Sunday, October 9, 2016

A Brief History of Public Education in the United States

In early America private education was the rule of thumb, with parents providing most, if not all, of the instruction for their own children. Religious families wanted their children to learn how to read the newly available King James Bible, which became the focus of educational pursuits, and literacy was high.

However, things began to change in the 1640s when Massachusetts School Laws provided the first step toward compulsory government-directed public education in the United States. In 1642 educational supervision was transferred from clergymen to select men of the colony, and other New England and most mid-Atlantic colonies soon followed suit. It took another century for publicly funded schools to show up in the South.

Although implementation of the laws was inconsistent, they initially focused on personal knowledge of the Scriptures for temporal living and eternal salvation under the authority of Puritan leaders. Schools were to teach reading of English, knowledge of laws, catechism of Religion, and apprenticeship in honest labor (1642). The 1647 law described Satan as the deluder who kept men from the knowledge of the Scriptures.And therefore a teacher, paid by families or by the community, was to be appointed by every group of fifty households. Communities as large as one hundred households were to provide a grammar school for university preparation—or pay a fine.2

In the early 1800s, after 150 years of family-, church-, and community-guided education, Horace Mann took public education to a new level when he helped establish laws to exclude sectarian teachings from Christians, Catholics, and Jews from public schools by promoting non-sectarian schools.3 The establishment of universal, public-funded education was his driving force; public schools were supposed to change society and establish a utopian state with freedom, moral virtue, and social harmony. Thus, Mann became the “Father of the U.S. Common School.”

In 1816 in England, Robert Owen declared that “society may be formed so as to exist without crime, without poverty, with health greatly improved, with little, if any, misery, and with intelligence and happiness increased a hundred-fold; and no obstacle whatsoever intervenes at this moment, except ignorance, to prevent such a state of society from becoming universal.”4 In 1825, when Owen’s two-year-old American community failed, he said people raised and educated under the old system could not adapt to the communist way of life: people must be educatedbefore they could successfully create a socialist society. Consequently, Owen promoted education by the state at public expense.5

The 1897 pedagogic creed of John Dewey, who was the “Father of Modern Education” said education was the “fundamental method of social progress and reform.”6 He proposed that education should be a continuing reconstruction of experience, with no outside goal. The child’s activity should be the starting point for all education in order to avoid arresting the child’s nature and failing to give the child the complete possession and command of all his powers as preparation for the future. According to Dewey, a humanist, the teacher should not impose certain ideas or habits on the child, and literature should neither precede nor be the basis for social experience. Dewey concluded his creed saying, “I believe that every teacher should realize the dignity of his calling; that he is a social servant set apart for the maintenance of proper social order and the securing of the right social growth. I believe that in this way the teacher always is the prophet of the true God and the usherer in of the true kingdom of God.”7The teacher was to be the vehicle for Dewey’s socialistic goals.

In his book N.E.A.: Trojan Horse in American Education, Blumenfeld explains: “To Dewey, the greatest enemy of socialism was the private consciousness that seeks knowledge in order to exercise its own individual judgment and authority. High literacy gave the individual the means to seek knowledge independently. . . . Thus the [hidden] goal was to produce inferior readers with inferior intelligence dependent on a socialist educational elite for guidance, wisdom and control.” Blumenfeld explained, “It would have been hard to impress parents of America with the virtues of illiteracy.”Since the 1930s when the big switch in reading instruction took place, reading skills have plummeted.

Dewey and the NEA have been intensely hostile to individualism and have promoted socialism without giving the American people a choice.9 Dewey gave hearty preference and aide to socialistic statist values while quietly and consistently overriding family and individual rights.

The Humanistic viewpoint says man is the source of knowledge and guidance above God and Scripture—and that God does not exist or is no longer involved in the affairs of man in contrast to the Biblical view of God as the Almighty Creator. Humanists propose that man, born “good” instead of sinful, is at the pinnacle of an evolved state and he bears the ultimate responsibility to achieve utopia through science and socialism.10

Following closely on the heels of previously established laws, in 1960 prayer in public schools was officially banned. In 1965 the Head Start program began reaching younger children with government money. Subsequent results indicated a lack of significant academic differences between participants and non-participants by second grade. Funding for public education has increased dramatically since the early 1900s. However, despite the fact that the literacy rate has declined alarmingly11 some claim victory.12 Charles J. Sykes’ book, Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves But Can’t Read, Write, or Add, clarifies how outcome-based education has eroded our schools. Public school students rank near or at the bottom of international tests in math and science.13

