Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Early Education in the American Colonies




The Reverend John Cotton of Boston, Massachusetts willed half his property to establish a school to provide an education to children who were disadvantaged or orphaned. The Boston Latin School became the first school that was established in America outside of the home.

The Christians throughout colonial America recognized their God given responsibility to educate their children. Furthermore, they also saw it as their responsibility to educate the general public. In obeying Christ's command found in the Great Commission of Matthew 28. They firmly believed the responsibility to 'disciple all nations' was accomplished through “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.”

Matthew 28:19-20
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

Between 500 and 1500 AD, the light of the Word of God had been hidden from the common people. The want of access to the truth of the Bible kept the common man ignorant throughout the Middle Ages.

John Wycliffe had access to the Scriptures and through his studies became convinced that “Scripture must become the common property of all.” It was actually Wycliffe who first declared that there might be a “a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

John Wycliffe translated the Bible from Latin into English in 1382. Wycliffe became the “Morning Star of the Reformation” for he preceded the men of the Protestant Reformation by one hundred and fifty years.

After translating the Bible into English, Wycliffe sought to implant the truth of the Holy Scriptures in the hearts of men, women, and children throughout England. He distributed his Bible, books about the Bible, and tracts throughout the whole of England.

Wycliffe sent his followers which received the derogatory name of “Lollards” throughout the villages and towns of England to distribute his Bibles and Christian literature. The term “Lollard” was a label of ridicule which actually means 'idle babbler'. It was through the efforts of the Lollards that many people throughout England learned to read the Scriptures for themselves.

Professor G.V. Lechler declares that the Lollards: “were, above all, characterized by a striving after holiness, a zeal for the spread of scriptural truth, for the uprooting of prevalent error, and for Church reform. Even the common people among them were men who believed; and they communicated, as by a sacred contagion, their convictions to those around them. Thus they became mighty.”






In the American colonies; almost every child was educated due to the colonists firm conviction and desire to have their children read the Scriptures. Parents understood the Biblical command of Deuteronomy 6:4-7 and Ephesians 6:4


Deuteronomy 6:4-7
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.”
Ephesians 6:4 “
“And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”






American education was primarily centered in the home during the first 150 to 200 years. Although home education may have been supplemented by tutors and schools; education was the responsibility of parents and rested upon the home. This was the case until the child was around eight or nine years of age. At the age of eight or nine; children may have had tutors or attended a school. Ministers were generally the tutors. If there were too many children in a neighborhood, a pastor would teach a group of children in his home. Hence, these 'schools' became the first grammar schools beginning in the late 1600s. At the age of thirteen a child would enter an apprenticeship program or attend a college.


Luther, Tyndale, Calvin and preachers of the Reformation became advocates for the education of the common folk. The strong desire to educate their children was found among the Pilgrims, Puritans, and Quakers. A primary reason why the Pilgrims came to America was to escape the ungodly influence that education in Europe had upon their children.


Cotton Mather declared:


“The schools of learning and religion (in Europe) are so corrupted as most children, even the best and wittiest, and of the fairest hopes, are perverted, corrupted, and utterly overthrown by the multitude of evil examples and licentious behavior in these seminaries.”


The first free common school in America was established by the “Old Deluder Law” of 1647.


Historian John Fiske declared: “In 1647 the legislature of Massachusetts enacted a law with the preamble: 'It being one chief purpose of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures,' it was therefore ordered that every township containing fifty families or householders should set up a school in which children might be taught to read and write, and that every township containing one hundred families or householders should set up a school in which boys might be fitted for entering Harvard college.”


The Old Deluder Satan Law of 1647 was passed by the legislatures of Massachusetts and Connecticut to prevent illiteracy. Furthermore, it was passed into law to preclude the abuse of power over the common man ignorant of scriptures.


“It being one chiefe project of that old deluder, Sathan, to keepe men from the knowledge of the scriptures, as in former time... 
It is therefore ordered...[that] after the Lord hath increased [the settlement] to the number of fifty howshoulders, [they] shall forthwith appoint one within their towne, to teach all such children as shall resorte to him, to write and read... 
and it is further ordered, That where any towne shall increase to the number of one hundred families of howshoulders, they shall sett up a grammar schoole for the university.”


The parents of the children or general inhabitants would pay the wages of the teacher. The existence of 'public' schools although required by law, was not enforced. Furthermore, they were not under the authority of a state board. The curriculum, methodology and administration of the 'public' schools was under local control of the parents in the community. Throughout the following decades, 'public' schools were established in other New England towns and villages. These schools actually involved a small percentage of the children being educated. The vast majority of children were educated in the home, church, and private sector.






Samuel Blumenfeld states that “by 1720 Boston had far more private schools than public ones, and by the close of the American Revolution many towns had no common schools at all.” 


New York and Pennsylvania had public schools as those in New England in urban areas but not in the rural areas of the colonies.


There were no 'public' schools in the southern colonies until 1730 and by 1776 there were only five public schools in the south.


The home was where the majority of children were educated throughout the American colonies even during the American Revolution.


Samuel Blumenfeld declared: “Of the 117 men who signed the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution, one out of three had only a few months of formal schooling, and only one in four had gone to college. They were educated by parents, church schools, tutors, academies, apprenticeship, and by themselves.”







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