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Widespread publicly funded, mandatory education has only been around since about the 19th century. Before then, the responsibility of providing schooling to children fell primarily on their families. Upper- and middle-class families tended to hire tutors or send their children to a private school run by a schoolmaster. That didn’t mean the children in lower-class families missed out on learning how to read and write. They often learned this at home, through apprenticeships, or at church-funded schools.
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In addition, some poor families scraped together enough money to pay for their children to receive an education. Some even worked out a barter arrangement with teachers where they paid with surplus produce from the family farm. For instance, poor students from farming families in Denmark and Sweden often brought baskets of potatoes or apples to school as payment.
In the United States, things changed when various social reforms came about in the 1800s. The reforms addressed issues ranging from food sanitation, treatment of the mentally ill, and even education.
However towns on the sparsely settled western frontier still often bore the responsibility for paying for a teacher in the town.
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