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    Social economy in the classroom: The London Birkbeck Schools

    Clarke, Richard (2023) Social economy in the classroom: The London Birkbeck Schools. The London Journal , ISSN 0305-8034.

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    The London Birkbeck Schools represent a hitherto largely unexplored episode in the history of British education. They embody the contradictory faces of mid nineteenth-century radical Liberalism and are of interest first, because they were determinedly secular and pioneered what was for their time a novel and progressive pedagogy. Second, they had an explicit social purpose. ‘Social economy’—the antithesis of the ‘political economy’ of the founders of the London Mechanics’ Institute in whose lecture theatre the first school was established by William Ellis in 1848—was a central element of the curriculum. The schools and their values were contested. Their curriculum was attacked by the Church for its godlessness. Their teaching methods, advanced for the times, were lampooned by Dickens for being little better than the rote learning they challenged. Following the 1870 Elementary Education Act some collapsed or were incorporated in Board schools, but others went ‘up market’ in competition with them. Only one school building remains nearly intact today, reflecting in its architecture some of the most progressive elements of Ellis’ philosophy, but London streets and roads bearing Birkbeck’s name mark the locations of schools long gone and the curriculum issues are rehearsed in present-day debates.


    Item Type: Article
    Keyword(s) / Subject(s): education, history, politics, William Ellis, Birkbeck, Charles Dickens
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Social Sciences
    Research Centres and Institutes: Political Economy and Institutional Studies, Birkbeck Centre for
    Depositing User: Richard Clarke
    Date Deposited: 16 Mar 2023 14:21
    Last Modified: 02 Aug 2023 18:20


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