Preferred Citation: Starrett, Gregory. Putting Islam to Work: Education, Politics, and Religious Transformation in Egypt. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1998 1998.

Education and the Management of Populations

Work: The Observation of Facts

Macaulay was not alone in his confidence in the power of education to pacify the laboring beasts of the Smithfield market, and children were not alone in benefiting from learning. In fact, Macaulay's speech came late in the movement to reconcile England's laboring population to the necessities of the new industrial order. Beginning in 1823 with the foundation of the London Mechanic's Institute, worker self- help societies and employer-sponsored literacy and technical training programs began to serve England's urban work force; by 1860, two hundred thousand students were attending such institutes in England, with similar developments in France. In addition to service as a moral prophylactic, the supporters of the worker education movement extolled education's contribution to the development of manual dexterity, observation, and other skills that would increase industrial productivity.

Such concrete skills and scientific methods of thought were the very opposite of the wild surges of intemperance and violence to which the working classes, lacking self-control as well as self-respect, were assumed to be subject. In the early 1860s, while the French minister of education Victor Duruy was busy trying to increase the enrollment in French worker training courses, the Académie des sciences morales et politiques asserted that “it is from instruction that we must ask the appeasement of the passions, of which ignorance has always been and remains the first source.” [107] The discipline of study, observation of his surroundings, and meditation on his condition were to create in the worker a concern for the immediate, an appreciation for the proper management of resources and the natural consequences of improvidence. Contemporaries hoped education would not only reduce levels of drunkenness and crime, but “would bring the worker to respect property rights and to understand the inevitability of inequality in the world. Some [worker education] institutes offered courses in political economy in order to help workers revise their “erroneous views” on the nature of capitalism.” [108] The same benefits could accrue to residents in Britain's overseas possessions, but only after education broke down old social bonds and reconnected them in ways more conducive to a European outlook and the necessities of a presumably more rational political and economic system. In India, the directors of missionary schools wrote to their sponsors of the salutary effects of education in weakening traditional authority structures. As in England, some thought that the teaching of political economy might “contribute vitally to the undermining of “the all comprehending framework of superstition in this land” by challenging received views on marriage, employment, and labour.” [109]

Shortly before the First World War, Consul General Lord Kitchener derided Egyptian elementary education for still being excessively “bookish,” and held that schools should have pragmatic aims, such as encouraging the spread of savings banks in villages and teaching careful fiscal habits to keep the peasant out of debt “without inducing him to leave the land.” [110] The value of schooling lay in “the discipline which the character and the intellect undergo thereby.” Hearkening back to the worker education movement in Europe, he championed “manual exercises [that] train the eye to accuracy in observation, the hand to skill in execution, and the mind to a sense of the importance of truthfulness in work. They cultivate habits of diligence, neatness, and attention to detail, and quicken the general intelligence.” [111] In 1919 the Egyptian Commission on Elementary Education repeated that rural schools

should be modern and practical in their methods and aims. Government would clearly not be justified in eventually imposing compulsory attendance unless the education provided in the schools was such as would make the children better able to earn their livelihood in practical directions, in which all his faculties will be awakened and developed and he will be made capable of understanding and doing as well as of repeating from memory.[112]

Again citing the lessons of British India, the report quoted Mr. Orange, a former director general of education in India, that popular schools should first aim at forming good citizens, then at imparting “useful knowledge, not forgetting while doing so to train the eye and the hand so that the children when they leave school, whether for the field or the workshop, will have begun to learn the value of accurate observation and to feel the joy of intelligent and exact work.” [113] In thus encouraging instruction in manual skills, colonial education policy matched domestic policy. Merely by substituting an “external proletariat” of foreign subjects for the domestic working class, policymakers could transfer almost unchanged many of the techniques and philosophical foundations of European-style mass schooling from home to abroad and back again.[114] Observers even compared Egyptian schools favorably with their English counterparts when efforts had been made to match curriculum to local needs. Villiers Stuart, who had visited the country in 1883–84 as a member of Lord Dufferin's fact-finding mission, toured the country again in the 1890s, and saw the government primary schools at Esna and Zagazig, noting that the classrooms were

surrounded with large coloured cartoons on technical subjects, illustrating various trades, such as bread-making, cooking, weaving, tailoring, hat- making, laundry-work, printing &c…some knowledge of these arts is more likely to be useful to them and to interest them than the stock subjects with which village children are crammed at home, such as the precise position of Kamschatka or the distance of the moon.[115]

