The Objects

27th Apr 1815

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Source: Private collection

The Société pour l'instruction élémentaire and the 100 Days

Contributed by: Marcelo Caruso

In March 1815, a group of wealthy liberal philanthropists established the Société pour l'instruction élémentaire (SIE) [Society for Elementary Instruction] for the purpose of introducing new English methods of elementary mutual teaching into France.

The Reverend Andrew Bell in Madras and the layman and dissenter Joseph Lancaster in London had been experimenting independently since the late 18th century with the teaching of large groups of pupils by regularly using the help of the best students. At the beginning of the 19th century, these proposals gained transcontinental popularity and rapidly spread.

Based on their common work in civic societies, the French group of philanthropists saw in the system of mutual teaching a consistent and economic solution for the rather sluggish pace of development of French elementary education.

The establishment of the SIE coincided with Napoleon’s return to France. The minister of the interior during the 100 Days, Lazare Carnot (for more on Carnot, see 21 April), strongly supported this initiative, and prepared a decree favouring the propagation of the new techniques. Specifically, an elementary teacher-training school espousing the new method was to be established in Paris. A preparatory commission was created by imperial decree on 27 April 1815, including almost all founding fathers of the SIE and it swiftly designed the new institution.

Despite these close political ties between the SIE and the 100 Days regime, the SIE survived the political changes of 1815 and became one of the major actors in providing and supporting elementary education well into the 1830s.