A Brief Sketch of the Development of English Public Education The development of English public education was a slow, gradual process which is only briefly summarized here. There had been many schools, church- or chapel-related, but the government did not run directly any overall system. The typical quality of these schools was questionable. Arch said his mother was nearly as important in educating him as the parson's village school that he attended for a bit less than three years (ages six to eight). That school gave him all the formal education that he received in 1830s Warwickshire. His mother read to him from the Bible and Shakespeare. As he got older, she gave him writing and arithmetic exercises to do after he finished work for the day. Shepherd Isaac Bawcombe learned how to read from a laboring lodger staying with his family who had fallen evidently from a higher position in society. Similar to Arch, Bawcombe benefited from home schooling, but unlike him, he received no formal schooling: "The village school was kept by an old woman, and though she taught the children very little it had to be paid for, and she [Bawcbombe's mother] could not afford it." Schools were quite common in Leicestershire and Lincolnshire (c. 1867-68) because of the clergy's influence and even the interest of the agricultural workers themselves in educating their children. A grant of £20,000 in 1833 for building schools was the first time the central government of Britain appropriated money for schools. But only with the Reform Bill of 1867 and the Education Act of 1870 did England, as part of Britain, clearly move towards a system of universal and compulsory public education. The latter act allowed local school boards to be set up which could force students to attend up to age thirteen. School boards only needed to be created where local church-affiliated schools were inadequate.156 These laws affected the whole of Britain, not just English rural laborers. But what special challenges did public (government) schools and their students in the English countryside face?
The public schools for laborers and others living in rural England often bore the burdens of indifferent support from parents and their employers, limited facilities, and an early drop-out/school-leaving age. The investigators for the 1867-68 Report examined local conditions of education carefully, particularly noting what ages children tended to stop going to school and enter the work force full time. Two of the four questions they sought answers to concerned restricting child labor by age limits and about school attendance. They found a fundamental conflict within the family economy about the role of children: Since farmworkers lived so close to subsistence, their children's need to acquire an education clashed with their parents' need for them to pull their own weight financially as soon as possible. The parents' earnings, especially for those working irregularly because of rain or their own habits, were not high enough to allow for the sacrifice of a child's earnings for the longer run benefits stemming from education. Although this did gradually change, rural laborers also often had apathetic attitudes about sending their children to school. Stemming from their superior economic conditions, parents who were laborers in Northumberland and Durham cared more for educating their children. Unlike Hodge in the south, in the north he was much farther above the level of subsistence, so he (and Mrs. Hodge) could more easily afford the opportunity costs of sending children to school and foregoing their immediate earnings. In Yorkshire, because the parents had higher wages, they were more likely to leave their children in school longer. Even in these high-wage counties, the financial help from children working remained important, especially when they were part of a large family with many young children.157
At What Age Did Child Labor Begin and Schooling End? The ages at which the farmworkers' children left school in the mid-nineteenth century to go to work seem ridiculously low by contemporary standards, but these must be seen against the backdrop of the typical laboring family's constant struggle to survive financially. Because the farmworkers' finances were so tight and because enclosure and the consolidation of small farms into large ones had cost them so much of their ability to better their conditions, even the commissioners of the 1867-68 Report conceded that it was unfair to deny farmworker parents the ability to receive wages from their children as early as possible so long as any resulting injury to the latter from going to work was preventable. Different conditions prevailed in different parts of England, since in some places seven to ten year olds went to work, while in others they waited until age thirteen. In northern Northumberland, children rarely worked before age fourteen, except during summers when eleven and twelve year olds were hired. In southern Northumberland, none under ten worked, except the children of small farmers, whose nine year olds went to work on their own farms. In Leicestershire, where lower wages prevailed, the age of children leaving school actually was falling because the increased cultivation of root crops was raising the demand for child labor to harvest or weed them. Children started work normally around eight years old, and even some six year olds joined them. The average age for quitting school had fallen from twelve or thirteen to ten. In low-wage Cambridge, some six year olds went out to work, and many more aged seven and eight did likewise. Boys left school at age nine, "never to return." But in higher-wage Yorkshire, nine was the youngest normal age for children to leave school, but so many left near that age that 74 percent attending school were under ten years old. In Northamptonshire, boys began to work at age eight, seven sometimes, and almost all were before reaching their tenth birthday. After age ten, if work was available, they often were employed all year around.158 In southern English counties, such as Leicester, Northampton, and Cambridge, children routinely went to work and left school earlier than those in northern English counties, such as Northumberland, Durham, and (most of) Lincoln, which varied as a function of their parents' wages: Those farther above subsistence as they earned more could leave their children in school longer, while those closer to absolute poverty sent them out to work as soon as it was practical.
