Jonathan Rose, “The Classics in the Slums”:

The Workers’ Educational Association, founded in 1903 (and still a going concern today), brought university-level adult courses in literature, history, science, and economics to the mill towns. The students were intensely dedicated: they had to be, given the realities of their lives. One pottery engineer recorded that, over a 26-week period, he worked an average of 74.5 hours per week, then wrote 14 essays for his WEA course, and also delivered a total of 25 lectures to various other classes.

The WEA offered no grades, no degrees, and no vocational courses. The only motive for study was the disinterested pursuit of learning, and the students vehemently rejected any kind of occupational training. “Knowledge for its own sake is a better principle,” said one. “Adult education is often a way of escape from the tedious monotony of working life. Give as wide a range of subjects as possible and let the student follow his bent.” “We want freedom of mind, power and expression,” wrote another, “and for that reason wish to dissociate work and study.”

Joshua Beatty @joshuabeatty