Those who have guided and controlled public education in the United States, such as Horace Mann and John Dewey, have actively and fervently excluded Christian beliefs and values in favor of promoting humanistic, man-centered beliefs and values. The two foundations are directly opposed; if you do not actively pursue God’s foundation, you are at least passively pursuing man’s foundation. While Christians debate about when to begin teaching and the manner for teaching children, Humanists plot how to separate children from parents as early as possible for the good of mankind. Many Humanists are convinced of the need for their goals and pursue them relentlessly. They pursue salvation as a society, because they are unwilling to consider accountability to God any more than Cain or Nimrod did in Genesis. Because Christians hold to a supreme God, authoritative Scripture, individual sin and salvation, and accountability for eternity, humanists are convinced that Christians are an enemy to be overcome.

In 1994 Maurice Roberts wrote about being battle-weary. He described the danger of being asleep with a fire or a thief at the door and no awareness or care about the danger. The characters in his article are in dreamland reveling in an unreal and delusional world.14

Watchmen of today are asleep. The battle seems too big or is someone else’s responsibility. But we must refuse to slumber away. Roberts said, “When soul-sleepiness is widespread, men are all taken up with childish dreams and empty trifles. They make great sound and bluster about small matters of procedure and right order. But they may as easily overlook the great matters of justice, mercy and truth as those Pharisees who ‘strained at a gnat and swallowed a camel’ (Matt. 23:24). The cry of all—or almost all—is for more sleep, and woe be to him who tries to wake them!” We must pray for grace to stay awake and plunge into God’s truth till our dreams of worldly ease are thrown aside. We must be wakeful servants, watchmen at the door.15

Why are you homeschooling your children? What foundational truths does your family wholeheartedly embrace? Have any enticements encouraged you to commune with godless man (Psalm 1)? What do the educational highlights of our nation tell you? Will your relentless pursuit of God and His truth outlast the wiles of godless men? What is your hope, your compelling motivation? May God richly guide you in your convictions and in decision making.


1. Massachusetts Education Laws of 1642 and 1647.

2. Samuel Blumenfeld, N.E.A.: Trojan Horse in American Education, (The Paradigm Company, Boise, Idaho, 1997),   pp. 3, 9-17, 23, 37-38, 41-43, 96, 102, 124-128, 164, 242.

3. Horace Mann, Common School Journal, Twelfth Annual Report, (1848).

4. Robert Owen, Address Delivered to the Inhabitants of New Lanark, (London: Hatchard, 1816).

5. Ibid.

6. John Dewey, My Pedagogic Creed, School Journal, vol. 54 (January 1897), pp. 77-80.

7. Ibid.

8. Blumenfeld, p. 105-106, cited in Dewey, The School and Society, (Chicago, 1899; reprinted in John Dewey, The Middle Works, 1899-1924, volume 1: 1899-1901, edited by JoAnn Boydston, Southern Illinois University Press, 1976), p. 19.

9. Blumenfeld., p.103, 106.

10. Edwin Henry Wilson, The Genesis of a Humanist Manifesto, (Amherst, New York: Humanist Press, 1995). 

11. Charles J. Sykes, Dumbing Down Our Kids, (St. Martin’s Press, New York, New York, 1995), pp. 17-21.

12. Blumenfeld, 126-128.

13. Sykes, 17-21.

14. Maurice Roberts, “The Danger of Becoming Battle-Weary,” Banner of Truth Magazine, Issue 375, December 1994.

15. Ibid.


Educational Milestones in the U.S.

Dates    Events1

1440     Johannes Gutenberg invents the printing press in Germany.

1535     In October the first English printed Bible is completed.

1620     The Mayflower transports Pilgrims to Plymouth, Massachusetts.

1636     Harvard College seminary begins, aided by a government grant.

1642     Harvard Board of Overseers adds government members.

1642-8  Massachusetts School Laws are implemented.   

1806      Samuel Weber becomes Harvard’s first Unitarian president.

1816     The Institution for the Formation of Character is established in England.

1819     Prussian (German) education favors statism over parental rights.

1829     American educators lobby for public education.

1835-7  The first look-say primer appears. Horace Mann applauds it for liberating children 
            from Calvinist academic tyranny.

