Instruction at the Village School (c. 1840)
This steel engraving draws attention to the enormous differences between urban and rural schools. The village school shown here does not even have a proper classroom at its disposal. Boys and girls of different ages are crowded together in one disorderly room, where the emphasis appears to be on supervision rather than instruction – an impression supported by the teacher’s cane, presumably a disciplinary instrument. Various visual clues – the spinning wheel at the right, the teacher’s knitting, the cream-colored cloth that one girl holds – point to a curriculum based on practical skills and handicrafts rather than intellectual development. Together, both the conditions and the curriculum of rural schools made acquiring basic literacy a challenge for the impoverished children who attended them. Opportunities for higher education were non-existent for these children, especially since they were required to work in the fields from a young age and therefore missed school frequently. Steel engraving, c. 1840.