What factors in society ended sectarianism in schools, and made them secular?
Probably no single movement so greatly affected colonial America as the Protestant Reformation. Most of the Europeans who came to America were Protestants, but there were many denominations. Lutherans from Germany and Scandinavia settled in the middle colonies along with Puritans and Presbyterians. The Reformation was centered upon efforts to capture the minds of men, therefore great emphasis was placed on the written word. Obviously schools were needed to promote the growth of each denomination. Luthers doctrines made it necessary for boys and girls to learn to read the Scriptures. While the schools that the colonists established in the 17th century in the New England, southern and middle colonies differed from one another, each reflected a concept of schooling that had been left behind in Europe. Most poor children learned through apprenticeship and had no formal schooling at all. Those who did go to elementary school were taught reading, writing, arithmetic, and religion. Learning consisted of memorizing, which was stimulated by whipping. The first “basic textbook”, the New England Primer, was Americas own contribution to education(Pulliam, Van Patten 86). Used from 1609 until the beginning of the 19th century, its purpose was to teach both religion and reading. The child learning the letter a, for example, also learned that “In Adams fall, We sinned all.” As in Europe, then, schools in the colonies were strongly influenced by religion. This was particularly true of schools in the New England area, which had been settled by Puritans and other English religious dissenters. The school in colonial New England was not a pleasant place either, physically or psychologically. Great emphasis was placed on the shortness of life and the torments of hell. Like the Protestants of the Reformation, who established vernacular elementary schools in Germany in the 16th century, the Puritans sought to make education universal. They took the first steps toward government-supported universal education in the colonies.
In 1647, Puritan Massachusetts passed a law requiring that every child be taught to read. It being the chief object of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the scriptures,it is therefore ordered, that every townshipafter the Lord hath increased them to the number of fifty householders,shallappoint one within their town to teach all children as shall resort him to read and write. It is further ordered, that where any town shall increase to the number of one hundred familiesthey shall set up a grammar school, the master thereof being able to instruct youth so far as they may be fitted for the university. Old Deluder Satan Act.Massachusetts Laws of 1647(Pulliam, Van Patten 51)
Puritan or not, virtually all of the of the colonial schools had a clear-cut moral purposes. Skills and knowledge were considered important to the degree that they served religious ends and “trained” the mind(Gutmann 180). Early schools supplied the students with moral lessons, not just reading, writing and arithmetic. Obviously, the founders saw it necessary to apply these techniques, feeling that in was necessary that the students learn these particular values.
As the spirit of science, commercialism, secularism, and individualism quickened in the Western world, education in the colonies was called upon to satisfy the practical needs of seamen, merchants, artisans, and frontiersmen. The effect of these new developments on the curriculum in American schools was more immediate and widespread than its effect in European schools. Practical content was soon in competition with religious concerns.
Vocational education was more significant in the Middle colonies than elsewhere in colonial America. The academy that Benjamin Franklin helped found in 1751 was the first of a growing number of secondary schools that sprang up in competition with the Latin schools. Franklins academy continued to offer the humanist-religious curriculum, but it also brought education closer to the needs of everyday life. Teaching such courses as history, geography, merchant accounts, geometry, algebra. These subjects were more practical, seeing as how industry and business were driving forces in the creation of the United States, while religious classes could not support a family or pay the debts.
By the 1880s the United States was absorbing several million immigrants a year, a human flood that created new problems for the common school. The question confronting educators was what to teach to educate and prepare them for the work force. Religion was still an important part of their lives but with so varied a population it was impossible to teach any one and families kept their members involved in the church and children learned about religion through Sunday school and by being active in church social gatherings.
By the mid-19th century the diversification in the curriculum characterized virtually all American secondary education. America came into its own, educationally, with the movement toward state-supported, secular free schools for all children, which began with the common (elementary) school. Religious denominational or parochial schools remained common in the middle colonies until the country became independent, but such sectarian schools were weakened by the withdrawal of English financial support and by the separation of church and state. The revolutionary period saw academies, with their emphasis on practical subjects such as bookkeeping, navigation, and surveying, increase in popularity.
