Esbjörn Larsson

Between discipline and self-improvement: Differences in the implementation of Monitorial Education for different social classes in Sweden, approx. 1820–1870

A system of different schools for different social classes was established in Sweden during the 19th century. In this study the pedagogical implications of this development is analysed regarding the use of monitorial education. In this type of education more experienced students were used as help teachers and the teaching methods were often characterized by drill-like instructions.
Monitorial education has often been described as a tool to discipline and control the working classes. A closer look at the situation in Sweden shows however that monitorial education was used also in more prestigious schools with students from higher social classes. In these schools monitorial education was characterized by self-activity and individualization.
In this study I will compare the monitorial education in schools for children from lower social classes (for example Växelundervisningssällskapets normalskola) to schools for children from higher social classes, such as grammar schools (for example Nya elementarskolan and Hillska skolan i Barnängen).
The study of the educational practices at these schools will also be complemented by a study of the public debate.
In a wider perspective the purpose of this study is to investigate the importance of social class in educational practices. I also hope that my study will increase the knowledge of the encounter between pedagogical ideas and various social environments in a more general manner.

Final report

Esbjörn Larsson, Uppsala University


Final report on the project Between discipline and self-improvement: Differences in the implementation of Monitorial Education for different social classes in Sweden, approx. 1820-1870 (No. P09-0474)

1. Purpose of the project and any changes in the purpose during the project period
The aim of the project was to show how social class and social class relations had a decisive impact on practical school work and how this power relationship was mirrored in monitorial education, a teaching method employed in Sweden during the first half of the 1800s. The research questions have focused on the method's introduction in Sweden, the importance of social class in relation to the method, and how the method changed.
The project largely followed the project plan presented in the application, and the changes made mostly concerned adding research questions. Among the new parts included are studies of the economic aspects of monitorial education and the role of monitorial education in the spread of writing instruction.

2. The three most important results from the project and an account of these results
The project's main question - concerning the importance of social class for the method's implementation - has been analysed in accordance with Michel Foucault's theory on power. The project's most important finding is that it in large parts confirms Foucault's own empirical findings on monitorial education as an example of the disciplinary techniques that emerged during the 1700s and 1800s. However, in my research, I have questioned Foucault's emphasis on the successive and continuous development of discipline. In Swedish parish schools there was often an abrupt transition to disciplinary techniques when monitorial education was introduced.
Comparisons between monitorial schools for different social classes show how the education could be interpreted quite differently depending on the type of institution. Whilst the activities in the schools for the poor and the parish schools were strictly structured, the methods implementation in the grammar schools encouraged the disciples to exercise a large degree of individual freedom and responsibility. The source of these apparent differences laid in a fundamental class-distinction between these schools. While poor schools and parish schools should guard against immorality and promote diligence, grammar schools should bring out young bourgeois' males innate abilities, such as moral sense and self-activity.
The detailed studies of the introduction of monitorial education in Sweden have also, on several points, been able to correct the previously dominant perceptions held by previous research. One such is that monitorial education mainly was introduced because of economic reasons, since the method was intended to teach very large groups of pupils, and therefore provided the opportunity for savings. The project has been able to show that the economic arguments had a relatively secluded spot in the debate that took place in connection with the method's introduction in Sweden. Furthermore, the project has shown that the introduction of monitorial education was associated with relatively high costs, as the method required a schoolhouse with a large hall for all pupils. The lack of large groups of pupils in the sparsely populated Sweden also made it difficult to achieve the economies of scale, which previous research has emphasized.
A third result from the project concerns the changes in teaching content, which in many places accompanied the introduction of monitorial education. In several parish schools, but also in some poor schools, the introduction of monitorial education coincided with the introduction of teachings in writing and arithmetic. This change had clear links to the new teaching method, which becomes apparent from the analysis of various method books, where writing instruction was highlighted as a part of monitorial education. What makes this result interesting is that it questions the general perception of the spread of writing instruction in Sweden, as something urgently driven by self-owning farmers in need of writing skills, and not as a result of the establishment of new schools.

3. New research issues that have been generated by the project
As mentioned above, the issues of the economic arguments for the method's introduction and the changing educational content are examples of new questions that have been generated by the project.
Another important research question generated by the project concerns the abandonment of monitorial education in the late 1800s. An important result for future studies on this issue is the fact that monitorial education seemingly changed character over the years, from a cohesive educational program to a collection of instructional techniques that could be combined with other teaching methods.

