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Classroom Struggle

Organizing Elementary School Teaching in the 19th Century

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Marcelo Caruso

During the institutionalization of mass schooling in the 19 th century, teaching large groups of children became both a necessity and a matter of regulation. For officials and inspectors the systematization of classroom interactions was important for effective results. However, while systematization could bring about the constant attention of children and their uninterrupted work, interactions themselves were difficult to control. Rationalized models of classroom organization provided alternatives for managing large groups before age grading became the dominant pattern of organizing interactions. The contributions in this volume explore diverse paths of transition towards modern classroom organization in different countries, allowing transnational perspectives and comparisons.
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Classroom Struggle: Organizing Elementary Teaching in the 19th Century

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In 1857, delegates from 25 countries met in Vienna for the third International Statistical Congress. All but one delegates – Mr. Effendi from the Ottoman Empire – came from Europe; many of them were from German-speaking countries. Their purpose was to delineate general templates capable of giving statistical representation to the diverse states of a wide range of subjects (including education and schools) in different countries. The local organizing committee, while preparing the official working document for the commission on education, found some difficulties in dealing with schools and their specifics. They discarded teaching methods from the proposed template because these varied across countries to such a degree that it would render their codification and comparison impossible.1 The inner life of schools beyond official regulations certainly presented insurmountable difficulties for the statistics experts trying to classify situations in a valid and reliable way. Yet two elements related to the extremely varied teaching settings found their place in the templates used to evaluate individual elementary schools: the number of classes and sections, and the question whether “teachers used the help of advanced pupils following the method of mutual instruction.”2 In the plenary session of the congress, the delegates apparently found these proposals both meaningful and realistic; they accepted the whole template.

Elementary schooling became a mass institution throughout Western Europe in the 19th century. Even those countries that were not so successful at expanding elementary schooling saw themselves as late adopters of a trend that they deemed to...

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