"A Free Society Cannot Survive as a Republic Without a Broad Program of General Education"
The English colonists in America undertook the education of the whole people. They believed that they must prepare themselves for a most unique and important role in the unfolding of modern world history. Universal education was considered an indispensable ingredient for this preparation.
The movement for universal education began in New England, in the 1647 the legislature of Massachusetts passed a law requiring every community of 50 families or households to set up a free public grammar school to teach the fundamentals of reading, writing, ciphering, history, geography and Bible study. In addition to this, every township with 100 families or more was also required to set up a secondary school in advanced studies to prepare boys for attendance at Harvard. John Adams said that this program was designed to defuse knowledge generally through the entire body of the people. He Said:
"They made an early provision by law that every town consisting of so many families should always be furnished with a grammar school. They made it a crime for such a town to be destitute of a grammar schoolmaster for a few months, and subjected it to heavy penalty. So that the education of all the ranks of people was made the care and expense of the public, in a manner that I believe has been unknown to any other people, ancient or modern.
The Consequences of these establishments we see and feel every day (written in 1765). A Native of America who cannot read and write is as rare as a comet or an earthquake. It has been observed that we are all of us lawyers, divines, politicians, and philosophers. And I have good authorities to say that all candid foreigners who have passed through this country and conversed freely with all sorts of people here will all say that they have never seen so much knowledge and civility among the common people in any part of the world. Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people. They have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean, of the characters and conduct of their rulers."The way that this system was designed made good local school boards very important. Not only did they choose what textbooks would be used, they also chose which teachers they would issue certificates to. It was important that the board have a rotation of officers every three years. And that it was 1/3 that was always being rotated, that way, there were those on the board with experience (2/3 of the board) that could help keep things maintained while the new board members got familiar with the system.
Something that we should note about this time period, is that at this time illiteracy was quite common in Europe among the common people. France, for example, had over 24 million inhabitants, but only 500,000 could actually read and write.
In the American colonies, the intention of this education system for the children was so that they could grow up to become well informed citizens through their own diligent self-study. This also explains why the Founders were so well read having had limited formal education. After learning the fundamentals, they went on to develop knowledge through a self-learning process.
This system of education was so wide spread, that by 1831, when Alexis de Tocqueville came to visit the United States, he was amazed. He said that to find a person that was ignorant of the doctrines and evidences of his religion, the history of his country, and the leading features of the Constitution was very rare, a phenomenon.
Education includes Morality and Politics. Alexis also stated that" instruction that enlightens the understanding is not separated from the moral education. The American learns to know the laws by participating in the act of legislation; and he takes a lesson in the forms of government from governing. In the United States, politics are the end and aim of education."
Young children were taught the value of the Constitution, the book was called "Catechism on the Constitution." Early Americans knew that they had a unique and invaluable invention of political science and they were determined to promote it on all levels of education.
Many Early Americans spoke with great eloquence, and this was due to their extensive education in reading the Bible. A great example is Abraham Lincoln, whose great speeches cannot be attributed to a college education since he did not have one. The Founding Fathers felt that the strength of America's moral character came from the studying of the Bible. "The book teaches man his own individual responsibility, his own dignity, and his equality to his fellowman. " One need not go very far today to find a school that has eliminated the Bible reading from their curriculum, nor the removal of curriculum for children of the same caliber as "Catechism on the Constitution." One could also say that this Bible verse says it all,
Hosea 4: 6
6 ¶ My people are destroyed for lack of aknowledge: because thou hast brejected cknowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the dlaw of thy God, I will also forget thy children.