Education in New England colonies


  • Section II - American Education Part 1

    Colonial America

    Education, in its broadest sense, is the means of this social continuity of life.
    -John Dewey

    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...

See also:

Interesting facts:

The Massachusetts School Laws were three legislative acts of 1642, 1647 and 1648 enacted in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The most famous by far is the law of 1647, also known as the Old Deluder Satan Law (after the law's first sentence) and The General School Law...

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