight the questions that need attention, many suggested by the authors. And the most important of these is motive: why the wide acceptance of schooling, why did the schooling of girls follow so closely upon that of boys despite the different way in which contemporaries viewed them, and so on. And if there was a consensus on curricula, as Grew and Harrigan suggest in closing, why did the schools nevertheless fail? Thus the most appropriate final words might by that ". . . these complex departmental data that hide internal diversity obscure much that only local studies can reveal . . . ." There is still much work to be done.
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Author:Koepke, Robert
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1992
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