Friday, August 6, 2010

Thinking Outside the Box - Regency Education Part III

Alternative education--it was an even more radical idea in the Regency era than it is now. For alternative education in the Regency meant education unattached to the Church of England.
right Harrow School
Most of the schools of England were associated in some way with the Anglican church.  It was, after all, the predominant religious institution of the nation. Eton and Harrow schools for young gentlemen both had close ties to the Church of England and it was very difficult to obtain entry to the universities at Oxford or Cambridge unless one was allied to the official Church.
left Oxford University 
Jane Austen wrote about what she knew, and she knew the world of the Anglican clergy. Therefore it permeates her novels. Georgette Heyer accepted the status quo and the world of the aristocracy and restricted her mentions of religion to Church of England. Modern day authors tend to do likewise. Thus mention of educational establishments also cling to the traditional, well-known, church-related institutions which emphasized a classical education of Greek and Latin literature, oration, and philosophy.

But there was a whole other world of religion and education occupying Regency England. The religion we will perhaps discuss another time. But the 'dissenting academies' were an important part of the educational establishment. Dissenters was a general term which included Non-conformist Protestants, Jews, Roman Catholics and Quakers. But it was not only their young men who attended the dissenting academies. There were scholars (even aristocracy) of all stripes at the most liberal of the schools because of their curriculae--which included experimental science, mathematics, business accountancy, grammar, modern history and geography.

left the first Warrington Academy
The Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow while not, strictly speaking, dissenting academies shared the liberal philosopy of the dissenters and provided a broad education and open admission. Some have argued that the dissenting academies fostered the industrial revolution. Certainly schools like Ackworth in Yorkshire, the Warrington Academy and its later version the Manchester Academy played a leading role in educating the middle classes who were instrumental in the society of the industrial North. 

right St. Agnes Miners and Mechanics Institute late 1800s
At the same time, education for the working classes was being developed by new movements like the Mechanics Institution, the 'Sunday Society' established in Birmingham in 1789, and Anderson's Institution in Glasgow.
The children of the working classes were still largely uneducated, but their parents were at last able to seize opportunities for advancement. Like the dissenting academies these instituions emphasized practical skills, and technical training.

In my book Daughter of Trade the heroine's middle class family subscribes to the idea of education for all and sends its sons to a dissenting academy. As writers and readers of the Regency era we need to consider the options that existed beyond the schools and universities of the Church of England. While the aristocrats of the Regency often did not think progressively when choosing their sons (and in some cases, daughters) schools, there were some who did. We need at least to consider the other advanced educational opportunities available.

'Til next time,


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