"Going to work" and "leaving school" were not necessarily simultaneous events. Since agricultural work was seasonal, children could be employed in the summer months, then put back into school during fall and winter. In his or her first years of work, a child sent into the fields during one part of the year may be in the school house other times, during the winter and fall months before spring planting time arrived. Indeed, even into the 1890s, schools in Northampton made their schedules fit the seasonal demands of agriculture, not vice versa. Morgan discovered school log books with entries noting that attendance was lower than average when harvest was not yet finished or had just begun. Hence, one entry in a book kept for a school in Berkshire noted for July 22 and following days in 1878: "Attendance smaller than usual owing to the commencement of harvest operations." Like many others, it judiciously closed its doors for several weeks during the late summer's harvest period. Mistakenly opening on September 6, 1875, it immediately shuttered its doors again for another week: "School should have been reopened today but there were so few in attendance that it was closed for another week." In 1873 an entry simply noted for July 21, 22, 23: "Attendance on these days was limited on account of Harvest." Establishing night schools for laboring children was another way to fit school around the work. One investigator for the 1867-68 Report suggested possibly that all children from five to ten years old should be legally required to go to school, and night schools should be established for ten to thirteen year olds.159 Eight of Woburn Union's 16 parishes had evening schools, which had a total of 165 students out of a population of 11,682. In Bedfordshire overall, 29 of its 50 parishes had evening schools with an average attendance of 546, and 952 names on their registers.160 But just because these schools existed, meeting day or night, does not mean they necessarily supplied a reasonable education. Arch saw night schools
at their best [as] mostly makeshift affairs. The boys would often attend them in the slack winter months from November to March, or they would put in their day schooling then, but the irregularity and the poor teaching did not give the ordinary lad a fair chance of getting even a decent elementary education.161 Clearly, employers and laboring parents (as they struggled near subsistence in southern England) saw the work of the latter's children and the wages they earned during peak periods in the agricultural year as outweighing in importance their children's potential long-run intellectual development. As the government attempted to make nearly a whole generation of laborers' children truly literate for the first time, it had an uphill battle in persuading parents and employers that education was valuable when these children often ended up doing the same jobs as their parents, for whom literacy had mattered little, and when parents, usually having little education themselves, only knew its value dimly, if at all (unlike Douglass and many other literate slaves).
Ignorance Versus Skewed Knowledge: Different Models for Controlling
a Subordinate Class The education of masses, including the laborers, presented the English upper class with a perplexing dilemma. The two competing models of social control vis-a-vis education were both tempting. On the one hand, they could work to deny the downtrodden literacy, keep them ignorant, narrow their mental horizons, and so make them more contented in the work of drudgery that inevitably the vast majority of human beings had to endure. As Arch described this approach:
'Much knowledge of the right sort is a dangerous thing for the poor,' might have been the motto put up over the door of the village school in my day. The less book-learning the labourer's lad got stuffed into him, the better for him and the safer for those above him, was what those in authority believed and acted up to. . . . These gentry did not want him to know; they did not want him to think; they only wanted him to work. To toil with the hand was what he was born into the world for, and they took precious good care to see that he did it from his youth upwards.
Members of the elite sometimes revealed that their objectives were exactly what Arch said they were. Giddy, not only an M.P. but president of the Royal Society, rose up to speak in 1807 against educating the poor extensively:
It would in effect be found to be prejudicial to their morals and happiness; it would teach them to despise their lot in life, instead of making them good servants in agriculture, and other laborious employments to which their rank in society had destined them; instead of teaching them subordination, it would render them factious and refractory, as was evident in the manufacturing counties; it would enable them to read seditious pamphlets, vicious books, and publications against Christianity; it would render them insolent to their superiors; and in a few years the result would be that the legislature would find it necessary to direct the strong arm of power towards them.
