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POSTPONED: Joseph Lancaster & the “Delusion” of Public Schools

March 19 @ 12:00 PM - 1:00 PM

Joseph Lancaster & the "Delusion" of Public Schools

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this program and all planned programs at the Museum are postponed until further notice. The Museum is closed to the public until further notice. We are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause.

Early 19th century educator Joseph Lancaster and the story of America’s first tumultuous attempt to reform its urban public schools is the topic of a talk by Binghamton University Historian Adam Laats. The program will take place at the Erie Canal Museum on Thursday, March 19 at 12 p.m. Admission is $5 per person, and there is no charge for Erie Canal Museum members.

When American reformers including DeWitt Clinton convinced Joseph Lancaster to move to New York from London in 1818, they greeted him as a genius of historical importance. His revolutionary school system was seen as the solution to the problems of America’s young cities. Cities and states rushed to implement Lancaster’s vision of student-taught classrooms for the poor. Twenty years later, buried in debt and accused of abusing students and mismanaging school finances, Lancaster died from injuries sustained in a street accident in New York. By then, almost all “Lancasterian” schools had closed or abandoned his methods. Lancaster himself had become a punchline, a pleading has-been.

Our speaker will explain what happened to Lancaster’s bold initiative. He will also discuss Lancaster’s naive plan to address urban poverty, and the reasons his “system,” universally cheered in 1818, was so quickly discarded.

Adam Laats is the author of several books about U.S. educational history. His books include Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education and The Other School Reformers: Conservative Activism in American Education. He teaches at the State University of New York at Binghamton.

The Erie Canal Museum is wheelchair accessible. Parking is available at meters on the street, in pay lots, and in Museum-designated spots in the lot under routes 81 and 690. Join us for this fascinating program!

The Erie Canal Museum is partially funded by a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.


March 19
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM
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Erie Canal Museum


Erie Canal Museum
318 Erie Boulevard East
Syracuse, NY 13202 United States
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