High School Homeschooling, Christian Home Education

The Unraveling of American Public Education

The Unraveling of American Public Education

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.” 

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

In France during the late eighteenth century, a struggle began between those who supported the American style of education and those who supported the Prussian (pre-German) style of education.12 American schools were largely autonomous from federal government, being controlled by the people through the establishment of local school boards.13 German-style Prussian schools were directly adopted from the Prussian model that was designed to produce an orderly, scientific society which would be easily controlled by the “best” people. Forced schooling was first introduced into Germany to effectively kill democracy.14 Darwin’s philosophy of the survival of the fittest gave birth to evil philosophies of obtaining a pure super race through the annihilation of people with “unwanted” genetic traits. Schools would be the necessary breeding ground to change the beliefs of the next generation and help leaders implement their evil plans.15 Hitler began his indoctrination of the education system in Germany in the early 1900s.16

In the mid-1900s, Horace Mann established the state board of education, training institutes for teachers, a longer school year, and public funding for salaries, textbooks, and school construction.17 He was the most influential voice heard as the United States’ reading instruction methodology was “reformed.” In his 1843 report to the Boston School Committee, Mann strongly recommended that school boards stop using the traditional phonetic system and follow a model structured after the Prussian hieroglyphic-style technique.18 Horace Mann urged that reading needed to be taught beginning with entire words, better known as sight reading, instead of using phonics to teach students how to read. Mann implored the Board to create professional teacher standards and systematic curriculum just like those found in the Prussian schools. Sadly, a historic part of American genius was that children learned to read very well, but after reading instruction was redesigned, literacy rates began to decline rapidly.19

Ungodly Values

Unseen by most, the true molders of modern schooling in U.S. education were the powerful, wealthy tycoons of American corporations. Without Andrew Carnegie, J. P Morgan, J. D. Rockefeller Sr., and Henry Ford, mass schooling of the young by force would never have become a reality.20 Andrew Carnegie, a Darwin enthusiast, was a forceful proponent of implementing a planned economy and society that would be reunited with Great Britain.21 J. P. Morgan, banking and Federal Reserve mogul, worked resolutely for the restoration of class systems in America and worldwide sovereignty of Anglo-Americans. J. D. Rockefeller Sr., the principal stockholder of U. S. Steel, supported measures to dumb down curriculum as a means of effective mind control of America’s youth.22 Shockingly, Henry Ford’s methods of mass production, which created menial jobs for assembly line workers, gained him friendship and accolades from Hitler and Lenin.23

Early in the twentieth century, John Dewey expanded use of schooling to shape children’s psychological, physical, and social development—even reaching outside of the schoolroom—abdicating parental authority and responsibility.24 Ellwood Cubberley applied industrial management theory to develop a national standard of a hierarchical, professionalized school leadership model. In 1956, Benjamin Bloom formed the first standardized teaching objectives, mandating curriculum to follow three specific levels of learning identified as cognitive, affective, and psychomotor.25 His methodology is considered the standard by which teachers write lesson plans for their students.26 Government schooling, which is designed to occupy the students’ time for seven to eight hours a day for thirteen consecutive years (kindergarten through twelfth grade), is dehumanizing and mind numbing for the majority of American citizens. Youths who had previously received training through apprenticeship opportunities in their early teens now had to endure an extended childhood and were prevented from beginning their working lives until their ability to think as independent producers could be worn down.

Tragically, twenty-first-century American schools produce functionally illiterate individuals. The number of functionally illiterate adults in the U.S. is increasing by approximately 2.25 million persons each year.27 There are two radically different end goals for education. The Biblical worldview goal in educating a child is focused around the child’s natural bent formed by God to give each person a purpose and hope for a good future. The goal of the humanistic secular worldview is to school large masses of students through standardized curriculum and testing by professionally trained instructors to ensure that they will be productive workers for society.28 Unquestionably, many dedicated teachers have the students’ best interest at heart, but they are bound by the regulating micro-management of the federal government. American parents who choose the narrow road to homeschool or enroll their children in private schools do not have to submit their children to thirteen years of institutionalized, government-controlled, public education. Therefore, it is imperative for all U.S. citizens to learn the history of the U.S. public school education so that they can make informed choices about their children’s education.


1. John Taylor Gatto, Weapons of Mass Instruction, The Oxford Village Press, New York, 2001.

2. David H. Watters, “I Spake as a Child: Authority, Metaphor and the New England Primer,” Early American Literature, December 1985, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp. 193–213.

3. Noah Webster, On the Education of Youth in America, 1788.

4. www.thefreedomtrail.org/visitor/boston-latin.html.

5. www.harvard.edu/history.

6. Lee, Jaehyun.  “A World History of Education in the Sixteenth, Seventeenth, and Eighteenth Centuries.” 2010.  Print and online,  www.zum.de/whkmla/sp/1112/minstrel/minstrel14.html.   

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. www.pbs.org/kcet/publicschool/evolving_classroom/index.html. 

11. www.pbs.org/kcet/publicschool/innovators/mann.html.

12. John Taylor Gatto, The Underground History of American Education, The Oxford Village Press, New York, 2001, pp. 131–139.

13. Gatto, 16, 35, 116–117, 132–137.

14. Gatto, 17.

15. Gatto, 37–48, 147–169.

16. Gatto, 131–146.

17. www.pbs.org/kcet/publicschool/innovators/mann.html.

18. Gatto, 132-137.

19. Gatto, 132–137.

20. Gatto, 36–48.

21. Gatto, 36–48.

22. Gatto, 36–48.

23. Gatto, xxxiii, 36.

24. www.pbs.org/kcet/publicschool/innovators/dewey.html.

25. Gatto, xxx, 40–42.

26. B. S. Bloom, Engelhart, M. D., E. J. Furst, W. H. Hill, and D. R. Krathwohl, Taxonomy of educational objectives: the classification of educational goals; Handbook I: Cognitive Domain, New York, Longmans, Green, 1956.

27. The National Right to Read Foundation, www.nrrf.org/essay_Illiteracy.html.

28.  Pierre Thomas, Jack Date, Clayton Sandell and Theresa Cook, “Living in the Shadows: Illiteracy in America,” February 25, 2008  (http://abcnews.go.com/WN/LegalCenter/story?id=4336421&page=1#.TmZZOpN10Ux.email).

Supplementary Resources:

1. Jeanne Allen, “Illiteracy In America: What to Do About It,” The Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C., Feb., 1989.

2. Samuel Blumenfeld, “The Victims of Dick and Jane,” American Education, Jan./Feb., 1983.

3. Ray Callahan, Education and the Cult of Efficiency, The University of Chicago Press, 1964.

4. Samuel Stillwell Greene, “Penitential Tears, or a Cry from the Dust by the Thirty-One Prostrated and Pulverized by the Hand of Horace Mann,” 1844. 

5. Eric Hoffer, The True Believer, Harpercollins, November 1989.

Lindy Abbott is a passionate follower of Jesus with a strong Biblical Christian worldview understanding. She is a certified teacher and a homeschool mom of three teens. From childhood, she discovered writing as her way to express what she felt and learned. Lindy is a published author, freelance writer, editor of a homeschool newsletter, and avid blogger. Read her regular post at www.lindylou-abbott.blogspot.com.

Publication date: September 26, 2012

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