Schooling in the American
Colonies before the Civil War
Thomas Jefferson
The Common School Era and
Horace Mann
Focus on Political Economy, Ideology and
Schooling
Why is the History of Education
Important to Know?
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Must be able to put what is happening today in education into context
Better understanding of the forces and issues that help shape American Public
education
Knowledge of the main themes in contemporary education that were shaped by
the history of education in the U.S.
Main Themes
Universal education
Local Control
Curriculum and Instruction
Aims of Education
Continuation and enforcement of democratic ideals
Religion
Save souls
Thomas Jefferson
1743-1826
• Member of the Continental Congress
– (1775-1776), (1783-1784)
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Served in the Virginia Legislature (1776-1779)
Wrote the Declaration of Independence (1776)
Governor of Virginia (1779-1781)
Minister to France (1784-1789)
Secretary of State (1790-1793)
Vice President of the United States (1796-1800)
President of the United States (1800-1809)
Founded the University of Virginia (1819)
Believed that Democracy could only be sustained through
education
• Died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the
Declaration of Independence
Jeffersonian Era
POLITICAL ECONOMY
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Decentralized Republican government
“Communities” were like local government.
Nation separated into 3 regions
– New England
– Mid Atlantic
– Southern States
Agrarian Economy
Family
Government
IDEOLOGY
6 Central and Fundamental Ideas of Classical Liberalism
Faith in Reason
Natural Law
Virtue
Progress
Nationalism
Freedom
SCHOOLING
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Through education, reason and virtue would develop
Mind was made up of faculties---memory, reason and
imagination
Mind was a muscle which needed exercise for development
and was an empty vessel which needed filling through
education
Democracy could only be sustained through education
Jefferson’s Plan for Education
TIER ONE
TIER TWO
•Districts/wards
•Overseer
•3 year curriculum
•Free for all children
•Smartest boys were then
chosen to continue
grammar school—screened for
future
leaders
•Grammar schools/district colleges or
schools
•6 year curriculum
•Ages 10-15 were the best for
memorization and learning language
•Graduates provided leadership in
business, transportation, surveying, the
militia and local government
•Where teachers for the elementary schools
would be drawn
Jefferson’s Plan for Education cont…
TIER THREE
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University
Believed education was a
prerequisite for leadership
Original Plan-Professorships
Private tuition in religion,
gymnastics, military, manual
arts, dancing, music and
drawing
TIER FOUR
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Self-education…lifelong
learning
Plans for libraries
Provide annual allotments
for the purchase of books,
paintings and statues for
the libraries
GOALS FOR ELEMENTARY EDUCATION
•Information sufficient to transact business
•Writing skills
•Calculation skills
•Reading skills
•Improved morals
•Understanding of duties
•Knowledge of rights
•Ability to vote intelligently
•Ability to judge office holder’s conduct
•Ability to fulfill social relationships
GOALS FOR UNIVERSITY EDUCATION
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Political Leaders
Knowledge leading to political freedom
Understanding to improve the economy
Reason, morals, virtue and order
Understanding of science and math to promote the general
health, security and comfort
Habits of reflection and correct actions in students which render
them examples of virtue to others and bring happiness to
themselves
Curricula
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Curricula in colonies mostly based on interpretation of the Old
and New Testaments and the three Rs.
Arithmetic was learned from resources around them
Books studies in school were what they were sent with by their
parents (if at all)
Hornbook first reader
New England Primer
Geography Made Easy textbook, 1784
Webster’s American Spelling Book, (a.k.a. Blue-Backed Speller),
1783
Mcguffey Readers (still produced and sold)
The Common School Era
Massachusetts in the 1830’s
Focus on:
Demographics
Politics
Economics
Ideology
Horace Mann
Demographic Changes
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Settlers went from the coastal states to the interior territories
Irish immigrants--settled in the northeast mainly
Urbanization stimulated by industrialization.
Political Changes
• 1789 fewer than 1 in 7 could vote
• 1824, 4 in 7 white men could vote
• Upper class supported the Whig party.
• Upper class was alarmed at how many “uneducated” voters
there were.
• Upper class supported education so that theses voters could
make informed and educated voting decisions
Economics
•Transportation improvements increased people, goods and
produce movement
•Expansion of commerce centered in port cities
•Cottage Industries
•Rise in commerce and industrialization presented the need for
schooling
Ideology
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Early in the period, Puritanism was still influential
Later in period more belief in a benevolent God who created a
rational universe and endowed human nature with rationality
– New Englanders began to believe that God had given them the
power for improvement
Prisons were Hospitals for mentally ill were built
Youthful offender institutions were developed—Reformatories
Women’s suffrage movement received support
Abolitionists believed African-Americans should be free
More government involvement and centralization of authority
Laissez Faire now meant the government should step in when
necessary to assist economic development
Classic Liberalism spread from government to citizens now
– Faith in human reason
– Newton’s conception of Natural Law
– Continuing progress
Politics, newspapers and churches became vehicles for new ideas
State power over education began to overpower local selfgovernment.
Literacy was needed to read the Bible
HORACE MANN
1796-1859
“The Father of American Education”
“Education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is
the great equalizer of the conditions of men -- the balancewheel of the social machinery.”
“Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for
humanity.”
SCHOOLING
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Believed that schooling should be:
– Free
– State financed and controlled
– Universal
– Compulsory
Common School
– Great equalizer
– Poverty would disappear as popular intelligence would tap new
treasures of natural material and wealth
– Crime would decline as well as violence and fraud
– Social good was infinite
Schools must teach appropriate set of morals.
State school would lead to moral and political consensus
Educating the masses would result in increased economic benefits for
the nation.
Common schools would need teachers so he supported the Normal
Schools.
Popular and Arsitocratic Education Tier System
Tozer, p. 64-Exhibit 3.1
Teacher Education
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Teachers needed special preparation
Opposed recitation teaching methods as well as corporal
punishment.
Academic portion of the curriculum be limited to the subjects
taught in the common schools.
Wanted institutions that would teach only teacher education
Teachers needed to be moral exemplars
Women were cheaper labor and naturally better suited for the
instruction of children:
“Is there not an obvious, constitutional difference of
temperament between the sexes, indicative of a prearranged
fitness and adaptation, and making known to us, as by a
heaven imparted sing, that women, by her livelier sensibility
and her quicker sympathies, is the fore chosen guide and
guardian of children of a tender age.”
Criticisms of Mann
•Reforms placed control in a centralized government vs.local control.
•Exclusion of religion from schooling
•Conflicts between the Whig Party (Mann) and the Democratic Party.
•Democrats thought Normal Schools would teach Whig values
•Public Tax support for only non-sectarian Protestant vs. Catholic schools
•Iinstituting a system of schooling for social control.
•Minority groups had little active participation in the fundamental decision
making about their education.
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Schooling in the American Colonies