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 the 1830s. People believed during this era that, “education could be used to ensure the dominance of Protestant and poverty, stabilize the political system, and form patriotic citizens” (Spring 78). They wanted to reform the old way of the colonial days and make this education system new and improved. There were a few main features of this new education era. Firstly, they taught all children in a common schoolhouse. There was no longer a separation among the social classes. All students were taught under one roof and received the same education. This helped to reduce class conflict and used education as an equalizer. People were no longer looked down upon because they went to a petty school. The school was common, all-encompassing for every child, rich or poor. By using this new way of teaching all religious, social, and ethnic backgrounds together, they hoped to eliminate, or greatly decline, any animosity between these different groups.
Another main factor of the common school era was incorporating the teachings of morality, equal opportunity, and to help end crime and poverty. This was accredited mostly to Horace Mann who was the first secretary of the board of education of Massachusetts in 1837. Mann believed that education should include learning about not only intellectual things but also including religion, physical, political, and moral education into their teachings. He thought that school and education should teach students about life and things that will be useful to them in their future endeavors. Intellectual education serves as an equalizer. There was not a separation between the social classes so it allowed for everyone to have the same opportunities. Although religious education was banned in public schools, good Christian morals were still implied in school without directly teaching about religion. Mann also wanted to promote physical education in school. It incorporated healthiness and mandated it through the government so people could use healthy knowledge not only school but also at the work place or at home. He also believed political values in education should be taught to students to help prepare them for future participation in the government and to prepare them as citizens. It should be taught in a way that they still have the freedom to find their own truth for their choice. Lastly, moral education should be integrated into the teaching standards.
The third main feature of the new common school movement was creating state agencies to regulate what went on in local schools. This made it possible for schools to fulfill government, social, political, and economic procedures. It moved away from school board control and increased the professional power and control in schools. This created a standardized form of curriculum and instruction. Having a standardized curriculum helped maintain continuity across all schools. No matter where you went to receive an education, you could be sure that you were getting the same instruction. This helped in forming an equal education. There was no longer a separation of learning depending on where you received your education. The goal of the common school movement was to achieve cultural pluralism. They wanted to create one society that was comprised of many different cultures. The basic framework of this movement is still what we base public schools off of in the present. Unlike the colonial era, it was meant to confer all social statuses. The goal was to make school common for everyone. No matter what your background, school was now a place that everyone could come together under one roof and receive an education with equal opportunities. During the colonial era, this form of education was viewed as a “false start” for achieving a democratic education. Education was very biased and was not entirely for the people. It was more focused on making the good, greater and keeping the rest at the bottom. Once the common school movement started, they were much more successful in reaching this goal. Everyone was treated as an equal and everyone was given the same opportunities. The colonial era and the common school era had many differences. During the colonial period, people’s social statuses were confirmed. The poor went to petty schools and the elite went to grammar school. Grammar schools prepped people to take on leadership roles and focused less on an actual education. Once the new common school movement started, everyone was treated as an equal. All social, ethnic, and religious backgrounds were now disregarded. Horace Mann inspired a new curriculum for students. It taught them a wide variety of things, including physical, religious, intellectual, and moral education. It opened up many doors and led to a more democratic way of teaching. The common school movement was meant to confer all social status and show that everyone was given the same opportunities. This framework of education is still present in today’s learning environment.