Friday, October 06, 2006

EDUCATING CHILDREN - Education in Early American History

Education in America has gone through a major evolutionary process. But unlike the so-called "evolution of man" which is widely taught in the government school systems, the evolution of the American school is based on fact and not fiction. It is a process that started with the Pilgrims and Puritans who first settled this country in the 1600’s and is still continuing today.

So who were these Pilgrims and Puritans? Why did they come to America? The most common answer is religious freedom, and while this may be the most common answer, it may not be the best. So let us take a closer look at these two groups for a more complete answer.

The Pilgrims were mostly farmers, and with the exception of their leaders, they were generally not well educated. However, this did not mean they were illiterate, because standards for literacy were much higher then. All this really meant was that while most them could read and write, they had little or no formal university education. The Puritans on the other hand were generally better educated. They were primarily from England’s middle and professional class.[1] Though the Pilgrims and Puritans were drastically different in makeup, their goals were strikingly similar. Each group wanted very similar things. They wanted the freedom to worship God in accordance with their own beliefs, they wanted the freedom to teach those beliefs to their children, and most of all they wanted all men everywhere to know the Lord. But while each group wanted similar things, they each took a drastically different approach to achieve them.

The Pilgrims wanted no part of the Church of England. To them, it was too much like the Roman Church. Too much of the emphasis was on pomp and show with little focus on reading and interpreting scripture. There was also a great divide between the clergy and the laity, and the King of England, James I, wanted it to stay that way. It was his opinion that royally appointed bishops were one of the pillars of a strong monarchy. His response to their protests was "No bishop, no king."[2] So the only real recourse that the Pilgrims had was to flee the country. But only after several different failed attempts did they finally escape to Holland. It was on February 12, 1609 that they settled in Leyden, Holland, which was a small town about twenty miles southwest of Amsterdam. Here they remained for the next eleven years. It was here that they finally experienced the religious freedom that they had so longed for back in their mother country of England. But, if they had finally found religious freedom among the Dutch, why did they make the dangerous voyage to America? The real reason can be found in the document known as the Mayflower Compact, it says:

"In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain. France, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, & etc. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and the advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern parts of Virginia; do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together in a civil body politick, for our better ordering and preservation, and the of the ends aforesaid: and by virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient of the general good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the eleventh of November, in the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland, the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini, 1620."[3]

So the main reason for their final departure to the Americas was "for the Glory of God, and the advancement of the Christian Faith." They were missionaries at heart and wanted to carry their faith to the uttermost parts of the world. Here in the "New World", they would have the freedom to worship God according to their own beliefs. They would have the freedom to teach those beliefs to their children. Most of all, here they would be able to carry the gospel to a land where it had not been before.

While the Pilgrims were busy trying to escape their current situation, their better educated and more affluent counterparts, the Puritans, were doing what they could to reform the church and the government from within. They didn’t really want to form a new church; they just wanted to purify the one they had. They were the dominant party in the English House of Commons,[4] and they tried to use their positions of influence to persuade the English people and her king, to adopt a form of government that was more religiously tolerant. While this was only partially successful, many of their members, some 900 or so Puritans, saw the proverbial writing on the wall and sailed to America in 1630 under the leadership of John Winthrop.

John was born in Suffolk, England in 1587. He was the only son of Adam Winthrop, the lord of Groton Manor. He was privately educated as a youngster and later attended Trinity College in Cambridge. After a few years of college, he returned home to help run his fathers estate. He was later married and had 10 children. John went on to study law and then at some point became part of the Puritan movement. Once in this new movement John became more and more dissatisfied with the Church of England and worked feverishly to try and implement change from within. But after much effort, John discovered that change was not coming, so he decided to leave his home in search of a better place to raise his family. This is when John became involved with a company known as the Massachusetts Bay Company. This was a newly chartered company that would travel to the New World and setup an entirely new way of life. John, with his background in management and law was quickly elected the first Governor. With that, John and the rest of the Puritans sailed aboard the ship Arbella along with a flotilla of eleven other ships to the New World, and like the Pilgrims, who went before them some ten years earlier and had drafted the Mayflower Compact, these men also drafted their on covenant to explain their actions. It stated:

"God Almighty in His most holy and wise providence, hath so disposed of the condition of mankind as in all times some must be rich, some poor; some high and eminent in power and dignity, others mean and in subjection. First, to hold conformity with rest of His works, ... Secondly, that He might have the more occasion to manifest the work of His spirit, ... Thirdly, that every man might have need of other, ... All men thus (by divine providence) ranked into two sorts, rich and poor, under the first are comprehended all such as are able to live comfortably by their own means duly improved, and all others are poor, according to the former distribution. There are two rules whereby we are to walk, one toward another; justice and mercy. ... There is likewise a double law by which we are regulated in our conversation, one towards another; in both the former respects, the law of nature and the law of grace, or the moral law of the Gospel. (1) For the persons, we are a company professing ourselves fellow members of Christ; (2) the care of the public must oversway all private respects by which not only conscience but mere civil policy doth bind us; (3) the end is to improve our lives to do more service to the Lord, the comfort and increase of the body of Christ whereof we are members; (4) for the means whereby this must be effected, they are twofold: a conformity with the work and the end we aim at. ... Thus stands the cause between God and us: we are entered into covenant with Him for this work; we have taken out a commission, the Lord hath given us leave to draw our own articles, ... if we shall neglect the observation of these articles ... the Lord will surely break out in wrath against us. ... Therefore, let us choose life, that we, and our seed may live; by obeying His voice and cleaving to Him, for He is our life and our prosperity."[5]

While the Mayflower Compact was a distinctly religious document, the Arbella Covenant was even more so. The final line of the document gives a very clear summary: "Therefore, let us choose life, that we, and our seed may live; by obeying His voice and cleaving to Him, for He is our life and our prosperity." So if the Pilgrims were missionaries to the new world, the Puritans were missionaries too, but with a primary purpose of being a godly example for all to see, a light on a hill[6] to shine before all men. They would strive to live according to the laws of God, and would train their children to do likewise.

In their search for religious freedom, both the Pilgrims and the Puritans eventually came to America, and once they were there, they would establish homes, churches and schools modeled after the pattern given in scripture. It is here, among the lives and homes of these early European settlers, that we find the Christian roots of education in American.

So what were some of these early Christian roots of American education? Well, from its earliest beginnings, the schools founded in this country were distinctly Christian. Harvard University for example, founded in 1636, just sixteen years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock,[7] was founded on Christian principles. In her report, Plymouth Rocked: America Departs from Founding Values, Wendy Griffith states that "Harvard, chartered in Boston in 1636, was established primarily to train ministers of the Gospel, and to evangelize the northern Atlantic seaboard. A statue of John Harvard, a young minister when he came over from England, stands in Harvard Yard. For more than 200 years, Harvard remained dedicated to Christian education…"[8] If you look at the statue of John Harvard, you will see an open Bible in his right hand. Harvard was clearly founded with Christian values in mind, but has since left those values behind and replaced them with the values of the world. But this was not the only school founded on Christian values that has become secular. Every historical Ivy League school founded in this nation had the same Christian moral roots. Take Columbia University for example; this is the 6th oldest school in our nation. According to an article in the New York Mercury on June 3, 1754, announcing the opening of King's College, the original name for Columbia, it stated that:

"The chief thing that is aimed at in this college is to teach and engage the children to know God in Jesus Christ and to love and serve Him in all sobriety, godliness, and righteousness of life, with perfect heart and a willing mind, and to train them up in all virtuous habits and all such useful knowledge as may render them creditable to their families and friends, ornaments to their country, and useful to the public weal in their generations."