Education in the “village schools,” mostly kuttabs under inspection, and those few under the direct control of the Ministry of Education, now had a dual purpose: religious instruction, their original task, and a new one set for them by the new regime: “to equip the pupil with sufficient knowledge to take care of his own interests in his own station of life, as small land-owner, fellah, petty shop-keeper, handicraftsman, weaver, village headman, boatman, fisherman”; their curriculum could not be extended beyond these needs “without lifting the schools above the needs of the classes for whom they are primarily intended.” [116] The notion that “sufficient knowledge” to carry out any of these pursuits was best attained through schools testifies to a sweeping change in what it meant to be an Egyptian. No longer were traditional means of socialization into village life considered to be sufficient preparation. In assuming a parental role, appropriating to itself the definition of competency to take care of one's own interests, the state could now promulgate specific curricula satisfying the requirements of any “station in life” as defined on the national level. In the new rural social order, the peasant, the small shopkeeper, and the ‘umda (mayor, or village headman) were viewed as equivalent in terms of the type of training they needed. Seen from Cairo, their differences were swamped by the rise of an indigenous class of technocrats and clerks with primary and secondary school certificates.

This practical outlook on popular instruction, adapted to the limited needs and capacities of “the lower orders,” was reinforced late in the century by British historian William Lecky's two-volume Democracy and Liberty, which Cromer admired enough to quote both in his Annual Report for 1904, and later in Modern Egypt. “The great mistake in the education of the poor,” Lecky wrote,

has in general been that it has been too largely and too ambitiously literary. Primary education should…teach the poor to write well and to count well; but, for the rest, it should be much more technical and industrial than literary, and should be more concerned with the observation of facts than with any form of speculative reasoning or opinions. There is much evidence to support the conclusion that the kinds of popular education which have proved morally, as well as intellectually, the most beneficial have been those in which a very moderate amount of purely mental instruction has been combined with physical or industrial training.[117]

Lecky also drew the attention of the members of the postwar Egyptian Commission on Elementary Education, who cited a passage in which the author praised education for diverting individuals from vice and temptation, and for “cultivat[ing] the civic and industrial virtues.” [118] An empirical orientation to the world would produce a laboring class whose interests were local, without any use for “speculative reasoning or opinions,” whose passions were held in check and who exhibited such concern for thrift, temperance, and obedience as was required of useful members of society. The transformation of individual character went hand in hand with the transformation of the social order.

Creation of a well-functioning social machine in turn required the differentiation of parts: “Industrial conditions require to be adjusted to the new order of things,” wrote the consul general in 1904, “and among the needs for this adjustment is the creation of a numerous and well- trained artisan class, possessing an education of at least the “Kuttab” grade, and of a restricted but better educated and more highly qualified class, capable of acting as designers, foremen, and managers.” [119] An interest in maintaining the Egyptian class system, or, in fact, remodeling it after the British, in which the lower orders had become literate (and thus better able to serve their purpose), was one of the vital functions of the new school system. By drawing the population into a new division of labor, they would be made dependent not only on the new material goods and new criteria for status differentiation that the system brought with it, but on the new system of schooling that helped create it. But even ancient occupations and stations in life could be perfected through educational refinement. The value of literacy, defined by its contribution to morality, efficiency, and order, lay not in its provision of an avenue to individual emancipation, but in its ability to reinforce a comfortable hierarchy. In this connection W. Basil Worsfold penned near the end of the nineteenth century one of the most moving paeans on record to the lofty purposes of British educational policy in its overseas empire. Marking an increased Nubian interest in the study of English after the British victory at Omdurman, Worsfold rhapsodized,

The English language has become very popular in the primary schools of the towns, while within the last few years a commencement of a genuine system of national education has been made by the endeavor of the Education Ministry to utilize and regenerate the mosque schools—the Kuttabs—which form the sole resource of the small towns and villages. If the regeneration of the Kuttab brings with it the education of the hitherto neglected girls, a new era of moral and intellectual development will ensue, and one of the results of this development will be to provide a new and more reliable class of [domestic] servants.[120]

Education and the Management of Populations

Preferred Citation: Starrett, Gregory. Putting Islam to Work: Education, Politics, and Religious Transformation in Egypt. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1998 1998.