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    ‘Really useful’ knowledge and 19th century adult worker education – what lessons for today?

    Clarke, Richard (2016) ‘Really useful’ knowledge and 19th century adult worker education – what lessons for today? Theory and Struggle 116 , pp. 67-74. ISSN 969-1154.

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    Mechanics Institutes constituted the first systematic movement to provide education for working class adults. Their history – like that of adult education in general - presents a conflict in which their possibilities for working class emancipation through collective action were largely eclipsed by Utilitarian liberals who saw them variously as a means of providing a skilled literate workforce, promoting individual ‘self-help’ and maintaining the economic and political status quo – three features which again dominate today’s post-16 educational landscape. Many Mechanics Institutes failed but others had a significant political influence. Some went on to become institutes of further and higher education. Many MIs established schools to inculcate succeeding generations with the same values that had come to dominate the MIs themselves. Some launched auxiliary agencies – such as savings banks and building societies, and schools – designed to deliver to their students the promised benefits of ‘useful’ (vs. ‘really useful’) knowledge, accentuating divisions within the working class and contributing directly to the physical and financial structures of nineteenth century capitalism. Important issues of collective vs. individual models of ‘self-help’, of what working-class education should comprise and how to realise its potential for social and political change are still with us, two centuries on.


    Item Type: Article
    Additional Information: Pre-refereed version of paper published in Theory and Struggle 116 (2016) pp 67-74 based on a presentation to the Society for the Study of Labour History conference on the History of Adult Worker Education, Huddersfield, 28 November 2015.
    Keyword(s) / Subject(s): Adult education, Mechanics Institutes, Self-Help, Useful knowledge
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Social Sciences
    Depositing User: Richard Clarke
    Date Deposited: 25 Jan 2017 11:01
    Last Modified: 02 Aug 2023 17:23


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