During the reactionary 1790s in England, local landowners even attacked the conservative Hannah More's schools in the 1790s, which strongly preached patriotism to the children and avoided teaching them how to write as they learned to read: "Of all the foolish inventions and new fangled devices to ruin this country, that of teaching the poor to read is the very worst." Obviously, American slaveholders made this choice, using the ignorance of their slaves as a control mechanism.162 On the other hand, the powers-that-be could bring the lamp of learning to the masses, but selectively control its light by placing in the curriculum concepts or ideas conducive to continuing their control and leaving in darkness those which did not. After encountering a well-dressed little girl in Hampshire, Cobbett found Lady Baring had not only given her the clothes, but had taught her to read and sing hymns. He commented, after spotting at least twelve more girls dressed similarly: "Society is in a queer state when the rich think, that they must educate the poor in order to insure their own safety: for this, at bottom, is the great motive now at work in pushing on the education scheme." Even Arch briefly alludes to this approach: "Of course he [the farmworker] might learn his catechism; that, and things similar to it, was right, proper, and suitable knowledge for such as he; he would be the more likely to stay contentedly in his place to the end of his working days."163 Conspicuously, at least some American slaveholders objected to similar education, even when done only verbally, in the petition Olmsted quoted from. (See above, p. 99). The English upper class may have neglected educating the working class compared to the rest of western Europe, but, unlike Southern slaveholders, it did not strive to halt the dissemination of literacy among the masses to the extent the latter sought it.164 Exceptions do arise, such as the case where local farmers pushed their laborers to take their children out of a school that had been built on someone's allotment, since they feared it would teach the value of allotments. Education was much more strongly discouraged by the practical needs of employers for labor at seasonal peaks and parents to have children work to help their families survive financially. By giving laboring parents a powerful incentive to pull their children out of school and put them into the fields as soon as possible, the rural elite's efforts to screw down wage rates through enclosure, the New Poor Law, and the settlement laws may have done more indirectly to discourage effective literary among the laborers than any direct attempts at suppression. England simply did not have the laws against teaching reading or writing to the lower class that, in the American South, generally existed against teaching slaves. This showed the English upper class was neither united nor adamant in its objections to the laboring poor becoming literate. Presumably, the Protestant emphasis on individuals reading the Bible helped to keep anti-literacy laws from being passed, but this belief did not hinder the equally Protestant slaveholders in America from passing and enforcing such laws in most of the South. As the nineteenth century drew on, the English elite increasingly opted for the second option of social control vis-a-vis education, of bending the curriculum to teach the masses to be patriotic, industrious, obey the state and queen, etc. As the mechanization of English agriculture gradually proceeded throughout the nineteenth century, the newly invented farm machinery required increasingly literate laborers to learn its proper operation and repair, giving the upper class a good practical reason to promote literacy.165 So although American slaveholders used ignorance as a major way to subdue the slaves, the English upper class increasingly opted to provide (skewed) knowledge to control refractory laborers and artisans.
Slaves--The Treatment of Elderly "Aunts" and "Uncles" The treatment of the elderly serves as a useful indicator for testing the realism of a culture's rhetoric about caring for the weak. Although the tradition of many cultures teaches the young to respect the old for their wisdom and knowledge, these lessons are undermined by the practical problems of the old becoming economic burdens as their health declines and fails. Filial piety towards the elderly by the young, although upheld by references to the Fifth Commandment, was not always forthcoming. Furthermore, at least in England and other nations with a Anglo-Saxon-Celtic culture, the elderly in the past, not just the present, normally did not live in the same household as their children.166 They survived independently, whether by charity, odd jobs, relatives' support, poor relief, accumulated savings, or avoiding retirement until death or declining health. Hence, the aged's quality of life usefully serves as one yardstick for judging an upper class's claims of paternalism about those in the subordinate class unable to do productive work anymore.
The Southern slaveholders unhestitatedly spouted paternalistic rhetoric concerning how they cared for their workers when they were old, sick, and worn-out, but the capitalists of the north (by and large) did not.167 The reality is much more mixed. Often the older slaves received enough to physically survive, but little more. Kemble found miserable conditions for retired elderly slaves on her husbands' estates, even though his plantations were reputed to treat their bondsmen above average. Two very elderly black women, having retired as actively working slaves for their master, lived in "deplorably miserable hovels, which appeared to me to be occupied by the most decrepid and infirm samples of humanity it was ever my melancholy lot to behold." On her husband's sea-island estate, she witnessed a truly pathetic old man in an infirmary die before her very eyes: "Upon this earthen floor, with nothing but its hard, damp surface beneath him [besides a little straw], no covering but a tattered shirt and trowsers, and a few sticks under this head for a pillow, lay an old man upward of seventy dying." She compared slaves' conditions when old to that of aged laborers confined to the workhouse as paupers, and said the former were little better.168 This old man's case illustrates that the slaveholders' altruistic rhetoric of paternalism obscured the reality of a system whose harshness at least equaled laissez-faire's on the old.
