The Ninnyversity?

Scholars and Gentlemen: Universities and Society in Pre-Industrial Britain, 1500-1700

by H.F. Kearney
Cornell, 214 pp., $6.75

The Puritan Revolution and Educational Thought

by R.L. Greaves
Rutgers, 188 pp., $7.50

Education and Jobs: The Great Training Robbery

by Ivan Berg
Praeger, 222 pp., $7.50

La Reproduction: Eléments pour une Théorie du Système d'Enseignement

by P. Bourdieu and J.C. Passeron
Editions de Minuit (Paris), 279 pp., 20F


Like education itself, the history of education is in a bad way today, having been left far too long in the hands of professional educators. Too many educational historians write either stupefyingly boring books about educational theory, or else pious hagiographies of individual schools or universities, without reference to the larger society or even the educational system of which they are a part, and with a careful glossing over of discreditable events and persons. There is therefore every reason to welcome a book by a professional historian of established reputation, which deals with the relationship of universities to society in the English-speaking world over 200 years from 1500 to 1700, with a postscript on the nineteenth century.

Professor Kearney examines the social and political role of the universities, the intellectual content of the curriculum, and the relationship of the one to the other. He ties up all the social and intellectual threads, and provides an explanation of how the university fitted into contemporary society and contemporary culture and how it acted and reacted upon them. This is therefore an important book which is likely to be widely read and to serve as a model for fresh work in the rapidly expanding field of educational history. Apart from Professor Bernard Bailyn’s brilliant essay on American education,1 it is the only work I know which tries so comprehensively to link what went on in the university to the society in which it was embedded. It is essential, therefore, to find out what the book says, and whether or not its premises, methods, and conclusions provide a sound basis upon which to build in the future.

What was the purpose of the English university in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries? Its medieval function had been to serve as a professional training school. Its alumni moved on to the civil and common law, and into the higher ranks of the clergy, for which a degree in canon law was becoming increasingly desirable for those aspiring for promotion. Of those who left the university without a degree, many became parish priests. Since the curriculum was exclusively scholastic and legal, the upper-class elite tended to steer clear of the universities, which had little or nothing to offer them unless they were seeking a career in the Church. The students therefore came from fairly humble homes. Some of them were cooped up in colleges for secular or monastic clergy, but the majority lived free and unregulated lives as members of loose-knit communities known as Halls.

During the Reformation this medieval university disappeared with startling suddenness. The monastic colleges were suppressed when the monasteries were dissolved, and the Halls also mostly disappeared. A considerable number of new colleges were founded, of which the two novel features were that the students now included a large number of gentry pursuing a secular career and that a strict discipline was imposed upon them, enforced by high walls, a hierarchical constitution, and severe penalties for disobedience, even including—mirabile dictu—corporal…

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