Colonial School vs. Modern Era The impact of schools has been ever changing. From their New England traditions, to civilizing of western settlers, and finally the requirement of educated individuals what schools and education have to do in society is constantly being molded and remolded. New models, ideas, ideals, and requirements for schools are constantly being established and have come a long way from the colonial period to the modern era.
During colonial times school and education was used to “maintain the authority of the government and religion” (Spring 13) as well as to maintain social distinction and uphold morals. Unlike today, many schools in the New England colonies relied heavily upon religious and racist teachings. And many people agreed that it was important to include religion in schools just as it was included in many other practices at the time. This however created a major problem for the growing country as schools not only excluded all religions besides Protestant Christianity but also as a result were racist against peoples of other beliefs.
Many new immigrants to the United States were shocked and upset that a nation boasting freedom of religion was forcing one specific religion through the use of schools and even discriminating against the people of different religious backgrounds. As pointed out in the film School: The Story of American Public Education, Part 1 early Irish settlers, who were mostly devout Catholics, came to find that the primers used in schools forced children to not only learn and recall Christian beliefs and proverbs but also painted Irishmen in an undoubtedly negative light going even so far as to call them “foul” and even the “lowest of people”.
As a result of this discrimination Catholic groups in the nineteenth century rebelled and reform of schools began to take place. Schools were also means to teach children to obey the laws of society and the government. Much of colonial society was based upon class and the distinction between them. It was not only important to the puritan society that children read the Bible but also become good workers and members of society.
First thanks to the Massachusetts Law of 1642 and then in 1647 the “Old Deluder Satan Law” (Spring 17) a system was established that required towns to be concerned with the literacy and education of their children. It also required towns with over fifty households to appoint a teacher to teach reading and writing in the community and those with over one hundred households to also establish a grammar school, which emphasized Latin and Greek, to prepare students for higher education.
During the colonial period apprenticeship was common but because the nation was small many of the apprenticeships were either cut short or unavailable. It was one of the jobs of a master to teach literacy and maybe arithmetic to his apprentice but because of the unavailability many fell short of this requirement. It then fell upon the law to create the aforementioned schools and educate children to not only teach them the ability to read the bible and the laws of the nation but to also educate them in the proper way to conduct themselves in social and formal work settings.
Much of the actual teaching of morals and way of conducting oneself was taught in the literacy schools, once a child was able to adhere to the rules and was sufficient enough in reading and writing they were able to attend grammar schools, with enough money in some cases, so that they may be able to move onto college and careers beyond. It comes as no surprise that English colonists thought of the Native Americans as uncivilized, lawless, and godless and attempted to introduce all of these elements to them through schools and religious institutions for their own benefit.
Here education served an entirely different purpose, as cultural imperialism. Despite the disinterest from Native Americans, and cultures worldwide, the English refused to give up their hopes on instilling their culture and beliefs upon other peoples. In North America these efforts were accompanied by genocide and “it is estimated that ninety percent of the Native American population on the East Coast was lost during the European invasion” (Spring 24), largely due to diseases brought by settlers but also due to the feelings of cultural and racial superiority that white settlers heavily believed in.
Benjamin Franklin even believed that there needed to be more white people in the world and that “ ‘the principle body of white people’ should populate North America…[and] ‘why increase the Sons of Africa, by planting them in America, where we have so fair an opportunity, by excluding all Blacks and Tawnys, of increasing the lovely White? ’” (Spring 25) This overwhelming feeling of superiority by the white settlers brought them to see the Native Americans as an obstacle they needed to overcome. Some of the things that they wanted to change about the Indians were their work habits, views on sexuality, family organization, and women’s power.
All of these things directly contrasted to the puritan beliefs of a male dominated authoritarian modest culture. Early education of the Native Americans was completely unsuccessful with many of the teachings being simply laughed at by the Natives and forgotten. After passing an execution law for those who were not civilized and God-fearing people, schools began to be established specifically for the process of civilizing Native Americans. Eleazar Wheelock founded the Dartmouth College in 1769 (Spring 28) where Indian children were “removed from their tribes…and plac[ed] into boarding schools for cultural conversion. (Spring 28) Wheelock believed that if the Native Americans were deterred from their native culture and taught to live like the colonists and educated into specific roles such as farming and cultivation for boys and homemaking for girls they would be able to successfully convert and that Indian Wars would no longer be a problem. This system seemed to have worked when Samson Occom, a Mohegan Indian, not only successfully passed through the school but also went on to travel to England to advocate for the system and the establishment of more “Praying Indian” schools.
Obviously today’s schools are much less grounded in religious and white superiority traditions. Although some themes do continue to the present such as education being a means of preparing children to obey government laws, that education will eliminate crime, immorality, and poverty, and that education is a source of social mobility. (Spring 14) In the home children today are nurtured and while they are taught social conduct and what is right and wrong it is in the classroom that children learn to sit still, obey people outside their family, work with others, and to complete tasks on time.
These are all requirements any job will entail and are best experienced in an educational setting. Many people also believe that education for their children will give their children a better life than them. Today’s parents want their children to grow up to be better, to be more prosperous, and more educated than themselves. Schools promise to provide the means for children to excel in life. Not only will the education of children allow them to obtain better jobs and more rewarding careers but it is considered that by acquiring knowledge people will inherently choose to “be good” eradicating immorality and crime.
As previously mentioned modern education frowns upon the inclusion of religion in the classroom, except in cases such as Catholic or other religious or private non-publically funded school. Schools today are for knowledge only, a place where all the findings, ideas, and information of the world is attempted to be taught to the young and bright minds of today. Another stark difference between colonial education and today’s society is that culture and difference are celebrated. While cultural superiority may never fully die out today’s schools advocate for acceptance and pride in the diversity of students.
Rather than suppress the cultural individualism many classrooms explore and exhibit the as many cultures as they can and bring light and information to everyone about each other. Much of education today leads toward higher education, whereas during colonial periods higher education and prestigious jobs were delicacies for the elite. In some cases this is still true, where students who may be deserving of quality education may not be able to pay the tuition of prized private schools such as Harvard, Stanford, or MIT.
But for the most part educations at non-Ivy league schools are still highly regarded and sometimes even praised as those who may attend them have more “real life experience”. Employers today not only worry about where one went to school but what he or she did there and what type of person they are. This makes schools in the modern era a place for equality, where anyone can become their wildest dreams. Bibliography Spring, Joel H. The American School: A Global Context from the Puritans to the Obama Era. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011. Print.
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