Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Homeschooling vs. Public Schooling in the Kabinettskriege Era

An 18th Century Classroom
Dear Reader,

I recently read a blog post attempting to link compulsory public education laws, with Obama, and Adolf Hitler. Sadly for those wishing to link public schooling with the Nazi party, the idea of compulsory public education has a rich tradition, dating into the early modern period. In fact, the Kabinettskriege era saw the rise of compulsory education for children, especially in Europe. One of the reasons why we know so much about eighteenth century armies, battles and soldiers is the letters which these soldiers left behind. Throughout the Kabinettskriege era, literacy was on the rise, thanks, in part, to compulsory education.

In the American War of Independence, Hessian soldiers, or as we should properly call themSubsidientruppen, left an incredible amount of information. Even common, private soldiers, such as Johannes Reuber, Johann Conrad D√∂hla and Johann Andreas Bense, (German mothers likes the name John, apparently) wrote about their experiences. Where did they learn to write? Compulsory public schools, which were slowly being mandated in western Germany throughout the eighteenth century. Now of course, this public education had drawbacks- women were usually excluded, but many eighteenth century noblewomen, such as Baroness von Riedesel, had education at home, which brings me to my next topic: 

Elite homeschoolers with a tutor

Homeschooling in the Kabinettskriege Era

Kabinettskriege era homeschoolers were very different from the modern homeschooling movement. (Though, admittedly, if members of the tea party, they may dress somewhat similarly.) While the modern homeschooling movement was founded on primarily religious grounds, in the Kabinettskriege era, homeschooling was a sign of elite culture. While we generally think of homeschooling in this period as instruction with a tutor- this was not necessarily the case. In some cases, the parents schooled the children, as in the modern homeschooling movement. 

 While many eighteenth century officers were educated publicly, this was the exception rather than the rule. Christopher Duffy comments: 

'Most of the continental aristocrats were educated at home. This sheltered upbringing produced fiery Prussian hussars like Georg Chirstoph von Natzmer and Has Joachim von Zieten, as well as deep-thinking individuals such as Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick:
"Ferdinand's education was entirely confined to his parental house... This is not normally the environment best suited for forming a prince, but such an education can be most successful providing it is supervised by intelligent and vigilant parents who set a good example in all things. So it proved in this case." (The first paragraph is Duffy, the second is a nineteenth century historian.)"'
 I like to think that it proved so in my case as well, for, as many of you know, I was homeschooled. Perhaps the most famous (fictional) case of homeschooling in the eighteenth century was that of Candide and Cunegonde, tutored by Pangloss in Voltaire's satirical novel, Candide. Again, this fictional representation of displays homeschooling as an affectation of elite culture. Sadly for the homeschoolers in this novel, their hired tutor is somewhat wrong about everything. 

Home education was also a feature of life for the very poor in this period, who could not afford let their children go from working or begging. However, as the eighteenth century continued, more and more students attended school, even from poorer families. One of the effects of the Enlightenment was that education began to have more value,  and public schools gained additional students. 

Bernard Bailyn and Gordon S. Wood have suggested that a rise of Enlightenment values brought about the American Revolution, through the use of pamphlets and radical newspapers. Republican ideology spread through the writings of John Locke and the Commonwealth men, in Britain. However, these writings could not have produced such as devastating effect if they had no readers.  The rise of public education throughout the eighteenth century increased the literacy rate of the American colonists, not just in New England, but in all parts of the colonies. Thus, it could be argued, that public schools assisted with the oncoming of the American Revolution, and the spread of Enlightenment ideas.  

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns  

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  1. Excellent post! But of course it is - after all, this being the best of all possible worlds, Kabinettskriege is of course the best of all possible blogs. While I realize that the primary purpose of your work here is to examine military aspects of the era, I enjoy these occasional looks into cultural issues.

    1. I am glad you liked it! Thanks for reading.

  2. Wow, fascinating post. Thanks for taking the time to write this.