chapter  2
Literacy Drives in Preindustrial Germany
ByRichard L. Gawthrop
Pages 20

Although historians have assumed that high literacy rates played an important role in the rapidity of German industrialization in the nineteenth century, they have failed to give a satisfactory explanation for this early achievement of mass literacy. The crucial impetus for seeking to impart a knowledge of reading to all segments of society came, however, from the Protestant Reformation, though not in the way usually suggested by historians of that movement. Nevertheless, for the overwhelming majority of people in this preindustrial society, the costs of sending their children to school outweighed the benefits youngsters received from their education. In addition to providing more access to education, eighteenth-century governments also applied more pressure on parents to send their children to school. The rapid spread of a literacy used for ritualistic purposes was not, however, the only result of expanding enrollments in the German Volksschulen.