Tag Archives: curriculum history

Friedrich Fröbel

Friedrich Fröbel (1782-1852) was an influential German teacher of the 18th and 19th centuries. This post will take a look at his life and views on education.


Frobel was the son of a clergyman. At an early age, his mother dies and Frobel moves to live with his uncle at the age of ten after his father remarried. As a child, Frobel developed a lifelong love of nature, which would manifest itself in many ways.

Despite being one of the most influential educators of all-time Frobel was seen as a lazy student by his teachers. By 15, Frobel was working as an apprentice to a forest manager. However, the forest manager was not much of a teacher and had little interest in helping Frobel. This compelled Frobel to study all of the forest manager’s books on his own which allowed him to develop an extensive knowledge of plants.

In 1799m Frobel goes to college and studies science, finance, history, and architecture. After completing school he worked as an architect but was not happy with his job. At the suggestion of a friend, Frobel tried teaching and immediately fell in love with it.

From 1808-1810, Frobel was under the guidance of John Pestalozzi and studied at Pestalozzi’s school. This experience had a deep impact on Frobel’s views on education and help to shape his approach towards his innovation in education know as the kindergarten.


Frobel focused heavily on early childhood education and developed the idea of the kindergarten or “child’s garden”. Frobel created the kindergarten to help mothers with the training and teaching of their small children.

In the kindergarten, the play of the student was systematized and serves as preparation for regular school. The children learn through there play various concepts that will help them in the future.

It can not be understated how influential kindergarten has been. Virtually every state in America offers some form of kindergarten and the majority require it. Frobel has made a strong mark in his work in early childhood education.

Frobel believed that early education was critical and should follow the natural development of the child. He agreed with Pestalozzi that education needs to address physical and spiritual needs.

One point of departure between Frobel and Pestalozzi is in regards to early childhood education. Frobel supported early school training outside the home while Pestalozzi was not as enthusiastic. In many ways, Frobel brought Pestalozzi’s ideas down to the youngest of students.


Frobel mark in educational history is assured as the founder of the concept of kindergarten that is still used to this day. All though there have been changes in early childhood education as the younger ages have become more academic. The idea of kindergarten is still there at least in name throughout the world.


Pestalozzi His life and Views on Education

John Pestalozzi (1746-1827) is one of the most influential educators of the most influential educators of the early 19th century and still one of the most influential educators today. This post will examine his life and his views on education.


Pestalozzi was born Zurich, Switzerland in 1746. His father died when he was a child and Pestalozzi was raised by his mother. As a student, Pestalozzi showed no signs of greatness and his teachers accuse d him of being lazy.

Despite this, Pestalozzi goes to college to studying theology before switching to law. After completing school he tried to be a farmer but failed. After his farming venture folded did he turn to teaching by starting his own school.

Teaching during the 18th-19th century was mostly an unappreciated experience. The teachers normally lacked training and were poorly paid. In addition, many leaders did not want the general public to be educated because they believed that educated people were harder to control.

Knowing or experience all this Pestalozzi started his school anyway only for it to fail as well. The main benefit of this experience was that He discovered his love for teaching.

In 1798, Pestalozzi moves to Stanze to care for 80 orphans who had suffered from war. He ran the entire operation by himself with only help from the children. Unfortunately, he had to leave less than a year later and spends several years as an assistant teacher.

In 1805, Pestalozzi starts his second school. This school was by far more successful than his first attempt and became a leader in innovative education in Europe at the time. All the students and teachers lived, ate, and study together. This operation lasted 20 before infighting finally destroyed it. Two years later in 1827, Pestalozzi died.

Educational Views

Pestalozzi views were not so much radical as they were distinct in focusing on the individual development of the child. Teaching should follow the natural progression of the child. In addition, students learn best through repetition and learning by doing.

Combing repetition with learning by doing means that a child should do it over and over again until they are comfortable. Again, it is natural for many children to learn this way. The teacher encourages this by supporting or scaffolding the learning experience of the student

Children should be taught the literal before the abstract because this is appropriate for their senses. This also leads to inductive teaching in many instances but not necessarily always.

Pestalozzi also emphasized that human nature consisted of the physical and moral capabilities. Pestalozzi was a Christian and was convinced that a child must learn more than academics but also develop a sense of right and wrong as prescribed by religion.


