Emergence of the Common School in the U.S. Countryside

Author: Parkerson, Donald
Parkerson, Jo
This study examines the social, historical roots of the primary school movement in the rural north at mid-19th century and the critical support that a new class of commercial farmers provided for that important social experiment. Drawing on theories of class development and the writings of early school reformers, teachers and educators, they demonstrate that the curriculum and pedagogy of the common school reflected the values of the emergent market economy. Examining two primary agricultural classes (commercial farmers and yeomen), the study finds dramatic differences in school attendance, marital fertility, and family structure. Uses a variety of primary sources including NY State census population manuscripts of 1855 and 1865 linked to the agricultural census; US Census of 1860 examined from household, individual, township perspectives; 19th century agricultural press; farmers' diaries and letters; teacher pedagogies and primary readers from the period. This work links the methodology and substantive focus of social and educational history to the literature on the market revolution in the US.


“ ... a useful book which highlights the rise of the common school in nineteenth-century American and the special role played by commercial farmers in the rural North ... The authors’ use of relevant primary source data and their very thoughtful exposition including economic and social forces helps to paint the picture of a complex and vital rural American in the making.” – History of Education Quarterly

“... presents an interesting summary of the development of common schools and curricula in new York. The authors also drew illuminating evidence from diaries, travel journals, textbooks, and teacher training manuals in order to humanize the development of the common school movement during the 1850s.” – Agricultural History

"This work is a valuable addition to the fields of social and educational history as it documents and traces the roots of support for elementary education in the northern United States during the nineteenth century ... Cleverly using more recent methodological approaches in their elegant and clear analyses, the Parkersons have produced an interpretation of the formation of the common school that will generate in the thoughtful reader, a new appreciation of this unique American phenomenon and its significant contribution to the growth and development of a democratic society." - (from the foreword) Maurice J. Eash, Professor Emeritus of Education and Director, Institute of Learning and Teaching, University of Massachusetts-Boston

"A very interesting, well told story. The Parkersons' work will be helpful to rural researchers, especially in agricultural areas. The documentation is impressive." - Professor Chad Litz, Department of Education, Kansas State University

"The book achieves a very difficult synthesis of statistical social and intellectual history by providing a clear argument and ingeniously relating different bodies of evidence to the same basic issues ... the book is clearly written ... the strong treatment of intellectual and institutional topics is also handled with great clarity." - Richard Jensen, Professor Emeritus of History, University of Illinois at Chicago

Table of Contents

Table of Contents:
1. Within the Reach of All
2. The Taproot of the Common School
3. Intelligent Thinking Farmers
4. The Marketplace and the Classroom
5. God and Country
6. Fewer Children of Greater Quality
7. The Curriculum of the Home
8. Nurseries of Virtue
Appendix: Samples
Notes, Bibliography, Index