But does Columbia still have those same lofty goals? Not in the least! Columbia University today is a totally secular institution. In fact, this is the same university where the well known humanist and atheist, John Dewey, was called as the head of its teacher’s college. But that is an issue that will be covered in greater detail later.

The founding of Christian schools of higher education was only the beginning of Christian education in this country. Just a few years after the founding of Harvard University, the first mandatory school law was established for elementary education. It was the Massachusetts Bay School Law of 1642. This law required parents and masters to teach their children the principles of religion and the capital laws of the commonwealth.[9] The main idea behind this law was that it was the duty of those responsible for the children: parents and masters, to see that they could read the scripture for themselves and by doing so could become good citizens.

Five years after this first school law was passed another new law was enacted. It was the Massachusetts Law of 1647,[10] also known as the Old Deluder Satan Act. This law stated that all towns with at least 50 residents should hire a school master. It seems that we’ve seen something similar to this somewhere before in history. You see prior to this, all elementary education was primarily carried out in the home. But there must have been some concern as to the quality of the education that parents were giving. Just like the Jewish leaders in the last century BC, those early American leaders questioned the ability of parents to teach their own children. So they sought to establish a system of improved education that would be better than what most children could receive at home, and what was the primary reason? The preamble to the Massachusetts Law tells us why, it stated:

"It being one chief e project of ye old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of ye Scriptures, as in former times by keeping him in an unknown tongue, so in these latter times by persuading from ye use of tongues, yt so at least ye true since & meaning of ye original might be clouded by false glosses of saint seeming deceivers, yet learning may not be buried in ye grave of or fathers in ye church and commonwealth, the Lord assisting or endeavors…" [11]

The Massachusetts Law of 1647, like the School Law of 1642, was also drafted to ensure that children had an opportunity to learn to read the scripture. While it was enacted with good intentions, it would later lead to a national system of government controlled schools that would be totally devoid of Christianity; although that would not happen until many years later. But in the mean time, Christian influence in education was still going strong.

The next major milestone for education occurred in 1690 with the first printing of the New England Primer. The New England Primer used Bible lessons and spiritual training to teach children to read and was the home education book of choice for most Americans. It included such subjects as Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, The Lord's Prayer, The Ten Commandments, a Bible alphabet, two catechisms, Bible questions, a dialogue between Christ, the youth and the devil, and the advice John Rogers gave his nine children before he was martyred for Christ. A quick look at the rhyming alphabet of the New England Primer reveals a bit of the books Christian heritage. Here is a sample from the 1777 version, it begins with:

· A – In Adam's fall – We sinned all.
· B – Heaven to find – The Bible Mind.
· C – Christ crucified – For sinners died.
· D – The Deluge drowned – The Earth around.
· E – Elijah hid – By ravens fed. [12]

For nearly two-hundred years, the New England Primer was used to provide a Christian education to countless boys and girls in the home and schools all across our country.

As early American history progressed, many such events transpired; events that tie together education and Christianity. Events that clearly define what the founding fathers had in mind when they first established a new life in this country. While these events are exciting to look at, and would show us many different aspects of our early Christian educational roots, I believe it would be more helpful to narrow our focus to a more specific path. I would like to concentrate on those events which took us from our early Christian roots of education in early America, to the totally secular educational system of modern day America.

