Throughout the years the topic of an American public education has been a very controversial subject. Since the time of the early Massachusetts Bay Colony, many have been divided on the role, if any, the government should play in educating America’s children. There has also been debate on the type of education American children, and teachers should have. Although, there has been tremendous progress in creating an “ideal public education”, there is still an ever-evolving need for change in America’s public educational system. This paper strives to focus on this matter.
First, it will look at the history of American education, beginning with colonial America to the present day. It will also examine America’s philosophy of education over the years. And lastly, it shall give insight on my personal views of an ideal educational system. The New World was grouped in three geographic categories, consisting of the southern, middle and New England colonies. Since the southern colonies depended on an agrarian economy dominated by a plantation system based on slavery, there were great distances between each house and plantation; making it was rather difficult to establish schools for all.
For this reason learning occurred mostly in the home, by parents or tutors. For the slaves in the southern colonies, there was very little education because their lack of education was used as a to maintain their present state of ignorance. Most of the settlers in the southern colonies arrived as indentured servants, and were of English lower or middle-class background. However, once arriving to the New World these same English men became the new aristocrats of the southern colonies.
S. Alexander Rippa notes, “family fortune and great wealth were accumulated by land acquisition and tobacco growing…these were the quickest ways to prosperity” (Rippa, 6). In the southern colonies, religion was not a focal matter as it once was in England. The Anglican Church was a primary institution were governmental matters were handled instead of religious matters. Therefore, we see that religion was not as important to the southern settlers and it did not serve as an “instrument of civic discipline” as it was for the other colonies.
In the other colonies, religious matters was the main reason for education, however, “education in the southern colonies was considered to be a private and individual concern instead of a civil or religious matter. The Anglican Church, to which the southern colonists officially adhered, was not indifferent toward education. But unlike the Puritans in New England, the Anglicans in the South did not view the state as an agency for establishing schools” (Rippa, 25). Because settlers believed education was not a public concern of the state, the wealthy had tutors on their plantations for their children.
Non-English speaking groups such as the German Quakers and the Dutch dominated the Middle colonies. The Quakers believed they were a different kind of people, who discouraged all worldly vanities. They came to the New World to in 1683, to practice their religion without ridicule. As a result, the Quakers brought their strong religious belief to their educational system. Education for the Quakers centered on their religious beliefs and was the sole purpose for education.
The Dutch’s “entire curriculum strongly emphasized religious training,” where the schoolmaster was often an officer of the church (Rippa, 29). The Puritans were the inhabitations of the New England colony. Just like the Quakers, the Puritans also brought their strong religious beliefs and practices with them to the New World. Under the influence of John Calvin the Puritans had two types of schools: “the primary schools, such as the dame schools and the reading and writing schools for the children of the lower classes; and the Latin grammar school for the elite” (Rippa, 30).
The New England Primer was used as reading material; it taught children their alphabet, phonics, as well as religious rhymed couplets. From this we see that religion was the main focus of early American education. We also see that education was not required but considered a privilege of the elite and men. Over the years the perception of education being for males and the elite has changed; wherein today’s educational creed is open to all regardless of race, sex, class, or denomination.