The History of Education in America

The first American schools were established during the colonial era by the British. As the colonies began to develop, communities in New England formulated many mandatory education schemes. In 1657, The Massachusetts Bay Colony passed a law requiring a community of 50 or more families to hire a schoolteacher. Ben Franklin firmly believed that education can help citizens builf a prosperous society. However, at that time, only men were considered for formal education and women were expected to follow their mother's role as a housekeeper.

Public schools were still a foreign idea in America, as was the study of technology, agriculture and other applied arts. Classical studies that included great works and deeds of the past, were taught at private colleges. These early education programs were costly as well as exclusive. Some of the first prominent schools in America include Harvard College founded by Puritans in 1636, and the Yale University founded by Congregational Church in 1701. The Great Awakening, a movement that focused on the revival of religious feelings, took place in 1739. It led to the founding of a number of new colleges and universities. Princeton was built in 1746, and Columbia University started in 1754. 

Dartmouth College opened in 1769 as one of the biggest formal schools in the state. People of New England laid great emphasis on literacy so that people could read the Bible. After the American Revolution, the new national government passed the Land Ordinance of 1785, which set aside a portion of every township in the unincorporated territories of the United States for use in education. The provisions of the law remained unchanged until the Homestead Act of 1862. After the Revolution, an emphasis was put on education, especially in the northern states, which made the US have one of the highest literacy rates at the time. The first national census conducted in 1840 indicated that near-universal literacy among the white population had been achieved, despite the fact that free elementary education was not provided by every state until 1870. 

It was chiefly due to the African American community's tremendous efforts with the help of some financial support from North America in establishing schools and colleges, that 30,000 African American teachers were trained and by 1900, a majority of African Americans in the South were literate. Education reformers such as Horace Mann of Massachusetts began calling for public education systems for all. Upon becoming the secretary of education in Massachusetts in 1837, Mann helped to create a statewide system of "common schools," which referred to the belief that everyone was entitled to the same form of education. 

These early efforts focused primarily on elementary education. The common-school movement soon began to catch on in the North. Connecticut adopted a similar system in 1849, and Massachusetts passed a compulsory attendance law in 1852. By 1870, every state provided free elementary education. By 1900, 31 states required children to attend school from the ages of 8- to 14-years-old. As a result, by 1910, 72 percent of American children attended school. In 1918, every state required students to at least complete elementary school.

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