At first home instruction and apprenticeship training were depended upon to furnish the necessary ability to read and to participate in the home and church religious services, the great religious purpose which had brought the colonists to America being the motive which was to insure such instruction. In addition, the town religious governments began the voluntary establishment of town Latin Schools to prepare boys for college (Harvard) which the colonial legislature had established, in 1636. In this establishment in the wilderness of New England of a typical English educational system of the time -- that is, private instruction in reading and religion in the homes and by the master of apprentices, Latin grammar schools in the larger towns to prepare boys for the colony college, and an English-type college to prepare ministers for the churches --we see manifested the deep Puritan-Calvinistic zeal for education as a bulwark of Church and State. As in England, the system was voluntary, and clearly subordinate to the Church.
The Massachusetts Law of 1642. It early became evident, hover, that these voluntary efforts on the part of the people and the towns would not be sufficient to insure that general education which was required by the Puritan religious theory. Under the hard pioneer conditions and the suffering which ensued, many parents and masters of apprentices apparently proved neglectful of their educational duties. Accordingly the leaders in the Puritan Church appealed to what was then their servant, the State as represented in the colonial legislature, to assist them in compelling parents and masters to observe their obligations. The result was the famous Massachusetts Law of 1642, which directed the officials of each town to ascertain, from time to time, if parents and masters were attending to their educational duties; if all children were being trained "in learning and labor and other employments profitable to the Commonwealth"; and if the children were being taught "to read and understand the principles of religion and the capital laws of the country." The officers were empowered to impose fines on those who failed to give proper instruction, or to report to the officer when required. This Law of 1642 is remarkable in that, for the first time in the English-speaking world, a legislative body representing the State ordered that all children should be taught to read. thi was a distinctively Calvinistic contribution to our new-world life, and a contribution of large future importance.
The Massachusetts Law of 1647. The Law, however, did not establish schools, nor did it direct the employment of schoolmasters. After true English fashion, the provision of education was still left with the homes. The results still continuing unsatisfactory, five years later the colonial legislature enacted the famous Law of 1647, by means of which it has been asserted that "the Puritan government of Massachusetts rendered probably its greatest service to the future." After recounting in a preamble that it had in the past ben "one chief point of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from a knowledge of the Scriptures... by keeping them in an unknown tongue," so no "by persuading from the use of tongues," ....learning was in danger of "being buried in the grae of our fathers in church and commonwealth," the Law then ordered:
- That every town having 50 householders should at once appoint a teacher of reading and writing, and provide for his wages in such a manner as the town might determine; and
- That every town having 100 householders must provide a (Latin) grammar school to fit youths for the university, under a penalty of £5 for failure to do so.This law represents a distinct advance over the Law of 1642. The State here, acting again as the servant of the Church, enacted a law for which there were no English precedents. Not only was a school system ordered established --elementary for all towns and children, and secondary for youths in larger towns-- but, for the first time among English-speaking people, there was the assertion of the right of the State to require communities to establish and maintain schools, under penalty of a fine if they refused to do so.Importance of these two laws. It can safely be asserted that these two Massachusetts laws of 1642 and 1647 represent not only new educational ideas in the English-speaking world, but that they also represent the very foundation stones upon which our American public school systems have been constructed.
Mr. Martin, the historian of the Massachusetts public school system, states the fundamental principles which underlie this legislation as follows:
- The universal education of youth is essential to the well-being of the State.
The obligation to furnish this education rests primarily upon the parent.
- The State has a right to enforce this obligation.
- The State may fix a standard which shall determine the kind of education, and the minimum amount.
- Public money, raised by a general tax, may be used to provide such education as the State requires. This tax may be general, though the school attendance is not.
- Education higher than the rudiments may be supplied by the State. Opportunity must be provided, at public expense, for youths who wish to be fitted for the university.
Mr. Martin then adds the following significant comment:
It is important to note here that the idea underlying all this legislation was neither paternalistic nor socialistic. The child is to be educated, not to advance his personal interests, but because the State will suffer if he is not educated. The State does not provide schools to relieve the parent, nor because it can educate better than the parent can, but because it can thereby better enforce the obligation which it imposes.
These laws became the basis for legislation in all the other New England colonies, except Rhode Island, which had been founded on the basis of religious freedom, and the conceptions as to the establishment and maintenance of schools which they embodied deeply influenced the educational develpment of all the States to which New England people later migrated in any numbers.
In New England, then, was established the first of the three important type attitudes to which we earlier referred,--that of the State compelling the towns to establish schools, and parents to send their children to school to learn to read and to receive instruction in religion. The State here, acting as the servant of the Church, enacted legislation which formed a precendent and fixed a tradition as to school management and support which was retained long after State and Church had parted company.