"The Schoolmaster is Abroad": The Diffusion of Educational Innovations in the Nineteenth Century British Empire
Whelchel, Aaron David
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The history of education has largely been written from a national perspective. This has limited our understanding of how educational developments have diffused across political boundaries leading to important and enduring similarities among educational systems in a variety of regional and national settings. This project examines the diffusion of educational techniques and administrative approaches in the nineteenth century British Empire from a world historical perspective. It does so through the lens of four individuals. In the early decades of the century, Andrew Bell and Joseph Lancaster created the monitorial system, itself derived to some degree from colonial India, which then spread beyond England to be the preferred educational model in North and South America, the British Empire, and Continental Europe until it was discarded in the middle of the century. One system that replaced it was developed by Egerton Ryerson, the architect of the Upper Canadian educational system. Ryerson explicitly and extensively borrowed educational models from a variety of locations, including Continental Europe and the United States. Critically, the colonial metropole, England, was not heavily utilized by Ryerson. Indeed, English education remained far behind its Continental and North American peers despite the examples of others. Why this was so is described through the lens of Matthew Arnold, an early comparative educationalist. Using the language of diffusion theory, which describes how innovations move within and between social networks, this paper categorizes and explains how the behavior of these individuals either assisted or hindered the spread of educational innovations. Ultimately, when considered through the mechanism of diffusion theory, the evidence suggests that political ties between the metropole and the colonies were less important than many other factors. These factors include the numerous values and beliefs held by various stakeholder groups, the effectiveness of these educationalists as adopters of innovation, and their behavior as change agents. A focus on political connections obscures these factors and this project is intended to ameliorate this problem.