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

Drawing upon an immense amount of data and buttressed by a solid foundation in the secondary literature, Grew and Harrigan have written a path breaking study of the development of French elementary education that settles several interpretative disputes and can serve as a model for future efforts to examine national school systems. The book draws most heavily from the national educational censuses that the French government published periodically from 1829 to 1906, for a total of thirteen such reports. All of this mountain of data, some of which is included in the form of tables at the end of the book, was first put in machine readable form and, then, analyzed with the assistance of both a statistician and a computer programming expert. Lest they be accused of basing their conclusions on faulty evidence, the authors also used statistical tests to determine if the nineteenth century data were reliable. Finding that they generally were, the authors still exercised admirable caution by basing their conclusions "on statistical relationships strong enough to remain valid even if inaccuracies [in the data] were many times larger than we believe them to be" (23).

A brief review can highlight only a few of the many important conclusions Grew and Harrigan reach. A major thesis of the study is their rejection of the common assertion that "primary schooling in France was for a long time inadequate, progressed slowly and late, and had to overcome great local resistance" (14). Central to this thesis is their conclusion that the main pieces of nineteenth-century educational legislation did little to initiate, or even encourage, the growth of the system. Instead, they found that major laws were passed during or immediately after periods when local initiatives and internal momentum had generated substantial growth in both schools and enrollment. Thus, throughout the nineteenth century, most French departments had enrollment levels well above national requirements.

Given their findings on school and enrollment growth, Grew and Harrigan caution other historians not to exaggerate the importance of evidence of parental resistance to education. Instead, they insist that the vast majority of parents must have supported primary schooling or enrollment figures would have been lower. In fact, they argue that parental resistance, to the extent that it existed, was generally aimed not at schooling itself, but at summer attendance. They even suggest that "much of the overall historical emphasis on resistant parents and poor attendance seems to have come from misunderstanding reports about summer attendance as describing attendance in general" (67). Surprisingly, though, they give no evidence to back up this last assertion.

More important than just the developmental speed and local roots of French elementary education is the finding that it developed systemically. As the authors explain, this systemic growth comprised three distinct, but related, processes. First, there was continuity in development. Thus, despite the immense industrial and urban growth throughout the nineteenth century, departments that were leaders in establishing schools early in the century, were still leaders one or two generations later in other measures of educational development, with the same being true of laggards. Secondly, there was "inertial energy" (216) in the sense that there was a progressive tendency in all departments for some schools to lead to more, schooling for some students leading to some schooling for all, enrollment for a few years growing into attendance for six or seven years, and so on. Finally, there was considerable pressure from within the system, as well as from outside it, to make elementary education more similar across the nation. This pressure, importantly, was not initiated by state regulations, but was instead reinforced by them. So rapid was the systemic growth that the authors conclude that by the late 1860s and early 1870s, the norm of universal enrollment had been accepted and nearly achieved. Thereafter, the main efforts would switch from making education available to improving the quality and uniformity of the instruction delivered. This periodization considerably departs from a chronology based on the dates of important educational laws.

Unlike most treatments of French elementary education, the authors give substantial attention to girls' schooling as well as the role of the Catholic Church in the development of the system. Their findings in both of these areas are important.

They conclude, for instance, that the enrollment figures and other data on girls schooling show that peasant families did not withhold education from their daughters but, in fact, made great sacrifices to ensure that they went to school. Although girls' enrollment did lag behind boys', the gap was not large - the number of girls registered for schools was already 70% of the number of boys as early as 1837 - and it was steadily narrowed thereafter until it closed by the early 1870s. Such a finding certainly means we must give a closer look to the whole issue of gender discrimination against girls in nineteenth-century French society.

Rather than examine Catholic schools in isolation from their lay counter- parts, Grew and Harrigan perform a real service by investigating the role played by the teaching orders in the development of universal elementary instruction. While primary schooling as a whole progressed largely independent of national legislation, Catholic education was strongly affected by French politics. Although many Catholic schools existed by mid century, congregational schools were greatly encouraged by the Falloux Law of 1850 and their numbers increased rapidly after it. The resulting Catholic enrollment played an important part in the growth of instruction by developing both in precisely those areas that the public system and, particularly, girls into the classroom. Teaching orders, thus did much to aid in the final push to make schooling universal. In addition, the growing Catholic presence contributed to legitimizing both summer attendance as well as the elimination of tuition fees since the teaching orders never charged parents for their children to attend school.

Significantly, the bulk of the growing number of Catholic schools after 1850 was in the public sector, giving the a hold over them. Moreover, as the Catholic presence grew, so too did the prestige of public school teaching resulting in rapid growth of available lay teachers, many of whom were trained in the expanding normal school system. Thus, when political wars between aticlericals and the Church reached their peak in the early twentieth century, it was possible to laicize the Catholic schools. This elimination of the teaching orders, which usually involved younger, trained, and certified lay teachers replacing aged, untrained, clerical ones, was palatable to many localities because it was consistent with the pre-existing national trend toward higher standards and uniformity of schooling. From this perspective, then, both the growth of the Catholic schools and their ultimate elimination were part of the same process e process of systemic growth of the elementary education system.

For of the nineteenth century, primary education in France grew by every measure, evidence not only of its widespread acceptance but also of the systmatic process involved. Interestingly, however, the authors found that, some ways, the growth was self limiting. In particular, the development of kindergartens (ecoles maternelles) and higher primary schools (ecoles primaires superieures) was neither systematic nor based on nationwide local support. Instead, what growth there was in these two types of schools was mainly linked to either national political initiatives or the needs of those departments with large urban centers. In short, the expectation that children between the ages of six to thirteen should go to school was so solidly fixed that it limited the success of efforts to extend primary schooling to other groups. Thus,the expansion of the French primary system toward universal kindergarten and intermediate schooling was the result of post-World War I efforts, and not a smooth systemic development from the nineteenth century.

Although an extremely important book, there are some minor problems. Since the book provides a method of analyzing educational systems that could be applied to other nations, it will probably be read by many scholars not particularly familiar with the administrative geography of nineteenth-century France. Given the Grew and Harrigan make repeated reference to individual French departments, it would have been helpful to such readers to have a map with each of the departments named. More important, the authors frequently disagree with what they consider to be prevailing historical thinking on a variety of issues. Occasionally, however, no reference to precise works is given. Considering how strongly this book is grounded in the secondary literature, I find these omissions puzzling. Nonetheless, Grew and Harrigan have written a book of fundamental importance. It presents definitive answers to some key questions concerning the development of French elementary education in the nineteenth century.
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Author:Meyers, Peter V.
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1993
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