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Though their reports now focused sharply upon the schools, characteristics associated with travelers’ tales persisted: many of the reports took the form of encyclopedic descriptions of foreign school systems, perhaps enlivened here and there with anecdotes, but rarely explanatory.Of necessity, objectivity and detachment were lacking, for these educational emissaries, committed as they were to the cause of education in their own countries, mostly saw and reported from abroad merely what they judged would advance their domestic enterprises. This was a period, too, when exchange of information about foreign countries and particularly about foreign education was considered desirable simply to break down the barriers of ignorance that divided nation from nation.
The first of these attempted to identify the forces and factors shaping national educational systems.
The second, and the latest, may be termed the stage of social science explanation, which uses the empirical, quantitative methods of economics, political science, and sociology to clarify relationships between education and society.
Such reports were essentially the work of amateurs who included in more general descriptions of institutions and practices abroad details of foreign ways of raising children.
These rapporteurs tended to emphasize exotic information simply because it threw into sharp contrast the familiar practices and institutions of their homelands.
These stages are far from being discrete in time: each of these types of work in comparative education has persisted down to the present and may be observed in the contemporary literature, and rarely can any contributor to the field be confined within a single category.
But the categorization suggested, loose though it is, provides a convenient, unforced framework within which to review the development of the field. The first and most primitive comparative education observations were the tales brought home by travelers to foreign parts.Where to break in to this perplexing circle was a question not easily answered. A significant strengthening of the explanatory powers of the social sciences took place after World War 1.Many governments improved the quantity and quality of their statistical series, and statistical techniques became much more sophisticated.Curiosity was the mainspring of their voyages, and local color the attraction of their descriptions.Only the rare observer could extract systematic conclusions with explanatory value from a mass of indiscriminately reported impressions.In the form of superior journalism, this style of work remains a prominent feature of writing on foreign countries today. From the beginning of the nineteenth century, coincident with the rise of national systems of education in Europe, journeys abroad were made by travelers with a specialized interest in educational matters.No longer motivated by general curiosity, they went the rounds of foreign countries to discover information useful for charting the course of education in their own countries.They relied heavily on history and tended to strike a deterministic note.Problems of cause and effect preoccupied comparative educators, but inevitably their discussion quickly descended into a familiar circularity: national character determines education, and education determines national character.They began to consider the possibility of using their conclusions to steer educational reform and so engineer the future shape of society.In this phase of comparative education, studies of foreign schooling became to a considerable extent studies of national character and the institutions that help form it.