British North America

A general absence of schools and teachers meant that most children in Britain’s North American colonies were educated at home. Parents, grandparents, older siblings, and other relatives living under the same roof served as instructors. Moreover, it was not just the biological children who were taught, but any servant children in the household as well. The curriculum consisted of three general areas of learning. The first was basic skills reading, writing, and a little simple arithmetic. Primers, imported from England early in the colonial era and later written and published in the colonies, were used for the first two skills, along with the Bible. Arithmetic usually consisted of knowledge passed on from father to son. That is, while girls often received teaching in basic reading and writing, numbers learning was generally reserved for boys. The second area of the curriculum consisted of piety, teaching Christian morality, and basic knowledge of the Bible. The third focus was vocational. Since the vast majority of colonial residents lived and worked on the land, vocational education consisted of basic agricultural and homemaking skills, the former taught to boys by their fathers and the latter to girls by their mothers. This started at a very young age sometimes as early as three or four and largely meant learning by doing, whether that involved birthing cows or churning butter. For urban and some rural children, particularly boys, apprenticeship in a craft served as a form of education. Parents usually paid to have their children placed with a craftsman the better paying the craft, the higher the fee. As part of the bargain, the craftsman also got the labor of the child. In return, the apprentice would receive training in the particular craft, basic instruction in literacy and piety, and room and board. Wealthier residents of the Britain’s North American colonies, notably planters in the Chesapeake region or South Carolina, had other options. Some hired tutors to live on the plantation, and a few sent their children, usually sons, to England for an education. Virtually no education was offered to African American slaves beyond instructing them in the tasks they were to perform as adults. New England was the first region of British North America to move in the direction of more formal education for children. Puritan theology, which emphasized the basic sinfulness of human nature, did not see children as later generations of Americans came to as innocent creatures who could be corrupted by bad influences. Instead, Puritans viewed even infants as tainted by original sin and saw all small children as depraved, since they had not yet had a chance to learn the word of God. Thus, it was especially important that children become literate so that they could read the Bible on their own. As early as 1642, the commonwealth of Massachusetts ordered parents and the masters of apprentices to provide the children under their guardianship with an education in reading, religion, and civics. Five years later, the commonwealth passed the Old Deluder Satan Act. Under that law, all townships with fifty to one hundred households were required to hire someone to teach reading and writing, so that children could read their Bibles and, as the law’s name implied, not fall prey to Satan’s wiles. For towns with over one hundred households, the law required that the curriculum include Latin grammar so that boys would be ready to attend a university. In addition, the citizens of Boston founded the nation’s first secondary school, the Boston Latin School, in 1635. The colonies of the mid-Atlantic notably New York and Pennsylvania lacked the religious uniformity and centralized theocracy of New England. Indeed, as these middle colonies drew immigrants from many parts of Europe, there was no common language and no common religious denomination. Formal schooling was largely provided by the local churches and parishes. In rural areas, there were also so-called dame schools, run by a local woman, who was paid by local residents to offer a rudimentary education in reading and writing. Most students who attended dame schools did so a few months a year for a few years, generally in the winter when they were not needed for farm work. While there were some attempts in both Pennsylvania and New York to set up public schools in the larger towns and cities, sectarian disputes arose. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, the burden of education had once again fallen on local churches. In the Southern colonies, where most people lived scattered on isolated farms and plantations, rather than clustered in villages, formal education was even more rudimentary than in the middle colonies. When they did not hire private tutors, a few wealthier planters in more-settled areas established small private schools. For boys, these academies offered Latin, alongside basic grammar and arithmetic. For girls, academy education also included elaborate rules of etiquette alongside instruction in basic letters. For the middling class and the poor, there was virtually no formal education available in the rural South. In 1642, however, Virginia did pass a poor law, which established workhouse schools for the children of the indigent that emphasized vocational training and moral teaching. While discipline was strict in all colonial schools with frequent use of corporal punishment the regimen of the workhouse schools was particularly harsh, and many students ran away. In all the colonies, private academies emphasized intellectual learning ancient languages, philosophy, and theology aimed at preparing students for college in the colonies or, more rarely, university in Europe. This kind of education was increasingly seen, however, as impractical by the rising merchant class of eighteenth-century colonial cities from Charles Town to Boston. Many merchants began to hire tutors to educate their sons in the more practical matters of mathematics, science, business, history, navigation, and modern languages. Eventually, this new, practical education became formalized in what were called new academies. Perhaps the first and best known of these academies was the Philadelphia Academy, founded in that city by Benjamin Franklin and other practical-minded citizens in 1751. At first for boys exclusively, these academies soon added female departments, which eventually became separate female academies, offering instruction in the fine and domestic arts. Canada and Other British North American Colonies Test your knowledge of the British North America Act – Toronto … – History of Canadian Medicare – 1914-1929 …

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