Exposure to the eyes of God: monitorial schools and Evangelicals in early nineteenth-century England

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Paul Sedra, “Exposure to the Eyes of God: Monitorial Schools and Evangelicals in Early Nineteenth-Century England,” Paedagogica Historica: International Journal of the History of Education 47, 3 (2011), 263-281.


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British and Foreign School Society
Joseph Lancaster

Through a close analysis of the links between nineteenth-century Protestant missionary thought and the British and Foreign School Society (BFSS) this article suggests that to distinguish Enlightenment educational and social reform from evangelism is mistaken. Emblematic of the social reform projects which emerged in England as responses to the challenges of the French Revolution and rapid urbanisation, the BFSS was the outgrowth of Joseph Lancaster’s efforts at spreading the method of education he pioneered, the monitorial system, throughout the British Isles and, ultimately, the world. Despite the strong association between the BFSS and various utilitarian thinkers, evangelicals of late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth-century England came to view the Society and the monitorial system as means by which to integrate all the peoples of the world into the Lord’s dominion. Becoming part of that dominion entailed subjecting oneself to constant moral scrutiny, and monitorial schools were regarded as a means by which to ensure such self-examination. In short, missionaries seized upon monitorial schools because their aims were parallel to those of educational reformers in the metropole. Where home reformers aimed at the normalisation of the body of English political subjects, the development of the English social body, missionary reformers aimed at the normalisation of the body of God’s children.

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