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A Liberal Education for ‘Citizens’: The Case of the Working Men’s College (1854-1914 ca.)

by

Voluntary Action History
14 January 2013
Dr Marcella Sutcliffe (University of Cambridge)
A Liberal Education for ‘Citizens’: The Case of the Working Men’s College (1854-1914 ca.)

‘Making them men with the culture to work together in fellowship as men’

This was one of the reasons claimed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century’s for educating working men.  It was to be a liberal education, set to provide male workers with knowledge of the classics and of their role in society.  They were to understand the context in which they lived, so that they would appreciate their role as a citizen.

 The Working Men's College, Great Ormond Street, London. Ca 1850s. (wikipedia)

The Working Men’s College, Great Ormond Street, London. Ca 1850s. (wikipedia)

Marcella Sutcliffe examines the case of the working men’s college between 1854 and 1914.  There were various debates about what the education should include.  Should it be founded on religious values, especially now that religion was not seen as a requirement of citizenship any longer?  Should the sciences be included, and if so, why?  What was the use of teaching classics and humanities?  Did such studies provide anything useful to enlarge feelings of pride about being English?

In this paper we get a discussion regarding these various educational activities and the reasoning behind the choices made.  The central question was over the purpose the education should provide for the betterment not only of individual lives, but for society as a whole.

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