4. The project's international connections
During the project, I made contact with Prof. Dr. Marcelo Caruso at Humboldt University, who led a major research project on the spread of monitorial education across the world. This contact resulted in the book chapter "Mass Teaching without the Masses" in Caruso's "Changing Mass Teaching in the 19th Century" (see no. 6).
Furthermore, the results of the project have been presented at "The European Social Science History Conference" in Glasgow on April 11 to 14 2012, where, among others, Prof. David Mitch (University of Maryland, Baltimore County) participated as a commentator. Among other international contexts could also be mentioned the workshop "The History of Schooling: Politics and Local Practice" in Uppsala on 8-10 June 2011 [organized with the support of RJ: Dnr F10-1361: 1] and "The Fifth Nordic Conference on History of Education" in Umeå on September 26 to 28 2012.

5. Research communication measures outside the academic community
The projects results has been presented in popular science articles published in "Krut" (a critical education magazine) and "Vägval i skolans historia" (an education magazine of the Swedish Society for History on Teaching). In addition, results from the project's work has also been presented in a chapter on social class and education in a textbook for higher education (Utbildningshistoria - en introduktion) and in conjunction with P1's radio show "Vetenskapsradion historia" (2011-11-10 "Myten om folkskolan").
6. The two most important publications from the project and an account of these publications
The monograph "En lycklig Mechanism" describes in a detailed manner the main results of the project. In five empirical chapters the book presents: the arguments for the introduction of monitorial education (ch. 2), the economic implications of the method (ch. 3), the changing educational content (ch. 4), and differences in the methods use in different types of schools (ch. 5 and 6). The book also begins with a review of the development of the school system with a particular focus on the differences between different types of schools (ch. 1).
An expansion and further contextualization of the project's results are also available in the chapter "Mass Teaching without the Masses", that investigates the prerequisites for development of mass education in the sparsely populated Sweden. The chapter also touches on the abandonment of monitorial education and the fact that the method was not primarily used to teach large groups of pupils in Sweden, but rather to teach age mixed classes where pupils were at different levels.

7. The publication strategy of the project.
The results of the project have been published in book chapters, articles and a monograph. Since the project was not covered by the requirements of OA, as it started before 2011, everything is not yet freely available online. However, the project's monograph will be freely available via the DiVA system from 2016 and several of the other texts are already available online.

8. Publication list

Larsson, Esbjörn (2014), En lycklig Mechanism: olika aspekter av växelundervisningen som en del av 1800-talets utbildningsrevolution, Uppsala: Historiska institutionen. [299 p.]

Scientific articles and book chapters
Larsson, Esbjörn (2009),"Klasser i sig och för sig: skillnader i växelundervisningens tillämpning för olika samhällsklasser i Sverige, ca 1820-1870", i Anne Berg & Hanna Enefalk (red.), Det mångsidiga verktyget: elva nya texter om utbildningshistoria, Uppsala: Historiska institutionen. [17 p.] []
Larsson, Esbjörn (2012), "Arguing for Educational Change: On the Introduction of Monitorial Education in Swedish Common Schools during the 1820's" i Carla Aubry & Johannes Westberg (red.) History of Schooling: Politics and Local Practice, Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang. [23 p.]
Larsson, Esbjörn (Forthcoming), "Mass Teaching without the Masses: Challenges during the Rise of Mass Education in Sweden, Approx. 1810-1880", i Marcelo Caruso (red.) Changing Mass Teaching in the 19th Century: Global Circulation, National Models, Local Experiments [prel. titel], Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang. [ca: 12 p.]
Larsson, Esbjörn (submitted 15-01-26), "'Cheap, Efficient, and Easy to Implement'? Economic Aspects of Monitorial Education in Swedish Elementary Schools during the 1820s, History of Education [ISSN 0046-760X] [ca: 27 p.]

Popular science articles and textbook chapters
Larsson, Esbjörn (2010), "Skolpolitik med en aura av 1800-tal" i Krut, nr. 1-2, s. 106-110. [Göteborg: Föreningen Kritisk Utbildningstidskrift] [5 p.]
Larsson, Esbjörn (2011), "Utbildning och social klass" i Larsson, Esbjörn & Westberg, Johannes (red.), Utbildningshistoria - en introduktion, Lund: Studentlitteratur. [18 p.]
Larsson, Esbjörn (2012), "Växelundervisningen - ett vägval?" i Vägval i skolans historia, nr 4. [Föreningen för svensk undervisningshistoria] [5 p.]

Grant administrator
Uppsala University
Reference number
SEK 1,905,000
RJ Projects