one-room school house

Maddi Gillel

“The strict discipline in educational preparation for professional life is described by John Adams.  By the time his son, John Quincy Adams was 18, the youth had become fairly proficient in Latin, French, and Greek.  He had also studied English and French literature, many of the Greek classics, Roman, English, and Greek history, the theorems of Euclid, plane trigonometry, algebra, decimal fractions, geometrical proportions and conic sections.  However, John Adams said his son was a little weak in calculus!”  (Koch, The American Enlightenment, pp. 190-191

What all was going on from 1607 to 1890 that encouraged such a marvelous education in our society?

1-    In 1836, William Holmes McGuffey began publishing his famous McGuffy Readers.  These became national best sellers and soon nearly every child was studying from at least one of them.

2-   Basics in:  Reading – phonics (involved memorizing), Writing – script, which is faster than print and was taught from the first grade – Arithmetic, especially as it applied to business and bookkeeping – Communication – which included spelling, essay writing, declamation, and oratorical contests – Literature– classical and contemporary- McGuffey included an assortment of these, Music – singing or playing an instrument – Art– painting, drawing, sculpture, Nature- study of plant, animal, astronomy – History – especially American history and its Constitutional form of government, Hygiene – mental and physical.

3-   Prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, a brief reading of the Bible, and a song comprised the opening exercises of a school day.

4-   Teachers (and the texts) were to drill into the students the importance of being: trustworthy, loyal (to God, family, and country), obedient (to parents, teachers, and others in authority) friendly, courteous, kind (to all), thrifty, brave, reverent (toward God, His commandments, and His creations), cheerful (even when life is unpleasant).

Alexis de Tocqueville, came to America to study our system and was so impressed with what he saw, that he stayed 2 years, returned to France and wrote his famous 2-volume work Democracy in America. He had this to say about education: “It cannot be doubted that in the United States the instruction of the people powerfully contributes to the support of the democratic republic; and such must always be the case.  I believe, where the instruction which enlightens the understanding is not separated from the moral education.”

De Tocqueville was amazed at the knowledge the children possessed concerning the Constitution and how the American system operated.  Many were studying from a little book of questions and answers called THE CATECHISM ON THE CONSTITUTION. (Arthur J. Stansbury, 1828)

Next week, I will report on the 2nd educational cycle – (we are now living in the 3rd cycle which I will report on in 2 weeks. )

FYI – The books mentioned in this article are still available.

  • julia
    Posted at 10:24h, 18 January

    Enlightening article – great information – clearly pointing out the problem with our current educational system. We have apathetic students with an attitude, especially in high school. This article shows that we have indeed slipped very far below the mark. Contemporaries of J.Q. Adams valued education. Students today value the almighty iPhone. ‘wish we could bring a little catechismal instruction back into the classroom. Looking forward to reading the 2nd and 3rd cycle.

  • Meagan
    Posted at 21:22h, 21 January

    Fixing curriculum alone won’t bring back better days. Just inserting prayer into schools, bringing back older curricula, and sprinkling with some high expectations, isn’t a cure. The situation is far more complex: we need stable families, faith, freedom, etc…

    Yes the education was certainly better in those days. Whenever I see things like this I cringe a little though, people assume that in addition to the importance of education back then the government was the natural sponsor/planner and that the children all started at age 5, and that whoever wasn’t enrolled simply wasn’t educated and must have been unlearned/backwards. Not true, only Massachusetts had manditory attendance laws at the time of the revolution, most children started after age 7, most local schools cost making them private not public, and many people homeschooled. But since we glorify public education in this country we assume that people like Edison, Washington, Lincoln were products of the “system”–they weren’t.

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