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  • Victorian Education and the Periodical Press
  • Janice Schroeder (bio)

As Florence Boos writes in her article on the 1870 Education Act, "Beyond the means of subsistence, it is difficult to think of anything more important than education to the well-being and sense of self-worth of most nineteenth-century Britons."1 Yet within Victorian periodical studies, education in its various dimensions has received relatively little focused attention. The Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism, for example, contains no topic entries on education or schooling, and the entry on the professions and journalism contains scant mention of the teachers' press. Perhaps because the "Education Question" was so broadly encompassing, as Boos points out, it has been difficult for press researchers to make decisive inroads into this vast topic. This special issue aims to do just that. Featuring new research on the relationship between periodical culture and the changes in educational opportunities for men, women, and children, the articles here spotlight the role of the press in shaping education debates, instructing readers, and providing a tangible record of school life, both in Britain and beyond.

Victorian England was awash in new pedagogical theories and practices, many adapted from Scottish and continental models. These theories energized debates and policy initiatives at the highest levels of government. The 1870 Education Act and its antecedents are often regarded as pivotal in the history of universal primary schooling. New institutions in primary, secondary, technical, and post-secondary learning were founded with astonishing speed throughout the century. The training of teachers became a pressing concern for school reformers and policy makers as the state took an increasingly active role in overseeing the education of an expanding population of educable subjects, including women and the poor. But perhaps the most remarkable development was the growth of both organized and ad hoc mutual education networks outside the realm of [End Page 679] formal education. Steadily rising print literacy rates and the "formidable voluntarism" of Victorian culture led to a striking increase in opportunities across the social spectrum for people to instruct and learn from each other via mutual-improvement clubs, amateur societies, lecture series, circulating libraries, and, of course, the newspaper and periodical press.2 Comprised of small groups of citizens, mutual education networks functioned alongside, and sometimes in opposition to, official channels of instruction. Many such networks produced print periodicals that kept participants active and informed. As Henry Brougham's influential 1825 treatise on popular education declared, "The people themselves must be the great agents in accomplishing the work of their own instruction."3 While Brougham is typically associated with working-class educational reform, the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (SDUK), and the establishment of the mechanics' institute movement, his remark applies across the social spectrum. There was greater demand for credentialed teachers, more and better schooling, broad access to reading material and expert opinion, and opportunities to learn both in public and at home. Evidence of such trends permits a broad generalization of Victorian culture as highly informed and knowledge acquisitive.

The Victorian press offers numerous entry points to the consideration of the history of education in both its formal and informal senses. First, it hosted debate and deliberation on the major legislative and policy developments in education, as well as providing regular news coverage of the establishment of educational initiatives and institutions of national significance. But it also afforded space for the airing of more localized debates, such as spelling reform and women's access to art education, as A. Robin Hoffman's and Jo Devereux's articles demonstrate in this issue. Second, the press was itself a kind of quasi- or supplementary schoolroom, offering both practical and moral instruction to readers on every topic imaginable, as Thomas Palmelund Johansen's contribution reminds us. Third, the press functioned as an arena of encounter and information exchange for educators and student-educators, giving voice and shape to nascent professional identities in the education sector. In these and other ways, the press appears as an invaluable repository of information about both educational policy reform and ideological shifts in the purpose of education and schooling.

Another avenue of approach, however, is to ask how educational forms and...


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pp. 679-685
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