Joseph Lancaster's educational methods, developed in England in the 1790s, were adopted in the public schools of most of the largest cities in the United States in the opening decades of the nineteenth century. Lancasterianism demanded a very specific spatial setting: an enormous classroom in which hundreds of children were taught under the supervision of a single master. Children were broken into small classes to recite their lessons under the tutelage of a more advanced student, or monitor. Lancasterianism appealed to educational leaders of the new nation because it was cheap to implement and its orderly discipline promised relief from the social disorder of the new nation. Most important, the Lancasterian method seemed to offer a solution to a key theoretical problem in the formation of a republican polity: how to devise mechanisms for maintaining order within a free society. For those attuned to materialist social assumptions, Lancasterian schools seemed to offer a vision of republican citizenship and a spatialized method for shaping it. The lower-class students for whom Lancasterianism was intended and their parents rejected the method for its repressive and undemocratic intentions, while the method's ineffectiveness and logistical contradictions led to its abandonment by American school boards by the 1850s.
- Copyright 1996 The Society of Architectural Historians