Altruism and Self-Interest Did Not Necessarily Conveniently Coincide to
Protect Elderly Slaves' Lives Unfortunately for slaveholders, in the case of caring for older slaves, self-interest was not, by and large, conveniently allied to altruism. The slaveholder apologist's old canard that a master would seek to protect his property from harm and treat it well out of self-interest generally collapses when applied to elderly slaves doing little or no productive work. The owner rationally then should hope for the speedy deaths of his useless dependents to save on food and clothing rations. As Kemble noted: "It is sometimes clearly not the interest of the owner to prolong the life of his slaves; as in the case of inferior or superannuated laborers." Hence, it is easy to document all sorts of perfectly economically rational yet calloused behavior towards elderly slaves. Harriet Jacobs knew an old slave woman, made nearly helpless by sickness and hard labor, whose owners lacked the paternalistic sentiment to take her with them when they moved to Alabama: "The old black woman was left to be sold to any body who would give twenty dollars for her." Attempting to sell an aged slave could backfire: Walker knew one case where a slave was whipped for overstaying Christmas vacation, and because he was too old to be successfully sold in the slave markets of New Orleans and Mobile! In a case that distressed Barrow, he was told to let go of an elderly escaped slave that his slaves had captured the day before: "Uncle Bat. told my boy to turn old Demps Loose & let him go. been runaway some months, a verry Bad Example. he shall not stay in this neighbourhood."169 The master of Old Demps evidently felt it cost less to let him fend for himself as a runaway than to care for him on the plantation. Since elderly slaves were net drains on their owners' account books, the latter had a self-interest in hoping none of the former lived long enough to retire on their plantations.
Did Slavery Provide More Security Against Starvation Than Laissez-Faire? A standard condemnation of the North's general system of laissez-faire lay in its intrinsic lack of security for wage workers, including providing for retirement. As soon as an employer judged a worker as not contributing to his bottom line, such as due to diseases, crippling accidents, senility, or a depression cutting sales, he (unless of paternalistic minority) would lay off or fire one determined to be worthless to his economic self-interest. Enduring uncertainty was inevitable for members of the North's proletariat, excepting those who could fall back on the family farm. Slavery, its apologists trumpeted, was morally superior because it provided economic security for slaves in sickness or old age under a system of altruistic paternalism that was attributable to its reciprocal obligations between master and bondsman.170 However, this defense of the peculiar institution always had a fundamental weakness: Since the slaveholder received so much arbitrary authority over his slaves legally, having still more de facto because of the weakness of the criminal and civil justice system in the sparsely-populated, lynch mob-prone South, promises of security were often hollow, and nearly unenforcible against any master or mistress breaking them. Frederick Douglass described his grandmother's fate when his master died, and the plantation's slaves fell into the hands of heirs who did not know them:
My grandmother, who was now very old, having outlived my old master and all his children . . . her present owners finding she was of but little value, her frame already racked with the pains of old age, and complete helplessness fast stealing over her once active limbs, they took her to the woods, built her a little hut, put up a little mud-chimney, and then made her welcome to the privilege of supporting herself there in perfect loneliness; thus virtually turning her out to die!
Quoting from a Southern newspaper, Olmsted noted a similar case of a nearly seventy-year-old slave, driven into the woods to die. The coroner's formal pronouncement on the case was, "Death from starvation and exposure, through neglect of his master."171 Although the elderly slaves who suffered the fate of neglect or abandonment were only an unfortunate minority of those few fortunate enough even to live to a ripe old age, still these cases illustrate how unenforcible the paternalistic promises of care were, because the master had nearly unlimited power legally to demand almost anything from his slaves short of their lives. Since the Southern slaveholder's absolute and arbitrary will replaced the Northern capitalist's more constrained power over his work force's personal lives, slaves found a "paid retirement" to be deniable upon the whim of their owners, thus negating the promises of slavery as guaranteeing security.
Odd Jobs for Elderly Slaves Often older slaves continued to work at least some, for better or for worse. Some still worked in the fields. Charity was one of the oldest slaves on Kemble's husband's sea-island cotton estate. She not only had to do field work, but had to walk a roundtrip of nearly four miles to and from her work area, a distance familiar to many English agricultural laborers. Composing the opposite extreme were "old and sick" slaves who persuaded their masters to let them retire; some of them suddenly became amazingly productive after Emancipation! Masters and mistresses often put their bondsmen to work at various light duties when they became too weak for regular field work. For example, old men in one frontier area sometimes did guard duty around the quarters to protect young slave children from wild animals, as Armstrong heard.172 A stereotypical job for old bondswomen was to provide day care for the children of the field hands and other parents not at home during the day.173 Charles Ball's grandfather, nearly eighty years old, was excused from the heavy field labor of raising tobacco, but received a half-acre patch near his cabin where he raised much of his own food.174 As aged slaves did these activities, they remained useful to their owners--and perhaps felt more useful to themselves as well--by continuing to do at least some work in the autumn years of their lives.