But bells weren’t simply — or even primarily — a technology of pedagogy as much as one for announcements and alarms. Although companies like the Standard Electric Time Company (founded in Massachusetts in 1884) sold synchronized clock and bell systems to schools (and yes, factories), an early function of the latter was not to mimic the rhythm of the workplace but rather to warn occupants about fire.
It should come as no surprise to close observers of invented histories of education that Gatto would have something to say (in almost all his books, in fact) about the tyranny of the bell. He was, after all, one of the most influential promoters of the “school-as-factory” narrative: that the origins of mass schooling are inextricably bound to the need to reshape a rebellious farming nation’s sons and daughters into a docile, industrial workforce. It’s a powerful, influential story, sure, but it’s a pretty inaccurate history.