Economists and educational historians have put forth two major kinds of explanation for the coincidence between the industrial revolution and the development of mass public schooling in the United States. Industrial change, some maintain,created a demand for technicians, managers, skilled workers, and highly trained professionals; the rise of public education, then, involved a relatively automatic and decentralized response to a changing market for labor. Others argue that social disorganization wrought by the manufacturing system led members of elite groups to establish and support public education as a means to ensure the stability of the social arrangements from which they profited. In this article, Alexander James Field uses a wide range of data from nineteenth-century Massachusetts to assess the relative merits of these two schools of thought. While he notes that both explanations are accurate in some degree, he concludes that, in Massachusetts at least, the actions of economic elites in the political arena did more to establish mass public education than did the demands of individuals in the educational marketplace.

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