Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the Fall 2011 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade magazine for homeschool families. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

American education was begun in the home by parents who taught their own children and who instilled in those children moral character, good citizenship, and skills necessary to live freely as God willed. As towns formed, the schoolhouse developed as an extension of the home to assist parents in their God-given responsibility.1 Throughout U.S. history, the incremental changes in education align with the paradigm shift from a Biblical, Godly worldview to a worldly, humanistic worldview. Today proponents of opposing worldviews are entrenched in a battle for the minds of our nation’s children. Over the past two centuries, the changes in the methodology, philosophy, and goals of American public education can be traced back to the changes in the faith, economics, and social structure of the United States.

The American ideals of diligence, personal responsibility, and independence were forged out of suffering, sacrifice, and steadfast hope in the promises of Jehovah God. The fabric of America—though diverse in affluence, social norms, and aspirations—remained tightly woven by a Biblical worldview based on the absolute truths of Scripture. A common precept was that each person, created by God for His glory, had an intrinsic redeemable value through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Early American history must not be whitewashed by claiming that all colonists, venturists, immigrants, and pioneers were God-fearing followers of Christ, but it is important to understand that basic belief in God was the common underlying principle of life. 

Biblical Values

The earliest schools in the U.S. were built by church denominations, and they taught Biblical values.2 The Christians who came to America fled the tyranny of both government and church (which was often one and the same) that controlled the lives of citizens. An independent spirit was ingrained not only because each person had to work hard to establish homes in a foreign land, but also because they were able to learn firsthand from God’s Word. A person whose mind, heart, and soul were governed directly by God did not need or want a strong centralized government to determine how he should live. Each person was accountable to God for the choices he made, and this moral compass created a nation that guaranteed freedoms given by God to all people.

Interestingly, Founding Fathers advocated the need for public education in order to guarantee the participation of all citizens in the newly formed republic government. In 1788 Noah Webster appealed to legislatures in his writings, On the Education of Youth in America, saying that “a system of education [that] gives every citizen an opportunity of acquiring knowledge and fitting himself for places of trust” was essential to the continuance of republican governments.3 He continued: “In a republic . . . every class of people should know and love the laws. This knowledge should be diffused by means of schools and newspapers; [so that] an attachment to the laws may be formed by early impressions upon the mind.” Noah Webster stressed the need for educating the poorer citizen in the same way that the rich were already being educated in private church schooling, so that the poor—like the rich—might be “sufficiently informed to govern themselves in all cases of difficulty.”