Thursday, August 12, 2010

GUEST POST: Steampunks Around the World, Unite: Multiculturalism in Steampunk, Part 2

What does steampunk and multiculturalism have in common? A lot more than you think. Ay-leen the Peacemaker, proprietress of Beyond Victoriana, explains the connection between what we learn in school to how we engage with steampunk in a theory that might change everything you thought you knew about steampunk subculture. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This essay will be posted in its entirety in the upcoming first issue of Doctor Fantastique's Show of Wonders, and will be reproduced at the website of Steampunk Magazine. Thank you to Ay-leen for allowing me to post the separate parts here first.

Part 2 The Learning Factory: the Development of Mass Education in the Victorian Era

Modern English education reform began in the nineteenth century after the Industrial Revolution came in full swing. Previously, the most common form of public education were in parishes where children were taught to read (in order to learn the Bible) and usually very little else. Further vocational education came in the form of compulsory apprenticeships to learn a trade skill. The upper classes, of course, had the opportunity to send their children to be educated at the oldest universities or sent them overseas to France or Germany. Ideas about education, though, began to change in the 1800s. The promotion of technological growth, however, did not come hand-in-hand with the idea of secular, compulsory education. In fact, throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, when the Industrial Revolution was well underway, most children growing up in rural and urban areas remained on the farm in or factories. It was more practical to have children earning money for their families than the costs of extensive education. Furthermore, the aristocratic classes did not see any usefulness in educating the masses and it was hard to rally support for public education in the realms of the law.

Measures were taken to increase education of the poor majority of English society, starting with Robert Raikes' Sunday School Movement which began in 1780 and by 1814, had taught 1.25 million children. Throughout the 1830s other law measures put public education to the forefront, building schools for the poor, and establishing non-denominational schools. In 1840, the Grammar School Act expanding the school curriculum to include not only basic maths and reading, but science and literature too. The English government, however, became more concerned about educational reform because of increasing social unrest. Know Britain gives a thorough outline about the development of education and points out that,

"In the second half of the 19th-century crime and pauperism increased, so did riots strikes and social unrest. The commercial and manufacturing supremacy of Britain was in decline and this was seen to be mostly due to the fact that other European countries had a more developed technical education system. Political stability and economic prosperity now seemed to be associated with the education of the people."

A formal educational system was established in 1870 with the passing of the Forster Act, which established a system of boarding schools for English children. The creation of the modern textbook was also a Victorian innovation. Though textbooks have existed as early as the ancient Greeks, with the rise of compulsory education, the need for standardized educational materials became more important. Textbooks became standardized not only in England but throughout the Western world around the same time; in England and the British Empire during the nineteenth century were a number of classical textbooks written by Dr. John William Donaldson; in America the McGuffey Readers became popular. France, Germany, and other countries also developed their own formal modes of education, though in the Nordic countries like Norway and Sweden and central European countries like Germany and Prussia had started more modernizing reforms slightly earlier than England.

Mass education, of course, played a major role in colonial territories, primarily as a system where the native population can be subordinated and assimilated as part of the colonialist government and strengthening imperialist rule, both for practical economic and political reasons.

This education model has spread throughout with world through British colonialism and has had great impact on the development of educational curriculum in other English-speaking nations (ex. United States, America & Australia). Many European models also developed their own systems of education, and, for those that held colonial territories, those educational systems all had something in common with the British system. Among other things is that the way they, too, were replicated in their colonial territories and used as part of a system to 1) manage the native population into alliance with their colonial rulers and 2) contributed to idealizing Western canon in the humanities and social sciences and Western innovations in the maths and sciences over any native-born contributions or non-Western alternatives.

For example, in the case of the British Raj, one historical study commented that:

"The vacillating expansion of British-style education in the Central Provinces over six decades provided a small Indian elite with education, though British administrators had intended, in the early 1860's, for education to produce far greater direct and Indirect changes among the population. As noted earlier, education was intended to achieve three objectives: first, to instruct an 'agricultural middle class;' second, these in turn would serve as a "lever" to raise the lower classes; and third, to train some Indians (especially those classified as Maratha Brahmins) for subordinate administrative posts."

The idea that the natives at best would only be fit to run as minor cogs in a greater colonial system also goes along with the idea of Social Darwinism that was also popular in the nineteenth century. The effect of colonial education in the non-West had been long-lasting, especially as formerly colonized countries mentally, as well as socially and politically, untangle themselves from the legacy of imperialist bias. As Kenyan theorist and academic Ngugi Wa Thiong'o states in Decolonising the Mind, such an education: "...annihilates a peoples belief in their names, in their languages, in their environment, in their heritage of struggle, in their unity, in their capacities and ultimately in themselves. It makes them see their past as one wasteland of non-achievement and it makes them want to distance themselves from that wasteland. It makes them want to identify with that which is furthest removed from themselves.”

TOMORROW: Part 3 Stirring up the Melting Pot: From Assimilation to Multiculturalism

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