Pestalozzi work continues to impact teaching today. Almost every teaching education program talks about his work in one way or another. His philosophy of the whole child approach is a summary of what many believe education should be.

August Francke and Education

August Francke (1663-1727) was a Protestant minister in Germany during the 17th and 18th century. His influence on education was distinct in that he brought a distinct theological view to education. This post will examine his life and views on education.


Born in Germany in 1663 Francke studied the sciences, languages, philosophy, and theology at university. His primary complaint about his theological studies was that he understood what he studied but that he did not have a corresponding experience in his heart. In other words, Francke wanted an emotional experience about the theological concept he studied.

This search for an emotional heartfelt experience led Francke to become sympathetic towards pietism. Pietism was a theological movement that believed protestants should replace the dead orthodoxy of scholastic theology with an emotional or theology of the heart. In many ways, this was exactly what Francke was looking for and he embraces this immediately.

Around the same time circa 1687, Francke starts a school but soon leaves to become a professor at the University of Halle in 1691. It was while working at Halle that Francke reached out to the poor. Initially, his ministry was simple Bible studies. However, with time Francke and his people opened several schools and other institutions to support the poor in Germany. All this was done while he still taught at the university.

Educational Views

Francke believed that education should be linked with the future vocation of the student. This in stark contrast to the generalized education that is common in most countries today. Students destined for trades should have different education form students who are going to be merchants.

With his focus on the emotions, Francke had a lot to say in particular about classroom management. For example, he stated that a teacher should never discipline in anger. This may be because the children will think that discipline is about how people feel rather than right or wrong.

The teacher also needs to maintain discipline without being harsh and severe. Of course, this is easier said then done but it still needs to be said. On the other hand, a teacher also needs to avoid the other extreme of being too nice as this is equally detrimental. Again, this is easier said than done.

Lastly, Francke counsels teachers that they must be sure that they are not the source of the students’ behavior problems. In other words, the teacher’s poor management should not be the source of the misbehavior in a classroom. Misbehavior should originate from the student and not because of an inconsistent teacher.


Francke was a man who was looking for an emotional experience to support his theological knowledge. In reality, what he was looking for was the practical application of his theological knowledge. This is said because as Francke helped people according to his religion he also experience the emotional satisfaction he so desperately needed.

Life and Educational Views of John Locke

John Locke (1632-1704) was an influential philosopher during the 17th century. Locke also had some significant views on education. This post will look at Locke’s life and his positions on education.


Locke was born in 1632 in England. He went to college at Oxford and graduated in 1655. During, his university studies Locke developed a negative attitude toward the scholastic approach to education with its heavy emphasis on rote memorization. This experience would help to shape his educational views later in life.

After completing his bachelors, Locke attended medical school. Locke was not interested so much in being a doctor as in taking better care of his own health which he had problems with. After completing medical school, Locke work as a tutor to the son of an influential nobleman.

Due to the political actions of Locke’s boss he had to leave England for a time. However,  when a new king ascended the throne in England Locke was able to return. Upon returning Locke writes one of his most famous works “Essay Concerning Human Understanding” as well as other important works.

With his return to England, Locke actually worked for the government that used to be suspicious of him. He continued to serve until his health failed him and  he died in 1704.

Educational Views

Locke primarily had a practical view of education. The learning of a student should be focused on practical. Today it is tempting to spread a child across many subjects and electives but this was not what Locke supported. Education should be simplified and to the point

Locke did not hold that education should only be academic. Reading and writing are important but they were not everything in his view. This was in stark contrast to his scholastic education experience were academics is everything.

Locke believes that character development was the ultimate purpose of education. Understanding right from wrong and showing integrity were much more important than academic prowess.

Due to his medical training, Locke also supported the idea of an education that caters to the needs of the body. Fresh air, exercise, sleep, and a plain diet were critical to successful education.

Temperance was also another key item of success as the workload of the child should be adjusted to individual needs and not all the same. For Locke, a standardized education is insensible and treats children as objects rather than as living creatures. The teacher’s job is to study the child and find what is appropriate for them.

Locke also had much to say about language. He boldly claimed that the learning of Latin was overrated and really an activity for the upper class and not really for everybody. Locke also said that the best way to learn a language was through practice and not through the study of theoretical rules of language use.  In many ways here, Locke is laying the foundation for modern beliefs in TESOL.


John Locke was a highly influential philosopher of the 17th century who had unique views on education at his time. His ideas on wholistic education are still relevant today and his thoughts on language acquisition are perhaps the main view in that discipline today.

Life and Educational Views of John Comenius

John Comenius (1592-1670) was a Czech educator who has had a tremendous influence on education. This post will take a look at his life and educational philosophy.


Comenius was born in 1592. Early in life lost his parents and was raised by guardians. Due to this chaos, there were some delays in Comenius education as he did not study Latin until he was 16, which was considered late during this time.

Comenius late exposure to Latin allowed him to observe with a critical eye how it was taught compared to if he had studied as an uncritical small child. This would lay the foundation for his views towards language teaching and education in general.

Comenius would later go on to college and would graduate and take the position of minister in his church. These first few years were peaceful as he would work and marry. In addition, Comenius continues to nourish his views on education. However, were would soon break out and Comenius would lose all of his property in the process.

From here, Comenius goes fully into education and teaches and writes. Comenius would work in several countries writing about education as well as teaching. He focused a great deal on reforming how language was taught in particular Latin. In addition, he produced several highly influential books such as”The Gate of Tongues Unlocked” which may be one of the first language teaching books ever and “Didactic Magna” which may be one of the first books on teaching methods. In 1670, Comenius died at the age of 77.

Educational Views

Comenius believed that education should not only improve the main but should be focused on the development of the whole man which means physical, mental, and social development. The teaching should be inductive and based on examples. this means that you teach by using examples and have the students make conclusions.

The focus on inductive teaching and observation made Comenius critical of rote memorizing. Instead, understanding should be the primary goal. Lastly, Comenius was a support that everyone should be educated and not just males. This idea was somewhat ahead of its time.

Comenius is most famous for proposing grade levels. His system had four levels.

  1. Level 1 Domestic school-Home with mother
  2. Level Proper School-Basic reading and writing
  3. Latin School-College Preparation
  4. University

Comenius also had views on specifically teaching language. He supported teaching the mother tongue first until mastery. His point was that comprehension of the language must move in step with the tongue.  Comenius claimed there was no benefit to teaching a language without understanding. Of course, this is in strong contrast to Audiolingualism which is a strong support of nonsense repetition.

He also believed that learning by doing was the most appropriate way to learn a language. After the students do it you can teach them the rules. This allows the students to build on their strengths.


The life work of Comenius is an example of practical Reformation of educations. Many of his ideas and views are still influencing education to this day.

Wolfgang Ratich

Wolfgang Ratich (1571 – 1635)was a practitioner of education during the 17th century. His work during his lifetime was mostly a failure but time was a better judge of his practical insights into education. In addition, Ratich was an early influence on Comenius who was one of the greatest educators of all time.

Ratich studied philosophy and theology at university with the goal of becoming a preacher. However, a speech impediment put an early end to his career in ministry. This led him to try teaching as his career.

Views on Education

Ratich quickly formed strong views on education. He believed that children should study their mother tongue first before learning about others, which is an idea that is still supported to this day.

Teaching should also be inductive in nature which means that the students learn from examples and experience first and use these experiences to form conclusions. This was radical at the time because most believe that learning involved making grand conclusions first and finding support for them which is called deductive thinking.

Ratich also despised rote learning as intellectual harmful to students. He preferred to allow a child to learn according to nature. This idea was further spelled out in the work of Piaget and Kohlberg who stressed development in young children.

Language Teaching MEthod

Ratich method for teaching English was methodical, to say the least. His method included about 6 steps.

  1. Teach the alphabet
  2. Form words and syllables
  3. Teacher reads a book out loud to the class with students following along
  4. Students take turns reading parts of a chapter from the book the teacher read
  5. Teacher teaches grammar
  6. Students identify grammatical examples of the English terms in the book

It’s rather amazing this system worked. However, it was ahead of its time. Unfortunately, the results were mixed but maybe not for the method but rather because of the teacher


After several years of trying Ratch was finally allowed to put his ideas into practice at a school. With his thoughts on education and detailed method results were assumed o be coming. However, the school was a failure. This is due primarily to the poor people skills of Ratich

Ratich alienated everyone with his personality and stubbornness. He was rude and considered arrogant. Even Ratich’s religion was a point of contention as Ratich was Lutheran and he was living and working among Calvinist. Eventually, Ratich irritated the prince and was thrown in prison for a while before leaving.


