American Education

Essential Question

How was the American education system formed?

American Education

The 1600s

1635 – Boston Latin School founded in Massachusetts; run by Puritans

1636 – Harvard founded; first American college; originally to train ministers

1642 – Massachusetts law: all free children (boys and girls) must learn to read, know religious principles, and know the laws of the commonwealth

1647 - Massachusetts law: all towns of 50 families or more must hire a schoolmaster to teach reading and writing

1690 – New England Primer (text) published: combined alphabet and religious instruction; 50 million copies sold; in use for over 100 years

The 1700s

In the 1700s school terms could be as short as two months a year. Most schools were for the rich who could attend private school or private tutors. Religious schools also existed and taught students how to read the Bible and train new religious leaders. Slaves could not be taught to read or write and women had difficulty getting access to education. However, some founding fathers wanted to start and improve the American education system. Later on, Thomas Jefferson proposed a system of free, tax-supported elementary schools for all children (except slaves), but his bill was defeated. Benjamin Rush proposed a much more extensive (thorough) system of education that would have scientific study and educate girls, but it too did not pass. The Land Ordinances of 1785 and 1787 set aside plots of land in every township for a public school; school was not required but encouraged

The 1800s

In the early 1800s, the availability of education varied widely from region to region. fewest. Rich families attend private schools or private tutors. Poor children attended public schools, if there was one in their area (and there were few as only the state of Massachusetts required public schools). Few teachers were trained, and schools were small. Students of all ages and levels usually worked in one room. Girls could go to school, but parents often did not see any reason for educating them. Because of the lack of access to education many Americans could not read or write.

Horace Mann, the “Father of American Education,” headed the Massachusetts Board of Education, the first in the country. He established training schools for training qualified teachers and secured more funding for salaries, books, and facilities.. He also lengthened the school term to six months (from three). By 1850 many Northern states had followed Mann's example and created public elementary schools; most barred African Americans.

Mann argued that financing education was essential to preserve American democracy. He argued schools taught children how to be good citizens, educated voters, and it would help the new immigrants assimilate or become part of American culture.

"If we do not prepare children to become good citizens; if we do not develop their capacity, if we do not enrich their minds with knowledge...then our republic must go down to destruction as others have gone before it."

Horace Mann, quoted in A Century of Childhood (Heininger)

Discussion Questions

  • What was American Education like before Horace Mann's reforms?

  • What was American Education like after Horace Mann's reforms?

  • What was the purpose of public schools?

Activity 1: What were the causes and effects of America's education reforms?

Using the information from this lesson, answer the questions in a thinking map. Complete this assignment digitally or on paper. It will be collected in your portfolio.

Extension Activities