The first two of these major events are defining moments in our nation’s history. They would take place at the end of the 18th century. But while these events were of utmost importance to the direction of our country, they had absolutely nothing to do with education. So what were they? Well, the first one was the ratification of the United States Constitution in 1788.[13] This event helped set the stage for all future law in this country. The second was the Bill of Rights in 1790,[14] which were the first 10 amendments to the constitution. So if these events have nothing to do with education, then why mention them at all? Well, these documents define the boundaries of the authority of our government. While they cover many different areas of our national or public life, nowhere do they mention anything about the government’s responsibility to educate children. But for some reason, here we are in the first part of the 21st century, little more than two-hundred years later, and the education system is controlled, almost entirely, by the federal government. So how did it get that way? Well, it all began with a population explosion in the early 1800s. Many immigrants were coming to America and most could neither speak nor read the English language. So a cry went forth for more "common" schools to help in the process of Americanizing these new citizens and their children. While many thought that schools could be supported privately through churches and private citizens, many others feared that too many would not accept such charity. So the end result lead to the need for tax funded "free" schools. But since the Federal government had no authority in the area of education, the majority of this process was left up to the individual states. At that time in the New England states, specifically Massachusetts, this effort was lead by a young lawyer named Horace Mann. Horace was also known as The Father of American Public Education.[15] It was here that Horace and his fellow education reformers would set the pace for education in America, a pace that would be followed by educators for many years to come.

Horace was a bright young man with a passion for education. Although he had humble beginnings, he eventually graduated at the top of his class from Brown University. He then went on to study Law at Litchfield Massachusetts Law School. Later, Horace was elected to the Massachusetts state legislature where his passion for education manifested itself in legislation that ultimately formed the Massachusetts Commission to Improve Education. An organization that later became the Massachusetts State Board of Education.[16] Eventually, in 1837, Horace gave up his law practice to become the Secretary of this organization.[17] It was through his efforts as Secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education, that state funding to education was doubled, teacher salaries increased, and many educational related laws and reforms were passed. These laws not only shaped education in his day, but also education for generations to come.

But what was Mann’s vision for education? Well, Horace believed that education should be free and available to all, no matter what a person’s status. He thought all children should be given the opportunity to learn the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Horace also felt that children needed moral instruction as well, and he patterned this instruction after his own liberal Unitarian beliefs;[18] beliefs which stressed the unity of the nature of God as opposed to his tri-unity and promoted more "free-thinking" about who God was. Unitarians were extremely liberal, theologically, as were their Universalists counterparts. The two groups eventually merged into one to form the Unitarian Universalism church that we have today.[19] This is the kind of ideology on which Mann patterned his public school model. It was a kind of nonsectarian religious education, one where moral principles would be taught, without the doctrinal ties that, to Mann, tended to divide the various religions of the day. So how was he to accomplish his dream of a unified well educated population? He would do it through education reform.

The first major step toward Mann’s educational ideal was the Compulsory Attendance Act of 1852.[20] It was enacted, with his help, in the state of Massachusetts and required mandatory school attendance for children between the ages of eight and fourteen for at least three months out of each year. While there were other educational laws prior to this one, this was really the first that defined the total scope of what children would learn. So while local communities would provide the meeting place, Man and the other education reformers would supply the teachers and the curriculum. For those parents that would not participate, they would be threatened with a hefty twenty dollars fine. However, there was definitely more bark to this dog than there was bite. The problem was, the school board didn’t have the authority to arrest people or enforce the fine, so obviously something more was needed.

Another major step in the process of educational reform was to start the training earlier. The Compulsory Attendance Act of 1852 had already captured children as young as age 8 years old, but this wasn’t early enough to build a good foundation for reform. So in 1860, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, the sister of Mary Tyler Peabody Mann, who was the wife of Horace Mann, started the first English Language Kindergarten[21] in Boston. By reaching children at an even earlier age, the chances were much greater that they could be molded into the model universal citizens that were at the center of Mann’s vision. The Peabody sisters were both Unitarian Transcendentalist, and they "strove to realize their vision of human goodness through practical application in the world."[22] It was through the kindergarten where the practical application began. It was a process where by children could be molded and shaped at an even earlier age.

So as the schools progressed, Mann and his fellow education reformers found that they lacked real authority. So in 1873, the Massachusetts compulsory attendance law was revised. The school year was expanded from twelve to twenty weeks per year and they added the built in ability to enforce the law by forming jurisdictions for prosecution. They then hired truant officers to enforce the attendance laws, and as they did, many more towns began to fall into compliance.