After the common school had been accepted, people began to urge that higher education, too be tax supported(Gutmann 201). By the end of the century, such secondary schools had begun to outnumber the private academies. The original purpose of the American high school was to allow children to extend and enrich their common school education (Diane 56). Schools now needed to ready the students for collegean even higher form of education instead of preparing them to immediately enter the work force. Americas educational ladder was unique.
Where public school systems existed in European countries such as France and Germany, they were dual systems. When a child of the lower and middle class finished his elementary schooling, he could go on to a vocational school. The upper-class child did not attend the elementary school and was instead tutored until the age of nine and could enter a secondary Latin school. The purpose of the Latin school was to prepare him for the university, from which he might well emerge as a potential leader of his country.
With the independence of America came freedom of religion in the Bill of Rights. Freedom of Religion was included in the first amendment which prevented Congress from making any law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting religious practice. Some states had provisions for tax-supported religion, but were abolished by 1833. Although the long range effects of disestablishment and religious freedom were beneficial to public schools, the immediate result was to take away public funds that had been used to support church-related schools. Separation of church and state also contributed to the educational problems of today, such as the issue over prayer and bible readings in public schools. Nevertheless, sectarian control over public education was broken by the provision for religious freedom.
The Industrial Revolution began in Europe and spread to America a few decades later. One effect of the change from an agricultural to an industrial economy was the demand for schools to train students for the workforce. Vocational and industrial education better supplied students with the knowledge to enter a career rather than religious studies. The vocational value of shop work was considered part of general education. The need for skilled workers and the desire for high school education for those not college bound caused the manual training to gain speed.
Religion was the major subject in colonial schools, but with the separation of church and state, public schools could only teach non-sectarian religious principals. Still, the curriculum remained heavily influenced by religious writings, prayer, and Christian morality. Bible reading was considered nonsectarian in most communities. The fact that a Protestant bible was not acceptable to Catholics carried little weight, and Jews were also discriminated against in school prayers. Before the twentieth century, minority groups often chose not to make an issue of religion in the public schools. If Catholic, Jewish, or other minority religious groups were unable to support their own schools, they normally accepted the rules of the public schools even when the requirements contradicted their own beliefs.
In recent times however, there have been a great number of court cases over the religious requirements or practices in public schools. Although a majority of the cases have decided against the inclusion of religious practices, a large number of Americans are of the opinion that schools are responsible for moral training of Americas youth. The questions arise over and over whether this is a valid requirement or responsibility of the educational system. How does one teach moral values and respect for teachers, students and the community without including the basic philosophy of religion and the worth of prayer. Religious liberals and non-believers have attacked beginning the school day with prayer.
With the removal of the Pledge of Allegiance from the daily rite of school curriculum America had made a drastic statement to element any reference to any God, any religion and this sent a message to every household in America that receiving an education would not include any word or association with any God. However, our society will always have a multitude of beliefs and opinions on whether or not it is a responsibility of the educational system to teach respect, honor and morale standards to our children. What responsibilities do parents have to teach religion to their offspring? Do children need to know the beliefs of more than one religion, do children have a right to practice religion in school?
A hundred questions could be asked regarding this subject and because we are such a diverse society I do not believe it would be possible to teach religion in school. Which is why I think it is better to live religion out of the schools as to not offend anyone of believing in another religion or does not believe in religion at all. Personally I believe that parents should have the responsibility of teaching children right from wrong. The reason why society is so bad isnt the fault of the school system, but the lack of good upbringing by parents.
Gutmann, Amy. Democratic Education New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1999.
Pulliam John D., James Van Patten. History of Education in America
New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1999.
Ravitch, Diane The Troubled Crusade: American Education
Basic Books: New York, 1983.