Cobbett’s Views on Schools

William Cobbett, English political reformer, was himself was largely self-educated. Molly Townsend describes how he regarded contemporary schooling as ‘a melancholy thing to behold’.

To discover echoes of our current concern over education in earlier writers is not particularly surprising. But to find in William Cobbett a writer who believed that children should be allowed to develop at their own pace and yet set great store on the value of learning; who believed that education could not merely give men a greater understanding of the world, but could help them to make it a better one; who advocated intensive study, but counselled love as the spur to learning and not fear; who looked at schools and found them wanting; such a find deserves attention.

In Cobbett’s lifetime (1762-1835) there began the movement that culminated in the Education Act of 1870, making elementary education compulsory for all. Hannah More was teaching (or should one say preaching to) the glassblowers and their children in the Mendip Hills. Methodist parsons were creating Sunday Schools up and down the country, and the clergy of the Church of England were following fast on their heels. Titled ladies were dressing their tenants’ daughters in clean clothes and pinafores to teach them to read and sing hymns.

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