[Vision2020] Some History of Education

J Ford privatejf32 at hotmail.com
Sun May 13 20:09:56 PDT 2007

I am sure Doug and Dougie-Boy are aware of the following, being the highly 
informed beings they are.  But I offer it for those of us not as informed.  
Interesting stuff, really:

Even in Williamsburg, Pennsylvania in 1774, there were still few schools.  
Many parents taught their children to read and write at home using a bible 
and a hornbook.  A hornbook was a wooden board with a handle. A lesson sheet 
of the ABCs in small and capital letters, some series of syllables and 
often, the Lord's Prayer, was attached to the board and was protected by a 
thin layer of cow's horn.  Some hornbooks of wealthy families were very 
fancy, decorated with jewels and leather and included ivory pointers.  Most 
of them were plain and had a string around the handle to be worn around the 

     People who wrote the early primers and readers used pictures of animals 
learning to read and write to show that reading and writing were natural and 
fairly  easy processes! By the 1750s, literacy rates (percentage of people 
who could basically read and write) were the highest in the New England 
colonies, at about 75% for males and 65% for females.  The literacy rates, 
however, were  lower in the the Middle and Southern colonies.

Children wrote using a quill dipped in ink, which sometimes blotted on the 
page, so they sprinkled on pounce. Pounce is a powder-like sand that helps 
not blotch the page

Most children wrote in a copybook because paper was so expensive. Wealthy 
children had a tutor (always a man) teach them privately. Some boys went to 
grammar school and sometimes even college but never girls. Girls were given 
lessons on how to run a home. It wasn't even expected for girls to spend any 
of their time reading! Instead their mothers taught them how to cook, sew, 
preserve food, direct servants and serve an elegant meal. Some girls were 
sent to teachers to learn how to sing, play a musical instrument, sew fancy 
stitchery, to serve tea properly by learning manners and how to carry on a 
polite conversation. When boys grew older, they could become apprentices to 
learning to become shopkeepers or craftsmen by working with and watching an 
adult.  Education was becoming more secular in order to produce socially 
responsible citizens.


English Grammar Schools were born as the growth of middle-class businesses 
in the 1700s led to the demand for a secondary education that would provide 
practical instruction in many subjects,  from navigation and engineering to 
bookkeeping and foreign languages.  Students needed more than elementary 
instruction; but were not interested in preparing for college.  Commercial 
subjects were emphasized over religious ones.  Some other subjects such as 
music, art and dancing were also taught as means to train students for 
socializing in polite company.  These schools were the first secondary 
institutions to accept female students.  Girls who lived in the Middle 
Colonies had greater educational opportunity than girls who lived elsewhere 
because of the larger number of schools there.  Quakers and Christian 
leaders such as William Penn and Anthony Benezet, were concerned with and 
supported the education of several deprived groups such as women as well as 
African-Americans and Native Americans.          

Later in the 1700s, English Grammar Schools became more flexible in allowing 
women to attend.  They were taught the 3 Rs (Reading, Writing, and 
'Rithmetic), as well as dancing, French, and Training on being a Lady.

The Academy was a new type of secondary school that grew up during the 
second half of the eighteenth century.  It was basically an attempt to 
combine Latin and English grammar schools through separate Latin and English 
departments within one school.  These schools were private, and women were 
allowed to attend.  Academies were unlike the Latin grammar schools in  that 
the primary language was English.  Also, classical subjects were included in 
the curriculum, unlike the English grammar schools.  Later on, the academy 
became the most popular type of secondary school.


and this:

The history of education in America is long and varied.  For the most part, 
education in the colonial days as well as the first years of the United 
States was primarily done at the home.  Parents taught their children to 
read and writer and perform basic calculations. Boys were traditionally 
taught more academic subjects, while a woman’s education, beyond basic 
reading, writing, and math, was limited to learning how to run a household.  
Indeed, even well-heeled girls in private schools were rarely educated in 
academic subjects beyond a basic level required to function as a society 

As the country became more densely populated, schools became more common, 
but the level of education remained the same and actual schools were all 
private affairs catering to the wealthy.  This was the case in 1840, when 
reformers from Massachusetts and Connecticut started pushing for mandatory 
state-funded schooling.  The efforts took hold relatively quickly in 
Massachusetts, which passed the first bill requiring all children to attend 
elementary school in 1852.  New York followed with a similar bill in 1853.  
By 1918 every state in the Union had a law requiring that all children be 
required to attend school.

