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Updated Up To 18/01/2017
Volume 12, Issue 1 (January 2014) : 63-87
A Space for Science
Science Education and the Domestic in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Men
Allison Speicher
Rubric A: Literature and Science
Rubric B: American Novel



In mid-nineteenth century America, science education was often presented as a panacea, capable of providing students with mental discipline, moral instruction, and useful knowledge.  In her 1871 novel, Little Men, Louisa May Alcott assesses the ability of science education to fulfill these aims, selectively embracing some of the beliefs, goals, and methods promoted by advocates of science education while critiquing others.  Unlike these advocates, Alcott highlights the differences between children and their diverse educational goals, presenting science education chiefly as a means to an end. Alcott’s investment in science education is tempered by her commitment to moral and domestic education. Through the character of Dan she demonstrates that increased scientific literacy does not necessarily lead to moral growth or future domestic happiness.  Instead, science and the domestic prove incommensurable throughout the novel: the students who most heartily embrace science, Dan and Nan, are also the most decidedly undomestic graduates of Plumfield, as their science education gives them access to alternatives to home life, for good or for ill.

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