by Stephen K. McDowell & Mark A. Beliles
THE ROLE OF THE SCHOOL IN A NATION SHOULD SIMPLY BE AN EXTENSION OF THE EDUCATIONAL ROLE OF THE HOME.
Israel vs. Pagan Nations
Jewish children were taught in the home until age eight. Then some of them, as a supplement to home training, were tutored by the Levites and priests until approximately 13 years old (Galatians 4; 2 Chronicles 17:7-9). They were taught to read at age five.
Pagan children received education only if they were children of royalty or elite classes, and it usually occurred outside of the home by the state.
Christianity Reforms Pagan Educational Methods
In the first centuries of the Christian era, the Christian homes adopted the Jewish model of education. As the Church backslid, they adopted the pagan philosophy of education — that education is only for a select few, the clergy. This is one cause of bondage and ignorance of the people during the Middle Ages.
John Wycliffe of England translated the Scriptures into common English in 1382, and his itinerant preachers known as Lollards distributed them. They then began to teach the people how to read so they could learn the Scriptures. Prior to this, only priests and noblemen could read the Bible.
Education Spread During the Reformation
Education in most of Europe was corrupt when the Protestant Reformation began. Consequently, Calvin and Luther established new schools in their respective cities. Educational reform was one of the main reasons why the Puritans came to the New World and developed American educational institutions. Cotton Mather wrote:
The schools of learning and religion (in the Old World) are so corrupted as most of the fairest hopes are perverted, corrupted, and utterly overthrown by the multitude of evil examples and licentious behavior in these seminaries.1
Education of the Common Man
Colonial America was unique in many ways. Each colony desired that every person be educated, not just the rich or a select few as was the case in Europe and the rest of the world. This idea of education for the common man was of Christian origin. Deuteronomy 6 reveals that it is the family’s responsibility to educate their children. God wanted ancient Israel to educate every child because the success of their nation depended upon each person knowing and living the truth of God’s Word. If the common man lost this truth, the nation lost its freedom and prosperity.
Schools were established in early America mainly because the colonists wanted their children to be able to read the Scriptures. These parents saw that it was not the government’s but their responsibility to provide Christian education.
For the first 150 to 200 years of America’s history, education was primarily centered in the home. Home education was sometimes supplemented by tutors or schools, but even here the responsibility and bulk of a child’s education rested in the home.
The model of education in Colonial America was very similar to the model used by ancient Israel. With both, education was centered in the home. This was solely the case until around the age of eight or nine. At this age, some children had tutors to further instruct them, or an even smaller number attended a school. With the Israelites, the Levites and the Priests were the tutors; with colonial Americans, the ministers were generally the tutors. If there were too many children in the minister’s community for him to go into each home to tutor, he would receive a group of children into his home. These were the first “grammar schools” and began in the late 1600’s. This would comprise a child’s education until around age thirteen when they would enter an apprenticeship program or possibly enroll in a college.
First Free Public Schools
One of the first schools in America outside the home was started in 1636 in Boston, mainly due to Rev. John Cotton’s efforts who willed half his property to the school. It was started to provide education for disadvantaged children or those with no parents.
The Christians of Colonial America also saw it as their responsibility to educate the general public. The Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20 to “disciple the nations” was to be accomplished by “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (NKJ) The Chain of Liberty shows that education always accompanies the spread of the Gospel. The Lollards are an excellent example. They educated the common people in order that they could read the Scriptures for themselves. Education of the common man also followed the preaching of Luther, Tyndale, Calvin, and other Reformation preachers. The desire to educate every individual accompanied the Pilgrims, Puritans, Quakers, and most other settlers who came to America.
The “Old Deluder Law” of 1647 established the first free public or common schools in America. Historian John Fiske writes:
In 1647 the legislature of Massachusetts enacted a law with the following preamble: “It being one chief purpose of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures,” it was therefore ordered that every township containing fifty families or householders should set up a school in which children might be taught to read and write, and that every township containing one hundred families or householders should set up a school in which boys might be fitted for entering Harvard College.2
Wages for the teachers were paid by the parents or the general inhabitants. These public schools were not under the control of a state government board, such as Horace Mann set up in Massachusetts 200 years later. The teacher’s curriculum, methodology, and administration were completely under local control.
Free public schools were also established in other towns and cities of New England over the next number of decades, but these always involved a small percentage of those being educated. The private sector, the home, and the church educated the vast majority of pupils. Samuel Blumenfeld writes that “by 1720 Boston had far more private schools than public ones, and by the close of the American Revolution many towns had no common schools at all.“3 Pennsylvania and New York had public school early, like New England but only in the cities, not in rural areas. There were no public schools in the Southern colonies until 1730, and only five by 1776.
Although public and private schools were established, the home was still where the majority of Colonial Americans were educated even up through the Revolution. Some of America’s greatest leaders and thinkers (not just of that era but including recent years) were primarily educated at home. These include such men as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, Noah Webster, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Alexander G. Bell, and many more.
Samuel L. Blumenfeld says:
Of the 117 men who signed the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution, one out of three had had only a few months of formal schooling, and only one in four had gone to college. They were educated by parents, church schools, tutors, academies, apprenticeship, and by themselves.4
It is this model that must be reclaimed in America and adopted in every other country that wishes to be be free.
1 Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States, by B.F. Morris, Philadelphia, 1864, pp. 41-42.
2 The Christian History of the Constitution of the United States of America, compiled by Verna M. Hall, San Francisco, 1980, p. 273.
3 Is Public Education Necessary? by Samuel Blumenfeld, Boise, 1985, pp. 19-20.
4 N.E.A. – Trojan Horse in American Education, by Samuel Blumenfeld, Boise, 1985.