Edited By Chris Mounsey and Stan Booth
‘This so low a purpose’: Richard Mulcaster and the Aims of Public Education in Sixteenth-Century England
This chapter briefly explores an example of what Norbert Elias calls the ‘civilizing process’ in grammar school education in sixteenth-century England. Through a close reading of Richard Mulcaster’s published texts on education, the aims of public education as an education towards public service are given voice. A desire for uniformity is seen to be coupled with an attention to variability – a responsiveness to the variability of learners being necessary to producing a uniform outcome. A sensitivity to variability if shown to be crucial for Mulcaster’s educational theory – not to preserve it but to take it into account so that individuals can be better groomed for public service.
There are not many different ways to conceive of what Norbert Elias calls ‘the civilizing process’1 in terms of sixteenth-century grammar schooling. Even if the proclivities of a headmaster like Richard Mulcaster might have leaned in particular directions which were not completely at ease with the common doctrines of education, the authority of the state in its regulation meant that grammar school education was, as Mulcaster argued it should be, remarkably similar in terms of the content that was taught. Equally, the ways in which this content was taught, and the means by which students were guided to learn it, stuck to a model which can be traced to Cicero and Quintilian. What is remarkable, however, is the way in which variable ← 45 | 46 → natures were accommodated and responded to in educational theory and practice. There...
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