Not everyone was happy with this idea.  Catholics, for example, were not too 
pleased with the idea of sending their children to public school.  In a 1925 
case, Pierce V. Society of Sisters, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that while 
a state could compel a parent to send his or her child to school, it could 
not force children to attend public schools, private schools would also do.

As for high school, the progress has been a little bit slower.  In many 
cases, high school attendance is still not mandatory for those 16 and older. 
  Throughout the 20th century, as jobs moved from the field to the factory 
and eventually to the office, the demand for a more highly educated 
workforce took root.  This led to a massive increase in the number of high 
school graduates and people going to college. Over the course of the 20th 
century, we went from having about 6% of the population graduating from high 
school to over 85% of students graduating from high school. Similarly, 
college attendance has jumped from about 2% of 18-24 year olds to about 60% 
of 18-24 year olds taking some sort of post high-school course, either at a 
four year college or a two year community college.

Today, we live in a contentious society, with public schools often at the 
center of furious debates over culture, spending, economics, and religion as 
well as the future and direction of our country.  Tests, standards, 
bilingual schools, school choice, all these debates that everyone thinks are 
so new are old news.  People have been debating all these issues since the 
institution of mandatory publicly funded education. Having a country as big 
and varied as the United States with a cookie-cutter style education has 
created many problems, but people forget that it has solved many problems as 
well. For example, the fact that we have free schooling through high school 
means that the workforce is more highly educated and can handle the more 
technical jobs of a technology-based economy.  Schools were one of the first 
places to be integrated, leading to increased rights for minorities and a 
more egalitarian society.

For more information on the history of education in America, please see
PBS' History of Public Schools and History of Public Education


Americans have valued education from this country's earliest days. The 
Massachusetts Bay Colony, in 1657, passed a law requiring a community of 50 
or more families to hire a schoolteacher. No less a person than Ben Franklin 
(1706-1790) believed the value of education was its ability to create useful 
members of a prosperous society. However at that time only men were targeted 
for formal education as women were expected to follow in their mother's role 
of housekeeper.

Puritans founded Harvard College in 1636, and in 1701, the Congregational 
Church started Yale University. The Great Awakening, a revival of religious 
feelings, occurred around 1739. This search for new preachers resulted in 
new colleges. Princeton was built in 1746, and King's or Columbia started in 
1754. Dartmouth College opened in 1769. All these colleges were private, 
exclusive and costly. They taught classical studies, which meant the great 
works and deeds of the past. Public schools were still a foreign idea in 
America, as was the study of ideas in technology, agriculture and other 
applied arts.

Mann's life

The most striking thing about Horace Mann's early life was his struggle to 
get an education. The son a poor farmer, he attended a small, inadequately 
outfitted one-room schoolhouse. An traveling schoolmaster helped tutor him, 
but mostly he taught himself using the community library. Described as 
introspective and highly read, Mann used his determination and thirst for 
knowledge to earn a diploma from Brown University in 1819 and the title of 
class valedictorian. Following that, he went to law school in Connecticut 
and, in 1825, became a practicing attorney in Boston.

Mann was a humanitarian, and a great supporter for public education. He did 
this from his position as secretary of the Massachusetts state legislature. 
Mann knew the basis of quality education is good teachers, so he advocated 
for trained professional teachers in all public schools. Mann's belief in 
improving society also pushed him to reform mental institutions and call for 
the end of slavery.

In 1837, Mann was elected first secretary of the Massachusetts Board of 
Education. What was so unusual about this man, who would eventually be known 
as "the father of the American common school," was he gave up a lucrative 
career in business to pursue a life helping others. He believed an educated 
person helped further society and the economy, just as Franklin had said. 
This logic resulted in increased funding and better pay for teachers.

Later in his life, Mann was elected as a member of the U.S. House of 
Representatives, worked to end slavery and to build hospitals for the 

Mann believed popular schooling could be transformed into a powerful 
instrument for social unity by providing all children with a common set of 
values and skills. To this end, he had three objectives. First, he needed 
data to prove his points. Second, he wanted all textbooks to be approved. 
Finally, Mann sought to have Normal Schools, or teacher colleges, controlled 
by the states. In this way, government could control what was taught in 
public school, how it was taught, what resources could be used to teach, and 
who was allowed to teach. These issues created a mission for public 
education and gave a significant role to government.

J  :]

Catch suspicious messages before you open them—with Windows Live Hotmail. 

More information about the Vision2020 mailing list