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The "social Question" in Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward

Autor:   •  March 12, 2018  •  2,428 Words (10 Pages)  •  61 Views

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that is also be universal” (Clifford 1978, 166). However, despite the general recognition of the importance of education, schooling was still quite new and primarily featured students kin to wealthy individuals. There was simply not enough evidence to support that education directly translated into long-term success. Additionally, the poverty caused by rapid industrialization, as previously mentioned, resulted in children of lower income families being forced into working, rather than schooling. According to ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ Tyack and Cuban, "In 1900, the notion of kindergarten was already thirty years old, but only 7% of children in the United States were enrolled in it” (1995, 66). Similar to their views on wealth, capitalists did not believe the schooling system required change. As Julian admitted in Looking Backward, the system kept the rich-rich and the poor-poor, but that is how many capitalists thought it was supposed to be. There were several views however, that suggested the education system should be changed to accommodate more citizens. As stated previously, there were many benefits to making education accessible to all youth. Bellamy made this apparent as education was one of the most significant changes made in 21st century America, through “generally accepted failure” of the old system. However, parallel to many of Bellamy’s social movements, his ideology behind the future education system was much more extreme than most reformers. In Looking Backward, Dr. Leete explained to Julian that there are, "many very important differences between our methods of education and yours, but the main difference is that nowadays all persons equally have those opportunities of higher education which in your day only an infinitesimal portion of the population enjoyed” (Beaumont 2007, 90). Furthermore, Leete informed Julian that people are encouraged to stay in school until age 21. Based on this belief, there would be an equal opportunity for all individuals to receive a college education. It is through the means of education that youth would begin to develop an interest in certain fields of work, and ultimately choose a profession matching their interests and personal skills. Although Bellamy’s suggestion was costly, if applied, it would greatly improve both the American society and economy in the short, and long term. Another interesting question that Bellamy alluded to, was how future generations of youth would develop as a result of having highly-educated parents. The notion of having two educated parents was previously unheard of, and perhaps related to the inability of working class students to reach their maximum potential. Like Bellamy, John Dewey also did not believe the educational system that was currently in place was effective. Dewey thoroughly examined classrooms and looked at minor details, such as the seating arrangement, as well as major details, such as the way information was being provided. From his analysis, Dewey concluded that the teaching environment was not conducive to learning as it encouraged students to be ‘listeners’ but did not engage them to be ‘workers’ and thus inhibited individualism. As Dewey stated in Fink’s Major Problems, “When nature and society can live in the schoolroom, when the forms and tools of learning are subordinated to the substance of experience, then shall there be an opportunity for this identification, and culture shall be the democratic password” (2015, 378). Ultimately, Dewey wanted the education system to be a place where one could not only acquire knowledge, but also learn how to live. Dewey’s ideas coincided with Bellamy as the educational system he described was centered around teaching youth life skills, in addition to job related skills. According to Bellamy, these skills would be acquired through both teaching from the school and nurturing from the child’s parents. Along with Dewey and Bellamy, many social reformers views aligned on how America should pursue public education, and the implementation of this system was the likely course of action as it was deemed the best solution to the ‘social questions’ about the education system.

Thirdly, in pursuit of solving other social issues following the Gilded Age, another issue was raised, causing rebellion amongst women to abolish gender inequality within the United States. The late 19th century was a time of controversy as many people, including women, were formulating opinions on what needed reform. However, the American society was not accepting of women voicing their ideas on how to eliminate poverty, or other social wrongs like drinking, gambling, and prostitution, simply because they were women. This led to the progressive movement seeking gender inequality, as many women would then come together to obtain the same basic human rights and privileges men had. Two influential women in this movement were Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr, who built the Hull House in Chicago as a settlement house for women. As Katherine Sklar wrote, “As a community of women (the) Hull House provided its members with a lifelong substitute for family life” (1985, 660). Women teaming together proved very dangerous to right-winged males as they gained power and were encouraged within the Hull House to voice their personal beliefs. Most men greatly opposed and feared this movement, however several men would join the women on this issue and began labeling themselves as feminists. Edward Bellamy was one of these men. In Looking Backward, Bellamy discussed 21st century America and the strides the female sex had made in terms of gender equality. As Dr. Leete explained to Julian the privileges of male and female citizens, Julian was shocked to hear women were entitled to the same discretionary spending as men were. Dr. Leete exclaimed, “The maintenance of all our people is the same. There are no exceptions to that rule, but if any difference were made on account of the interruptions you speak of, it would be by making the woman’s credit larger, not smaller” (Beaumont 2007, 107). The reason Leete believed women should be entitled to more, is as a reward for bearing and nursing the family’s children, which in Bellamy’s mind is a priceless job. Bellamy would further state how women are, “in no way dependent on their husbands for maintenance” (Beaumont 2007, 107). He also gives insight on how marriage operates in the new world, where women are free to marry men who they believe to be good fathers. Bellamy’s ideas are very profound considering the unenlightened audience he was addressing. Bellamy’s ideas were critical, because while it was necessary for female reformers to respond to the ‘social question’ of gender equality, the voiced opinions of male feminists, like Bellamy, were the most influential on positive change for women in America.



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