Head Masters: Phrenology, Secular Education, and Nineteenth-Century Social Thought
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Head Masters challenges the assumption that phrenology--the study of the conformation of the skull as it relates to mental faculties and character--played only a minor and somewhat anecdotal role in the development of education. Stephen Tomlinson asserts instead that phrenology was a scientifically respectable theory of human nature, perhaps the first solid physiological psychology. He shows that the first phrenologists were among the most prominent scientists and intellectuals of their day, and that the concept was eagerly embraced by leading members of the New England medical community.
Following its progression from European theorists Franz-Joseph Gall, Johan Gasper Spurzheim, and George Combe to Americans Horace Mann and Samuel Gridley Howe, Tomlinson traces the origins of phrenological theory and examines how its basic principles of human classification, inheritance, and development provided a foundation for the progressive practices advocated by middle-class reformers such as Combe and Mann.He also elucidates the ways in which class, race, and gender stereotypes permeated 19th century thought and how popular views of nature, mind, and society supported a secular curriculum favouring the use of disciplinary practices based on physiology.
This study ultimately offers a reconsideration of the ideas and theories that motivated education reformers such as Mann and Howe, and a reassessment of Combe, who, though hardly known by contemporary scholars, emerges as one of the most important and influential educators of the 19th century.
to democratic critics was the divide between elementary and secondary schooling. The curriculum of the ecoles centrales did not Ideology and Education in Virginia / 37 dovetail with the primary schools', and, by the Law 3 Brumaire, students were not permitted to entoll until age twelve, three years after their elementary education was completed. Fearful of creating a new aristocracy, Democrats called for sweeping changes. The Ideologues resisted. The staggering costs aside, they saw no
Spurzheim was the key figure in phre- 64 / Chapter 3 nology's development. But whatever their respective contribution, it is useful to separate physiological claims from moral imperatives and treat Gall's research (in the remainder of this chapter) and Spurzheim's moral philosophy (in the next chapter) as distinct phases in the evolution of the theory that would sweep Europe and North America. THE FUNCTIONS OF THE BRAIN "The greatest obstacle which has ever been opposed to the knowledge of
proper to man."40 This goal was within reach of the majority, but certain individuals were born with an innate organization that would never permit the ascendancy of reason and morality. "Such persons," he believed, "ought to be looked upon rather as patients than as objects of wrath."4! Their behavior would have to be controlled externally by teachers adept at manipulating emotions-the fear generated by Cautiousness, for instance-to check unruly impulses. In addition to elevating character,
early years, the maturing higher powers would be trained to yield a reasoned understanding of the causal laws governing all events. Some critics objected that educating the working poor would only breed discontent, giving those who labored aspirations beyond their station. Such George Combe and the Rise of Phrenology in Britain / 109 fears, Combe insisted, rested on a misunderstanding of human nature. "The effects of education," he declared, are always bounded by the natural capacity of the
teach children the laws of nature outlined in Spurzheim's book on education. "Let them see from infancy the real situation in which they stand as created beings; and point out to what extent they are arbiters of their own fate, or at least how conduct and happiness are joined."14 "In addition to the natural sciences, to which Owen's Symbolic Instruction is confined," he also advocated teaching students "the principles of hygiene or dietetics, of political economy, and of the law of the country in