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The Grammar of the Machine

The Grammar of the Machine: Technical Literacy and Early Industrial Expansion in the United States

Edward W. Stevens
Copyright Date: 1995
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    The Grammar of the Machine
    Book Description:

    During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the American economy moved toward a manufacturing base and mass production, creating a demand for a literacy that encompassed not only the traditional alphabetic form of expression but also scientific and mathematical notation and spatial and graphic representation. How did the world of learning respond to this demand? What kinds of educational institutions, teachers, textbooks, and patterns of instruction emerged?Edward Stevens, Jr., describes the important technological changes that took place in antebellum America and the challenges they posed for education. Investigating the instruction, curricula, and textbooks used in the common schools, in the mechanics' institutes, and, specifically, at the Troy Female Seminary and the Rensselaer School in upstate New York, he demonstrates how advocates of technical literacy attempted to teach new skills. Stevens shows that the tensions between the liberal and the vocational, between a culture of print and a nonverbal culture of experience, persisted in technical education through the first half of the nineteenth century but were resolved temporarily by a common moral vision.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16350-6
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)

    Between 1820 and 1860 the American economy moved steadily toward a manufacturing base and greater mass production, even though most Americans made their living on farms. At the same time, common school reformers succeeded in extending the availability of public schooling to most children of elementary-school age, even though school attendance itself varied by race, ethnicity, region, urbanity, and family income. Historians have often assumed that these trends have some causal connection and that traditional literacy, a product of public schooling, also served the interests of the expanding economy.

    The first hint of difficulty with this interpretation lies in the...

  5. 1 Empirical Foundations for Technical Literacy: Economic Expansion, Technological Change, and Work
    (pp. 8-29)

    Between the beginning of the nineteenth century and the Civil War, manufacturing underwent major structural changes in the United States. These included greater control of manufacturing by capitalists, the development of interchangeable parts, the creation of mass markets, and the use of new power technologies. Cotton was king in the expansion of the American economy between 1818 and 1839 as the cotton trade provided the impetus for the opening up of new land to cotton planting and new markets. In New England, the manufacture of textiles, leather, and shoes grew in response to new markets. Greater specialization and the search...

  6. 2 The Content and Pedagogy for Spatial Thinking: Drawings and Models
    (pp. 30-49)

    Many of the skills required in shops and manufactures required nonverbal spatial skills. At their highest levels these skills had been mastered by machinists and ironworkers who built, repaired, assembled, and often helped design or modify machines for mass production. To be a master machinist required a sense of design, a mastery of the characteristics of materials, and a holistic view of the manufacturing process. Even operatives needed a modest degree of eye-hand coordination and, if they were to move to the level of overseer, an understanding of the sequence of production and the floor layout required for maximum efficiency....

  7. 3 The Heritage of Natural Philosophy, Mathematics, and Perspective Geometry
    (pp. 50-62)

    As educators came to grips with the demands for knowledge arising from new technologies and new ways of organizing production, they also sought to link the empiricism of the workplace to theoretical foundations in science and mathematics. Spatial thinking and its related skills were crucial bridges between theory and practice. These skills, however, did not bring the mechanic fully into the world of science. In fact, it is likely that mechanics as a broad class of workers did not have the educational background to access scientific knowledge through traditional methods.

    The pedagogical problems educators faced in helping public school students,...

  8. 4 Teaching Natural Philosophy
    (pp. 63-86)

    Conceptual, methodological, and classificatory problems plagued natural philosophy at the outset of the nineteenth century. The roots of the problems were both epistemological and ontological. Despite these difficulties, the termnatural philosophyremained in wide use, reflecting the view that all natural forces could be uniformly explained and that there was an essential unity to the otherwise increasingly specialized sciences.¹ Natural philosophy had largely rejected what Jahnke and Otte call “substance concepts” in favor of relational and functional concepts. The language of science changed also as it embraced the language of mathematics and moved away from a perceptual foundation. Perspective...

  9. 5 Mathematics Instruction
    (pp. 87-104)

    As with the teaching of science, the teaching of mathematics was beset by pedagogical difficulties that grew out of epistemological problems and conflicting purposes of instruction. The purity with which some instructors and textbook writers approached their subject made it difficult to relate this abstract science to familiar experiences. Those who saw mathematics as relevant only to the clerk or bookkeeper likewise restricted its appeal.

    To understand the problems of learning and teaching mathematics, including geometry, we must look at the texts and pedagogy of the early nineteenth century, when arithmetic instruction, including its application in coinage and mensuration, was...

  10. 6 New Educational Institutions for A New Society: Schools for Mechanics
    (pp. 105-132)

    The failure of the public schools to respond fully and swiftly to the educational demands of an emerging manufacturing society gave rise to educational alternatives in the private sector. To be sure, public schooling was successful in raising literacy rates to an all-time high in New England, in the old northwest, and in the eastern and central states, even though literacy remained stratified by region, age, socioeconomic class, and nativity.¹

    Yet the efforts of the public schools were directed toward civic literacy, and little effort was made to extend the concept beyond that imperative. School reformers believed in the importance...

  11. 7 Science for Women: The Troy Female Seminary
    (pp. 133-147)

    Mechanics’ institutes and associations served a special but broad class of workers who shared the goal of upward socioeconomic mobility through participation in the technological and industrial future of the United States. They generally were mutual welfare societies with a special concern for the educational advancement of adult members, children, and apprentices. They served the larger public as popularizers of science and technology. The Troy Female Seminary served a much narrower clientele, though it was a leader in scientific study for women. Emma Willard, its founder, was a pedagogical pioneer in the study of science and a crusader for scientific...

  12. 8 A Precedent for Technological Education: The Rensselaer School
    (pp. 148-169)

    The Rensselaer School and the Troy Female Seminary appeared within three years of each other near the future confluence of the Hudson River and Erie Canal. The career of Amos Eaton before the founding of the new school by Stephen Van Rensselaer is well documented.¹ Before his leadership at the Rensselaer School, Eaton encountered professional success and failure, dedication and regret, and his career spanned law, business, science, and education. His law career began in 1802, when he was a land agent for John Livingston, and it extended to some ill-conceived financial exploits and imprisonment following a guilty verdict on...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 170-176)

    In the seven decades preceding the Civil War an emergent technical literacy set the stage for the rapid development of technical and scientific learning that would follow the war. This immensely creative and experimental period made it possible for educators in the postbellum period to sort, select, and apply elements of technical literacy in land grant colleges, technical institutes, and industrial schools.

    Technical literacy drew heavily on Enlightenment ideals that emphasized progress through scientific learning and technological advance. Implicit in this broad view of progress were the ideals of invention and innovation, which were seen as requirements for the success...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 177-204)
  15. Index
    (pp. 205-210)