29 April 2014
Schooling during the colonial and common school era was vastly different than what we know of education today. Although there are some similar themes within these different educational time periods, they had their differences as well. Both time periods had their own way of establishing educational goals and social status.
The colonial era began in the early 1500s and continued through the mid 1700s. Columbus had just discovered America and more Europeans started migrating over to the colonies. Colonialists believed that their British culture and education would be beneficial for the Native Americans who currently inhabited North America. The colonist’s main goals with education were to maintain the authority of government and religious teachings. As Spring states in The American School, “People were taught to read and write so they could obey the laws of the state and religion” (13). Education was primarily a source of reinstating the importance of obeying laws and knowing who was in charge. They wanted to protect the political and economic power of the elite. Along with this, they also taught obedience to God. Through the teachings of Christianity, children learned about rights, values, and moral code. This was in the hopes of eliminating all crime, immortality, and poverty. It limited people’s freedom of thought. There was no longer a gray area; right and wrong were specifically laid out for people. Education in this era was less about learning to expand your knowledge and increase your status and more about learning your place in society and who was in charge and how to think. It taught the students how to act properly and to obey and listen to whoever was in charge.
The educational system in the colonial area was meant to confirm social status. The poor went to petty schools. Petty schools mainly taught reading and writing. Their main source of text was from The New England Primer. This book had religious teachings as well as a strong authoritative nature. The students were required to memorize this text. They were never asked for their opinion or analysis about these religious readings. Spring deduces that “The method used to teach reading and writing was not one that taught individuals to give direction to their own lives, but one by which individuals would learn to submit to the laws of religion and the government” (19). This system of teaching enforced religious importance and one way of thinking. They were taught obedience and to know their place in these petty schools. Not much learning was done that would benefit them in the real world and they were never encouraged to think for themselves and share their opinions.
The elite went to grammar schools. These schools were entirely different compared to petty schools. They grammar schools were meant to teach the future leaders, whether religious or political. At these schools, Greek and Latin were a main subject of learning. This was so they would have a strong background of Greeks and Romans to help them in their future leadership roles. It was believed that a just society would be possible if the leaders had a respectable educational background.
The separation of the poor and the elite in the education system helped both confirm and confer social status. Petty schools confirmed social status- they went to school to maintain their current status. Education for people of the lower social classes was not meant to help them move up on to totem pole, yet keep them exactly where they are. Grammar schools, on the other hand, conferred social status. People who went to grammar schools used education to increase their individual status in society. If a middle class person went to a grammar school, they had the ability to use their newfound education to move up in the social world and become a religious or political leader. Now fast forward about a hundred years to the common school era, starting around...
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