Did you know that America’s education system was established by reading the Bible?

Education in America in 1690

The New England Primer was first published between 1688 and 1690 by English printer Benjamin Harris, who had come to Boston in 1686 to escape the brief Catholic ascendancy under James II. Based largely upon his earlier The Protestant Tutor, The New England Primer was the first reading primer designed for the American colonies. It became the most successful educational textbook published in the colonial and early days of United States history. It was used in what would be our first grade for two hundred years. While the selections in The New England Primer varied somewhat across time, there was standard content for beginning reading instruction. Each lesson had questions about the Bible and the Ten Commandments. In fact, most of the entire book taught Bible verses at the same time it taught students how to read.

The ninety-page work contained selections from the King James Bible as well as other original selections. It embodied the dominant Puritan attitude and worldview of the day. Among the topics discussed were respect for parental figures, sin, and salvation. Some versions contained the Westminster Shorter Catechism, others contained John Cotton’s shorter catechism, known as Milk for Babes, and some contained both. The primer remained in print well into the nineteenth century and was even used until the twentieth. A reported two million copies were sold in the 1700s. No copies of editions before 1727 are known to have survived; earlier editions are known only from publishers’ and booksellers’ advertisements.

Supreme Court Challenge

Using Bible verses to teach English and morality in public schools was challenged in 1844. There were three different cases that upheld the use of the Bible for that specific use in public schools, one being a Supreme Court case of 1844, Vidal v. Gerard, where a Philadelphia school wanted to teach morals without using the Bible. The Court said, “Why may not the Bible, and especially the New Testament, without note or comment, be read and taught as a divine revelation in the college; its general precepts expounded, its evidences explained, and its glorious principles of morality inculcated?”

The court concluded that any book teaching good morality would certainly be teaching what the New Testament teaches, so why not use the original source that doesn’t change. Noah Webster, writing in the History of the United States (1832), stated, “The moral principles and precepts contained in the Scriptures ought to form the basis of all our civil constitutions and law....All the miseries and evils which man suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery, and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible.”

Daniel Webster, in his July 4, 1800, Oration at Hanover, New Jersey: “To preserve the government we must also preserve morals. Morality rests on religion; if you destroy the foundation, the superstructure must fall. When the public mind becomes vitiated and corrupt, laws are a nullity and constitutions are waste paper.”

National Education Association (NEA)

The National Education Association (NEA) began in 1857 when forty-three educators from eight states and the District of Columbia attended the first meeting of the National Teachers Association (NTA). In 1870 the NTA changed its name to National Education Association (NEA) and merged with three smaller organizations.

The National Education Association is the largest professional organization and other support personnel, faculty and staffers at colleges and universities, retired educators, and college students preparing to become teachers. The NEA has 3.1 million members and is headquartered in Washington DC.