Connecticut colony was a leader in education. The first public schools were established in 1642 in New Haven and in Hartford in 1643. Many of our private schools, such as Hopkins and Taft were established at this time. There existence and history can be shown to the classes by brochure and picture.
The Puritans of Connecticut put heavy emphasis on education, specifically so that young and old would be able to read the Scriptures. They could learn G-d’s laws and the laws of the men designed to enforce them only if they were educated. The father in a Puritan house prepared his children by teaching them the Bible once a week. Education was the ultimate responsibility of the parent and the Puritan homes were strict—a child could be seen not heard and spoke only when spoken to by an adult.
The Connecticut Code of 1650 made it a requirement that children and apprentices be taught to read. Connecticut also required children to be trained in an “honest calling” so that they could contribute to the colony, as well as taking care of themselves. This type of career education could be handled by artisans, shopkeepers or any professional person. Many children at the age of seven or eight (the age of my grade one kids) were sent to homes to work. They became
. Even the wealthy parents followed this tradition. By this age, boys usually decided on a craft or trade and remained in it all their life. How different from today!
The wealthy colonist children, if not an apprentice, attended private schools, or they had private teachers (tutors). These students were headed for the university. Although public schools were supposed to be established, most children were educated at home where they learned obedience, religion and the skills for daily life. In some towns, there were “dame” schools which were taught by widows in their own homes. These women taught only the basic skills as that was all they knew; they learned the alphabet, spelling, writing and simple arithmetic. Boys who attended these schools paid a penny a day.
When laws establishing schools were written, two kinds of schools were specifically mentioned: those that provided training in reading and writing, and those that would train for entrance into the university. Here Latin was used, and not many continued on in this type of school. Any town that had fifty or more families had to establish a school for reading and writing, and those towns with 100 or more were to set up
to prepare boys for the university. (Is this how the name grammar school for elementary grades came about?) This was often expensive to establish, so the grammar schools usually even included “petty scholars”—those not continuing into college.
Parents were expected to provide pens (actually quills), papers, books and firewood in the winter. If a pupil performed a task properly, they got to sit nearer the fire for warmth. If the schoolmaster felt a child needed discipline he tapped them on the head or across the hands with a heavy ruler. If the school master thought it was really necessary, a child could be whipped. Discipline and strict obedience were expected at all times.
Schools in Colonial times were not like our schools today. They ran all year and they used all the same texts. Since students withdrew and reenrolled depending on family life, it was easy to resume study. Part of the lesson in learning about schools and education at the two time periods would include a description of our building, number of classes, teachers and the number and ages of their classmates. We then would learn about the dame school and the one room school house or building that was often in need of repairs. There were no desks and nice backed chairs, only benches and tables and a seat for the schoolmaster, as well as a desk for the dictionary. There were not many children’s books during this period. Cotton Mather wrote
Good Lessons for Children in Verse
, and there was the
New England Primer
. Also included in this list would be Hughes
Easy Directions to Faire Writing
The Tutor to Writing and Arithmetic.
I found it interesting that
were used in early classrooms (to teach morals?). The basic book was the
that had the alphabet and numbers on one side and the Lord’s Prayer on the other. The hornbook was a little frame with a handle on it. A piece of paper was slipped into the frame, or sometimes just tacked onto what was a paddle. Sometimes letters were just drawn onto the wood itself. Paper was rare and was often made of rags. With the art teacher in our school, or the second grade teacher who has done this before, I would like to attempt making paper with the class. It could prove to be an interesting lesson. Spelling and simple arithmetic was taught using a hornbook also. In the enlargement picture of the hornbook, I would show the children that the lower case s was written as f except at the end of the word were s was used e.g. seffions. Lessons were often done in doggrel rhyme, one which even survives today, “Thirty days hath September . . . ” Most lessons were done aloud and in rote with no understanding of why. The ABC’s often included pictures and religious rhymes such as A “In Adam’s Fall We Sinned All,” B “Thy life to mend, This Book attend.” Since this was a religious society this is not all odd. But we don’t have computers, tape recorders, record players, crayons or a separation of church or state in these schools as we do now.
Who taught these schools with children of all ages in one room? We mentioned “dame” schools, but a regular one-room schoolhouse had a schoolmaster, often a young man, a graduate straight from Harvard or Yale, whose ultimate goal was to be a minister or lawyer. Generally he received only a Bible and a place to stay as payment. Sometimes they received corn or barley as a payment. They also received lodging in the homes of the towns folk. How would our children like it if their teacher boarded with them?
Schools however were generally for the boys. It was not customary to educate women since her place was the home. She didn’t have any economic pressure to earn her own living since she was going to get married and raise a family and care for her home, often at an early age. Women then were basically illiterate;.many could only sign their names with an x. If they did go to school, it was to a “dame” school where they taught some reading and knitting and maybe a little arithmetic, music and dancing. They were taught reading for Bible study and arithmetic for household expenses, not to encourage thinking! It was more important to learn how to be a housewife: to cook, to spin, to weave and to knit socks. Women and young girls during leisure time often embroidered samplers, they made fancy scarves and veils and did much quilting. I wonder how the boys and girls in my room would react to all these different learning methods, and how they would feel sitting all day on a chair without a back, and to strict adherence to rules? I plan to do a lesson on this with them.