1837     Horace Mann is the first Secretary of the MA Board of Education; Froebele starts
            kindergarten in Germany.

1838-9  The First Normal School is a state financed/controlled teachers’ college, symbolizing  
            statism’s triumph to Mann.

1845     Two State Normal Schools open; opposition to state-controlled teacher training
            ends: secularism flourishes.

1848     The first U.S. kindergarten is established in Wisconsin, is private, and is
            German-speaking.

1849     New York initiates free schools at public expense.

1850     Catholics establish schools.

1857     The National Teachers Association promotes public U.S. Schools.

1859     Darwin’s The Origin of Species is published.

1860     There are sixty-nine public U.S. high schools.

1870     The National Teachers Association becomes the National Education Association.

1873     The first public U.S. Kindergarten opens There are soon forty-two public U.S.    
            kindergartens.

1880     The new National Council of Education promotes absolute faith in science of
            progressives.

1900     Enrollment in Free Schools, with 700,000 high school students, overtakes enrollment
            in private academies.

1902     There are 3,422 public U.S. kindergartens.

1905     U.S. public education gets 22 percent of U.S. public expenditures.

1906     NEA 50th- Year Anniversary papers highlight Prussian education. Control of
            education passes from church to state. 

1910     The U.S. Bureau of Education says twenty-two out of a thousand Massachusetts
            10- to 14-year olds are illiterate.

1917      The National Education Association moves its headquarters to Washington, D.C. 

1918    U.S. Office of Education promotes socialism in the Cardinal Principles of Secondary
            Education.

1929    In December Dewey is awarded Life Membership in the NEA for his seventieth
            birthday.
            Neuropathologist Dr. Samuel T. Orton says look-say reading could cause reading
            disability and be an obstacle to reading progress.

1933     John Dewey and other humanists establish theHumanist Manifesto (reaffirmed in 
            1973 with more signers).

1946     Colliers magazine says one third of U.S. school children lag behind in reading.
1955     Why Johnny Can’t Read is published.

1960     Prayer is banned from public schools, and there is a $5.6 billion U.S. education
            expenditure.

1965     The Elementary and Secondary Education Act begins a Head Start/Title program.

1967     Research by a Harvard Graduate School of Education professor supports phonics.

1970     There is a $40.6 billion U.S. education expenditure.

1972     Thirty-two percent of students in New York City are reading at or above grade
            level.

1981-4  Why Johnny Still Can’t Read is rejected by the NEA.

1983    There is a $141 billion U.S. education expenditure. The NEA spends 3.1% of its
            ‘82-‘83 budget on instructional, professional development and 19% of its budget on
            Uniserv, its totalitarian, controlling arm to further political goals.

1984     The Boston Globe declares illiteracy a handicap like deafness and blindness. Adults
            40% functionally illiterate.

1993     The U.S. Department of Education says nearly half of adults read and write too
            poorly to hold decent jobs.3

1994     Goals 2000 Educate America Act and School-to-Work Opportunities Act are passed.

1995    There is a $256 billion U.S. education expenditure.

2011    Private education is on the rise. No Child Left Behind increased taxpayer dollars for
            education; however, U.S. Secretary of  Education Arne Duncan says 80,000 of the
            nation’s 100,000 public schools could be declared failing in 2011—solution: dumb
            down the passing grade.4  


Many dates and events are public knowledge. Others are documented by Samuel Blumenfeld, N.E.A. Trojan Horse in American Education, (The Paradigm Company, Boise, Idaho, 1997), pp. 3, 9-17, 23, 37-38, 41-43, 96, 102, 110, 124-128, 164, 242.
Gale Encyclopedia of Education: Early Childhood Education: Preparation of Teachers: information from Answers.com.
Charles J. Sykes, Dumbing Down Our Kids, (St. Martin’s Press, New York, New York, 1995), pp. 28-32.
Marvin Olasky, Thousands Left Behind, World, (God’s World Publications, Asheville, NC, August 27, 2011, Vol. 26, No. 17), p. 76.




Mike and Carolyn graduated their two children from homeschool and have six grandchildren. Carolyn especially enjoys occasional homeschooling activities. Mike and Carolyn are co-founders of Lamp and Quill International, a devotional Bible curriculum for all ages, and co-authors of The Trojan Horse in Christian Education


Copyright 2011, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the Fall 2011 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine. 



No comments: