Did Schoolteachers Really Know All This?

Did Schoolteachers Really Know All This?

I bought this old book about Pennsylvania history in a used bookstore awhile back. What a gem of information about education it contains! I'm a proponent of delaying early education until at least age seven, so it was refreshing to find this in the book: "The Assembly in 1683 ordered all parents to teach their children 'to read the Scriptures and to write by the time they attain twelve years of age.' " I was surprised by the "ordered" but relieved to learn that no fines were enforced and it was mostly there for encouragement. Also, though age twelve could seem a bit late, note how all parents are being encouraged to teach their children to read; homeschooling was clearly the norm.

When children studied outside the home, a group of families would get together (living in the same neighborhood) and hire a teacher to teach the children from someone's house. If they outgrew the house, they would build the one-room schoolhouse. Children were taught individually, in classes with a variety of ages, and they didn't move ahead until they had learned their material. And, teachers were obviously affordable. However, following the same principles, the same kind of schools still work today, if moms are willing to teach their children, or can afford to hire someone to teach them. 

Here's another gem from the book: "Immigrants who were educated in Europe often became private schoolmasters, advertising in the newspapers that they would teach algebra, geometry, trigonometry, surveying, navigation, french, Latin, Greek, rhetoric, English, belles lettres, logic, philosophy, and other subjects." Wow! Does anyone even know anyone who knows all of this today? If we do, they are usually not found teaching children!

When thinking about education for our own children, it's prudent to base our standards on what children used to learn, back when our literacy rates were at their highest (during the time of the one-room schoolhouse), rather than by what public schools teach today. We remark on how well our children do in public school, but compared to then, standards are so low today that there's not much to comment on. What the schools of old cared most about wasn't even academics; what they cared most about was character. How decent of a person were you? I cringe when I think how far we've strayed from this concern.

Lastly, "During the pre-industrial era, the schools generally taught the beliefs of the local church about God and man, sought to arouse a sense of man's responsibility to his Creator, and tried to establish moral guidelines for personal behavior." And, then the Industrial Revolution began and schools became the domain of the state. I want to believe, knowing how Pennsylvanians love independence, that they put up some sort of a fuss before handing their schools over. 

I do think we need to assume responsibility for our children's education, and work together to homeschool or to build schools that are more in line with how children learn best. A good education shouldn't be something for the privileged few; it isn't a sound education if it is. A sound education has to include raising a child to become aware of and concerned for the rest of humanity, not just for oneself.