Eventos Académicos, 39 ISCHE. Educación y emancipación

Tamaño de fuente: 
The emancipation of working-class children: British Socialists and Educational Reform (1880-1914)
Hsiao-Yuh Ku

Última modificación: 2017-07-17


This paper aims to re-examine and to compare the democratic and educational discourses of two leading British socialists, namely H. M. Hyndman (1842-1921) and Sidney Webb (1859-1947), in order to show their distinct reform approaches towards a democratic educational system and, above all, the emancipation of working-class children from sweat factories, starvation, sickness and destitution. Between 1880 and 1914, Hyndman, the founder of the Democratic Federation (later renamed the Social Democratic Federation, SDF) argued for free and compulsory education, the provision of at least one good meal a day for children, and State maintenance of the children in schools up to the age of 16. Compared to Hyndman’s focus on the extension of free and compulsory education for all children, Webb, one of the key figures of the Fabian Society, promoted the erection of an interlocking scholarship ladder to help meritorious working-class children to rise from elementary school to university studies. Moreover, whereas Hyndman preferred a directly elected body as the local educational authority—the school boards, Webb advocated replacing the school boards with indirectly appointed educational committees by the County Councils. In the 1900s, their antagonistic positions towards educational reform led to severe debates leading to the Education Acts of 1902 and 1903.


Despite their differences in educational policy agenda, Hyndman and Webb all claimed that their reform proposals would be conducive to ‘social democracy’. However, previous literature often approved Hyndman’s agenda and mistakenly considered Webb’s reform proposals to be irrelevant to democracy or undemocratic. For instance, Brian Simon argues that Webb’s campaign for the changes in educational administration and his insistence on selective educational system were mainly intended to ensure ‘national efficiency’. Moreover, in his chapter of ‘Socialism, Education and Democracy’, Kevin Manton claims to examine the characteristics of a democratic education in socialist discourse, but merely emphasizes the ideas promoted by Hyndman and the SDF, and considerably neglects Webb. This lacuna has been clearly pointed out by Webb’s biographers, Lisanne Radice and Royden J. Harrison. But, what did ‘social democracy’ mean to Webb? How different was Webb’s interpretation of democracy from Hyndman’s? To what extent did their ideals of social democracy relate to their policy agenda for educational reform? To answer these questions, this paper will primarily investigate the two leading socialists’ private documents like correspondence and published works, such as books, pamphlets, as well as journal and newspaper articles. By analyzing and comparing the similarity and differences in their discourses on democracy and education, this paper will reveal the contested ideals of social democracy within the British socialist tradition, and its diverse approaches towards educational reforms and the emancipation of working-class children.