While the majority of early American citizens daily labored for existence and to establish a homestead, the richer and more established American families were opening schools built by churches. In 1635, the Latin Grammar School in Massachusetts became the first public school in the United States.4 One year later Harvard University opened as the first school of higher education.5 Virginia founded their first grammar school in 1636.6 Thereafter, each state founded schools in different ways, with local representatives determining the education needs of its citizens.  

In general, the colonies initially had apprenticeship systems for men, and dame schools provided reading instruction for women.7 During the 1600s, all New England colonies required towns to set up schools, and many did, but it was not until 1642 that Massachusetts made “proper” education compulsory by law for males.8 As other New England colonies followed their example, similar statutes were adopted between the 1640s and 1650s.9 When compulsory schooling was adopted, the resistance of America’s citizens was not unified enough to overcome the powerful force of government’s imposed change.  

Traditionally, U.S. public education was teacher-centered instruction which made use of primers which taught the alphabet, presented phonetic drills, and used Scripture and religious text as basic sources of content. The McGuffey Readers, introduced in 1836, were based on classic literature and taught literacy, using stories that promoted basic Christian values. This set, consisting of six readers, was the most popular school resource used in the nineteenth century. For many rural children, the McGuffey Readers were the only books (in addition to the Bible) they would ever read. The children worked independently but also taught each other while the schoolmaster listened to lessons from older students. An air of quiet activity filled the single room as meaningful lessons occurred. 

By the early nineteenth century, a typical schoolhouse had about fifty children of different ages sitting at individual desks, with boys on one side of the room and girls on the other. Students usually walked to school, carrying their own lunches from home. Children gathered to play games and socialize in the morning before classes, at recess, and during lunch breaks. Since most children were needed at home to assist their families in taking care of crops and doing other chores, school was in session only four months of the year and homework was rarely assigned. The teacher was responsible for instructing all students and was accountable to both the parents and the town’s authorities.10

Shifting Values

During the late eighteenth century, world events and changing philosophies caused a dramatic paradigm shift that stormed across the Atlantic, unraveling the fabric of America’s Christian foundation. The origin of this transformation of worldviews cannot be attributed to one human mastermind or sequence of planned events. However, many contributing factors are noticeably linked to the lofty exaltation and prideful estimation of mankind that replaced the humble adoration and reverent fear of God. The changes in U.S. education can be linked to a diminishing faith in Biblical absolute truths. When citizens turned from God-centered to man-centered thinking, students were taught that there were no absolute truths. Inquisitiveness and discoveries had no foundation. Charles Darwin’s writings had an enormous, chilling impact on the Biblical worldview, because economic, political, and academic leaders used them to push their own godless agendas.

When evolution was taught as the eminent theory of science, creation was ridiculed and reduced to a myth. The entire Biblical worldview crumbled after children were taught that humans descended from an ape-man through a series of evolutionary accidents. At school, children were no longer taught that the loving Creator God, Elohim, uniquely formed each person in the womb. The removal of God from public schools began gradually through changes in approved curriculum that eliminated any reference to God or the Bible. Moreover, American parents stopped teaching their children at home to have faith in God and instead relied on churches for family Bible instruction. Educational reform innovators employed the changing paradigm to accelerate outcome-based education for their own benefit. As the coal mining industry and factories drastically changed the economic structure of our nation, city governments were alarmed by a rapid influx of common immigrants and farmers who came to work in cities. Horace Mann, a powerful social reformer, promoted state-regulated education as a way to bring order and discipline to this working class.11