Education, in its broadest sense, is the means of this social continuity of life.
European immigrants to Colonial America brought with them their culture, traditions and philosophy about education. Much of the formal educational system in the United States is rooted in the European or Western belief system. Though an indigenous population of Native Americans lived on the North American continent, their influence on the development of formal educational practice in America was minimal. Many tribes had not yet developed writing or a system of formal educational practice. Additionally, there was a systematic effort to eradicate this population as opposed to assimilating them.
Among the tribes that had developed written languages, the Cherokee tribe who originally lived in the Southern portion of the United States had developed a system of formal education to pass knowledge from one generation to the next. They, however, were methodically pushed out of their native territory in the early 1800's and forced to move to the Oklahoma territory, which limited their ability to influence educational practice in early America.
The English were the predominant settlers in the New World and as a result education in colonial America was patterned on the English model. It originally developed as a two-track system with people from the lower classes receiving minimal instruction and only learning to read and write, calculate and receive religious instruction. The upper classes were allowed to pursue an education beyond the basics and oftentimes attended Latin grammar or secondary schools where they learned Greek and Latin and studied the classics in preparation for a college education.
Religion played an important rule in developing an educational system in the United States. The Puritans, a strict fundamentalist Protestant sect who immigrated to the New World for religious freedom beginning in 1609, believed that education was necessary in order to read the Bible to receive salvation. This was in line with the beliefs of the Protestant Reformers. Their schools made no distinction between religious and secular life and were also used to inspire children to endure the hardships of a life in the New World through religious devotion.
Teachers had some status in the community because they, along with the clergy, had more education than most of the population. However, their position was secondary to that of the clergy. Additionally, teachers had to be of high moral character, which came under intense scrutiny by the rest of the community. They also had many other duties besides teaching, such as cleaning the school, substituting for the minister, and ring the church bell.
The settlers in a particular area heavily influenced the development of schools and formal education in the American colonies. For example in the New England Colonies, which was primarily Puritan, religious instruction was of paramount importance. Puritans believed that people (children in particular) were inherently bad (sinners) and had to learn to behave. Salvation lay in learning to check one's natural instincts and behave as an adult.
The Mid-Atlantic colonies had a more diverse population consisting of the Dutch, English, Irish, Scottish, German, etc. They were also more varied in their religious beliefs and therefore did not develop a common school system such as the one that prevailed in the New England colonies. Instead each group often developed their own schools which promoted their culture, religion and traditions. The Quakers who settled in the Philadelphia area in the 1680's believed in educating the populace. They were also tolerant of others' beliefs and ways of life. They had a strong influence on the development of education and established the first public school.
In the Southern Colonies, where society was more structured and stratified according to socioeconomic classes, the wealthy plantation owners developed their own system to prepare their sons for further education. Children from poorer households received a minimal education and slaves from Africa only learned what was necessary to attend their masters.
Here, religious instruction had an important role, but so too did the more rigorous education of secondary schools, where the sons of the wealthy learned the necessary subject matter to prepare them for college on the European continent. In 1636 Harvard College, the first post-secondary school on the North American continent, was established in the Boston, Massachusetts area and in 1693 the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia was founded.
Dame Schools were one of the more common types of schools found in the colonies. They were often established by women, and more often than not run from the home of the person in charge. Students were charged a modest fee to attend. Education was basic, concentrating on reading, writing, and calculation. Attendance was often erratic and dependent on the season and work at home that needed to be done. For most females the dame school provided their only education and homemaking skills such as sewing were also included in the instructional process.
Requiring School Attendance
|Education is the transmission of civilization. -Ariel and Will Durant|
The first compulsory education laws were passed in Massachusetts from 1642-1648. They were specifically oriented towards a segment of the population (non-Puritan) who was not providing their children with a proper education. Religious leaders were concerned about the rapid growth of the non-Puritan population and took these steps to maintain Puritan religious beliefs. The first act, called the Massachusetts Act of 1642 made education a state responsibility. While schools were not yet funded or required, education was and all children were supposed to learn how to read and write or parents would risk loss of custody of their children. The law was amended and strengthened in 1648.
The law requiring the establishment of schools was passed in 1647. All towns of fifty or more households were required to form a school and pay a teacher either out of private or public monies. In addition towns of one hundred or more households had to establish a secondary or Latin grammar school to prepare students to enter Harvard College.
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