History of Public Schools
A Brief History of Public
Education in the United States
By Mike and Carolyn Riggs
In early America p r i v a t e ducation
was the rule
providing most, if not all, of the instruction
for their own children. Religious families
wanted their children to learn how to read
the newly available King James Bible,
which became the focus of educational
pursuits, and literacy was high.
However, things began to change in the
1640s when Massachusetts School Laws
provided the first step toward compulsory,
government-directed, public education
in the United States. In 1642 educational
supervision was transferred from clergy-men to select men of the colony, and other
New England and most mid-Atlantic colonies soon followed suit. It took another
century for publicly funded schools to
show up in the South.
Although implementation of the laws
was inconsistent, they initially focused
on personal knowledge of the Scriptures
for temporal living and eternal salvation
under the authority of Puritan leaders.
Schools were to teach reading of English, knowledge of laws, catechism of
Religion, and apprenticeship in honest
labor (1642). The 1647 law described
Satan as the deluder who kept men from
the knowledge of the Scriptures.
therefore a teacher, paid by families or
by the community, was to be appointed