Meanwhile, as this new business of mandatory state education progressed, it started to catch the attention of education leaders in other states. In 1850, many of these leaders got together and formed The National Teachers Association, which a few years later, in 1857, became the National Education Association[23] or NEA. On the surface, this appeared to be a professional organization whose goals were the promotion of new educational trends, improving schools, helping teachers, and improving cooperation among educators. But in reality, the main idea behind this group was the promotion of government owned public schools, and the demise of private education.[24] Because Mann and his cohorts in Massachusetts were doing such a great job with their education reform efforts, many education leaders of other states used Massachusetts as their model, and the NEA was the means for promoting these model ideas. As the process of government education matured in Massachusetts, more and more other states began to follow suit with the help and efforts of the NEA. As the movement continued to grow on a national scale, the Federal Government began to take notice. It was merely ten years after the official creation of the NEA, that in 1867, the US Department of Education was formed, and along with it, the rise of Federal Government involvement in the policies and practices of state education, and with this event, we have officially moved into the modern age of education.

So again, we see history repeat itself; just like the Roman Catholic Church of the sixth century, and the Jewish Rabbis of the first century, "Horace Mann and the education reformers [of his day] worked to extend the state’s role in defining what would be taught in schools and [also] preparing those whom would teach in them."[25] As they expanded their efforts, other states followed through with the help and activities of the NEA which was followed by Federal Government involvement. Within a few short decades, education in America had gone from a mostly home based system founded on Christian principles, to one that was totally secular and controlled by the government. The foundation is now laid for a total government takeover of education in America. This event, along with many that came before it, have all added to the cause of the willing abdication of educational responsibilities by millions of parents all across the land.

[1] Kienel, 370-371.
[2] History of the Monarchy > The Stewarts > James VI and I (Crown Copyrithg, 2005),
[3] Harold Jinks Editor, The Book of Freedom, Our American Heritage (Merkle Press Inc., 1968), 3.
[4] Robert E. Lerner, Standish Meacham, and Edward McNall Burns, Western Civilizations Volume 2, Eleventh Edition (W W Norton, 1988), 531-534.
[5] The Arbella Covenant or "A Modell of Christian Charity" 1630,
[6] Matthew 5:14-16
[7] President and Fellows of Harvard College, (Harvard College 2005),
[8] Wendy Griffith, Plymouth Rocked: America Departs from Founding Values (CWNews, The Christian Broadcasting Network, 2005),
[9] The Massachusetts Bay School Law 1642,
[10] The Massachusetts Law of 1647,
[11] The Massachusetts Law of 1647,
[12] The Rhyming alphabet from the New England Primer, printed by Edward Draper, 1777
[13] ACLJ, American Center for Law & Justice, Foundations of Freedom booklet, 5.
[14] ACLJ, 35.
[15] Interactive State House, Education Timeline,
[16] Compton’s Pictured Encyclopedia 1938 Edition, Volume 9 (F.E. Compton & Company, Chicago, 1938), 53.
[17] Compton’s Pictured Encyclopedia, Volume 4, 178.
[18] Susan Ritchie, Dictionary of Unitarian & Universalist Biography, Horace Mann (Unitarian Universalist Historical Society (UUHS) 1999-2004),
[19] John Ankerberg and John Weldon, Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions (Harvest House Publishers, 1999), 503.
[21] Interactive State House, Education Timeline,
[22] Susan Ritchie, Dictionary of Unitarian & Universalist Biography, The Peabody Sisters (Unitarian Universalist Historical Society (UUHS) 1999-2004),
[23] Jodie Gilmore, National "Indoctrination" Association (The NewAmerican, Vol. 20, No. 17, August 23, 2004),
[24] Lowell Ponte, Unholy Trinity (, July 16, 2004),
[25] Matthew J. Brouillette, School Choice in Michigan: A Primer for Freedom in Education, (Mackinac Center for Public Policy, 1999), 9.