Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Very Short History of Christian Education, 5/5

“Lord, for schools everywhere among us! That our schools may flourish!”
John Eliot, New England Indian missionary

Early America:

Colonial Americans were British. As such, they continued the British ideal of education: both homeschooling and local schooling were liberally practiced. Group readings and individual catechizing helped literacy. As during the Reformation, public and family worship was encouraged, yet catechizing through the family, church and school was the mainstay of religious instruction. At times, such catechizing was furthered through assemblies of the children, not unlike Sunday school.

The Massachusetts' Old Deluder Satan Act of 1647 required the creation of elementary and grammar schools. Other New England colonies quickly followed Massachusetts’ lead. Eleven of the twelve Dutch colonies in the New York (New Amsterdam) area had schools before 1664, and still the Dutch settlers complained that there were not enough schools. Although in the southern colonies tutors and homeschooling were more prevalent, private and public schools were initiated in several villages and towns as early as 1621 in Virginia.

The typical New England child would begin instruction before age six, attending a local Dame school wherein an older woman (usually widowed) would teach the rudiments. After mastering reading through the hornbook or the New England Primer, he would advance to a writing school. If he were proficient he would attend a grammar school, learning the classics.

From Adams to Washington, the leaders of America went to school. Washington apparently attended the least amount while many others attended school for most of their education and/or learned from tutors at home. Southern schools were usually found on plantations--private tutors-turned-public-teachers for the neighboring families.

Leaders, such as John Eliot and Cotton Mather, promoted parental nurture as well as Christian day schools. Likewise, Noah Webster, Adams and Jefferson encouraged the creation of schools. Some election-day sermons exhorted the listeners to support local schooling. The Presbyterian Synod of New York and Philadelphia publicly called for more schools.

Many pre-1800 state constitutions included provisions for public education: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Georgia. New York state provided for schools, with over half of her children in school by 1800. According to professor Samuel Miller, the proliferation of primary schools was great in the late 1700s. In 1812, Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Nemours, after touring America at Jefferson's behest, observed that in contrast to Europe, Americans "have a great number of primary schools…So then, nearly all young Americans learn to read, write and cipher" (trans. Dr. Coppes). De Tocqueville in 1830 made similar observations, lauding the reading culture of the families and communities. By 1840 59% of American children attended schools.

The lesson to be found here is that our spiritual and political fathers and mothers exercised their God-given freedom to educate their children as they saw fit. Such education under-girded the founding of this nation without much spiritual or political harm. The emphasis was on religious and vocational training, not upon how such training was accomplished. Whether at home or abroad, the cultures in Europe and America were homogeneous enough that a three-fold instructional approach--family, church and school--was exercised without much concern. No family was an island.

Today's call back to the educational good-ol' days is well and fine if the call is rooted in the factual history of America. Anything less is at best uninformed zeal and at worst a sectarian commercialism of history.

Summary of References & Suggested Readings:
American Education: The Colonial Experience, 1607-1783, Cremin
History of Education, Cubberley
The Puritan Family, Morgan

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