The economic considerations of local school districts and their school boards were an important factor in the emergence of mass schooling during the nineteenth century. Consequently, both econometric analyses and historical studies have dealt with issues such as local fiscal capacity and the limited funds of school boards. Studies have, for example, drawn attention to the thriftiness of farmers in matters of schooling, and pointed out how school districts pursued a school system geared towards low teacher salaries, short semesters and cheap school buildings. In this context, the global diffusion of monitorial education has been explained by its inexpensive nature.
In this paper, I present a study of school districts’ economic activity and thinking in Sweden, 1840-1900. Using A. V. Chayanov’s and Eric R. Wolf’s classic analyses of peasant economy, and a case study of 12 school districts in northern Sweden as a starting point, this paper analyses how school districts balanced income with expenditures, how they understood the limited resources of their local community, and discussed their own financial budget. Thus I will be able to show that the school districts not only aspired to implement a school system at a minimum cost, but desired an economic practice that was righteous, just, sensible, moderate and justifiable. This meant that available resources were not the only, or, main guiding principle of the school boards. Instead, the school boards pursued a politics of schooling that catered to the needs of teachers, parents and children. The economy of the Swedish school districts was in this respect a complex social, economic and cultural practice.
In addition to being a contribution to the economic history of schooling, analyzing how issues of educational expenditure and fiscal capacity was discussed and dealt with by school boards, this paper also has wider relevance to the history of schooling. Since teachers’ salaries and the building and maintenance of schoolhouses were the main expenditure items of the Swedish school districts, this paper addresses issues that is of particular interest for the history of teachers and the history of schoolhouses.
European Social Science History Conference, 30 March - 2 April 2016, Valencia.