Yes it’s that time again—Labor Day weekend is upon us, and that means that parents everywhere are rejoicing (I see you on Facebook)—depending on where you live your kids have either just started, or are about to start school again.
If this scenario sounds familiar, be glad you live in 2014.
Back in the day educating your children was all on you…unless you had the means to hire a teacher.
Of course the evolution of public education was by no means a homogenous process; rules and norms varied by region. So for our purposes let’s narrow our scope down to Massachusetts, land of the pilgrims.
EDUCATION FOR THE POOR
While children of the wealthy would have governesses and tutors to teach them not only the basics, but foreign languages and the sciences, children of limited means had to focus on survival in the colonies. A formal education was not in the cards. Once old enough to leave the home most boys were apprenticed to a tradesman, where they learned a craft such as blacksmithing or carpentry that could sustain them.
MASSACHUSETTS ACT OF 1642
Things began to change with the passing of the Massachusetts Act of 1642: parents and masters (those with apprentices) were responsible for the basic education and literacy of children in their care. This was not education for the sake of education, the act was driven by the need for people to know and understand the rules and laws of the society they were creating.
This was so important that if said parent or master was remiss in their schooling duties, the government could remove the child from the premises and have them placed where they would receive adequate education. Adequate is the key word here! It was believed you only needed to know enough to maintain your station in life, not to improve beyond it.
Let’s picture the scene: in between boiling laundry, gardening, slaughtering and cooking meals, you find time to spend teaching your daughters (the boys were probably apprenticed) to read and write. I think I’d be lucky if we got past the letter “C” as a parent of the day!
There must have been a lot of families struggling to make it past “C,” so further legislation was needed…
THE OLD DELUDER SATAN ACT OF 1647
Quite the name, huh?
This is where public education gets its start. Satan can’t keep us from the Scriptures, so we must be able to read!
Towns of at least fifty households were charged with appointing a resident to teach the children to read and write. They were to be paid by the individual families, or if the town chose, the salary would be split among all residents.
Towns of 100 households or more had to kick it up a notch by installing a “Grammar-School,” with an instructor that was qualified to educate students to the point of qualifying for “the Universitie”…Harvard.
KEEPING IT REAL…
Of course we aren’t talking equal education for all, a relatively new concept, right? All students learned to read and write, and perform simple math, but…
In the larger towns Boys received more intensive instruction in subjects like higher math, science, Latin and Greek, and history.
Girls learned the skills necessary to run a household. We wouldn’t want to tax their sweet little minds too much now, would we?
And schools were for white children only. Of course. Geez.
So if your kids complain about school just tell them they’re lucky they don’t have to carry firewood in their backpacks!
Chesapeake College. Library. http://www.chesapeake.edu/Library/EDU_101/eduhist_colonial.asp (accessed August 27,2014).
Matzat, Amy L. Massachusetts Education Laws 1642-1647. University of Notre Dame. http://www3.nd.edu/~rbarger/www7/masslaws.html (accessed August 27,2014).
State of Massachusetts. http://www.lawlib.state.ma.us/docs/DeluderSatan.pdf (accessed August 27,2014).