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COUNTERING DISOBEDIENCE: The Rise and Spread of Mass Education


(Forthcoming with Princeton University Press)

Why do education systems around the world fail to level the playing field, even today? This book speaks to this critical question by examining what motivated governments to provide primary education in the first place. Drawing on evidence from two centuries of education provision in Europe and the Americas, Countering Disobedience offers a broad and in-depth history of public primary school systems in Western societies.

The findings and their implications are unsettling: fear of the masses, rather than industrialization, democratization, or nation-building, best explains why political rulers in Western societies led the global creation and expansion of public primary education systems. Exploring the intellectual and political debates surrounding the creation of these systems and deploying new datasets to describe their expansion and characteristics, the book shows that governments invested in primary schools when internal threats heightened political elites’ anxiety around mass violence and the breakdown of social order. The main goal of these schools was to turn the “savage” and “unruly” children of the lower classes into well-behaved future citizens who would obey the state and its laws.

Two hundred years later, the original objective of disciplining children remains at the core of how most public schools around the world operate. The future of education systems hinges on our ability to understand and come to terms with this troubling past.

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Assistant Professor
University of California, San Diego
Department of Political Science &
School of Global Policy and Strategy 
twitter: @aspaglayan

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