The history of education in the United States goes back even further than the history of the country itself because schools were one of the first institutions that were established by the colonists.
Arguably, the only places which were more respected at the time were churches. Also, there was a strong connection between education and religion back then. All religious leaders placed a great emphasis on education because it was used as one of the means to spread religious doctrine. In fact, the first schools in the US were started by Puritans.
However, with the onset of the Industrial Revolution, things began to change, and the US education system followed suit, which made for some interesting developments. Check out my list of 12 interesting facts about education in the US in the 18th century.
1. Higher education was available for priests only
The first colleges in the United States, such as Harvard College, which later grew to Harvard University, were founded by and used to train priests, which would later pass on knowledge, as well as religious doctrine, onto those which could afford education.
2. Women received very little education
During the 18th century, women were mostly educated at home. If they belonged to upper class families, they were able to attend dame schools. Also, the families would often hire a governess, which would teach the women skills such as sewing, music, or languages.
3. Women were taught to read, but not to write
Reading and writing were treated as separate skills in the 18th century. The schools taught both, but seeing as schools were not as common at the time, both boys and learned to read at home. Back then, since all the domestic affairs were handled by women, they were only taught to read, and men learned to read and write. If I was warned to do my homework, it would mean to do all of the chores, as well.
4. Benjamin Franklin introduced science into schools
Being a true Renaissance man, Benjamin Franklin found the Philadelphia Academy, which stepped away from the traditional education model, which relied heavily on religion, and introduced more practical subjects, such as math, languages, accounting, and agriculture, among others, which served as an inspiration to other schools.
5. The first textbooks emerged in the 18th century
Achieving a standardized curriculum throughout all the states was difficult, which is why 18th century educators decided to print textbooks, which would help the cause. The most popular textbook at the time was the one written by Noah Webster. Students used it to learn proper grammar and spelling. The book sold over 24 million copies!
6. Slaves were forbidden to learn
This was especially prevalent in the south, were both Native Americans and Africans had no opportunity to learn anything. The only places which allowed education for slaves were schools which were run by the Quakers, which believed right from the beginning that slavery should not exist.
7. Common schools appeared as well
Unlike modern schools, these taught students of all ages inside one classroom. The parents not only had to pay for their children’s education, but they also needed to provide housing for the teachers and other goods.
8. Thomas Jefferson tried to introduce free public education and failed
Thomas Jefferson believed that free education was one of the hallmarks of democracy, which is why he tried to pass a legislation which would allow for that. Although he didn’t succeed, that didn’t stop him from developing education in the US.
9. The first M.D. degree was awarded in 1770
There were no medical school in the colonies, which meant that all students wanting to become doctors had to be educated in Scotland. The Americans could only learn medicine through apprenticeship.
10. Every school in the US had a portrait of George Washington
This was done in order to reflect the nation’s growing patriotism and the desire to break away from the tradition forced upon the US by England.
11. In the South, education was available for the rich
For instance, rich plantation owners would hire private tutors to teach their male children, and in the cities, some of the boys were even sent to England to study. Children coming from poor families would receive their education at home, or at their local churches.
12. The first public library was founded in 1731
Benjamin Franklin, along with a group of his friends and associates, founded the Library Company of Philadelphia in 1731, and it still exists to this day, containing over 500,000 rare books, photographs, and manuscripts.
Although we take great pride in our educational system, it took a long time before it became what it is today. That is why we must never forget the sacrifice of our ancestors and their efforts to build a better future for us.