Ratich in many had the right ideas and wrong personality. His ideas were revolutionary and in many ways laid the foundation for ideas in TESOL such as inductive learning, the use of authentic reading etc. Ratich only problem was Ratich which may be one of the lessons a young Comenius learned when he visited Ratich’s school.

Melancthon Life & Educatioal Views

This post will take a brief look at the life and educational views of Philip Melancthon (1497-1560) a highly influential protestant reformer in Germany.

Life of Melacthon

Melanchthon was considered by many to be a highly gifted prodigy. In addition to his mother tongue of German, Melanchthon was a master of Greek and Latin to a level that astonished his teachers.

In 1512, at the age of 15, Melanchthon did not start college, rather he would finish college. This means that he probably started university studies at 11-12 years of age. He was also supposed to receive his master degree but the university may him wait because of his age.

In 1518, Melancthon begins teaching and of course, was a phenomenal teacher. His primary field was theology and Greek but he was formidable in other areas as well. It was at this point in his life that Melancthon would become friends with Martin Luther, the reformer.

Melancthon was also a prodigious writer of books. He wrote on various subjects including Greek, Latin, ethics, logic, rhetoric, physics, and theology. Some of the textbooks he wrote were so good that they were used for almost 100 years. A feat that is impossible to with the speed at which new knowledge now develops.

Views on Education

Melancthon believed in leading by example and that attitude was contagious. Target students to study teacher needed to have energy and enthusiasm for the subject. Melancthon was a voracious student and at times this infected his students as well.

Melancthon also developed what is now known as the “Saxony Plan.”  This plan was a brief philosophy of education with three tenets.

  1. Teachers should not teach children several languages at the same time. This is overwhelming for the child. Instruction in Germany should first be focused on Latin.
  2. Teachers should not teach too many subjects. This also is damaging to the student.
  3. Development of different levels or classes should be used. Melancthon, in particular, believed that there should be three grades or classes for young students.
    • LEvel 1-Teaches reading, writing, arithmetic and basic concepts from the Bible
    • Level 2-Adds Latin  grammar and continues bible instruction
    • Level 3-More Latin along with rhetoric, logic, and classes were now taught in Latin

Looking back, these ideas do not seem revolutionary, however, at the time these were ground-breaking concepts. Melancthon was reacting to common teaching habits of the time. In other words, it was common to teach children several languages at once, to focus on too many subjects, and to not have the students organized into groups based on ability.


Melancthon provides us with a look at a reformer of education during the protestant reformation. His work as a teacher and scholar is second to none. In addition, his ideas on education help to rectify many problems in German education at the time.

Educational Views of Michel Montaigne

By the 16th century, the Renaissance was in full swing, the Protestant Reformation had already been around for over a generation and people had serious doubts about the intellectual and spiritual grip the Church had on society. Since the Church also controlled education people began to question these methods. As this wave of humanism swept Europe.

It was during this time of doubt and skepticism that Michel Montaigne (1533-1592) arrived on the scene. Montaigne was not so much an educator as he was a person who had a strong opinion of how education should be. He also knew how to write witty insightful essays on the subject of education along with other subjects of his interest. This post will take a brief look at his life and educational philosophy

Montaigne’s Life

Montaigne was born into a well to do family in France in 1533. He was natural brilliant and was able to speak Latin, in addition to his mother tongue of French by the age of six. Yes, Montaigne was brilliant but he also had a German tutor who did not know French and used Latin to communicate with the child.

By 13, Montaigne had finished college. He turned his attention to politics and was a member of parliament by the age of 20. Soon after, he became mayor of his 20. Despite what looked to be a brilliant political future Montaigne left politics after becoming Mayor to live a life of quietness. Since he was already well off he did not need to endure the rigors of financial gain and power to maintain his livelihood.

It was in this semi-retirement that Montaigne began writing his famous humanistic “Essays” on various subjects. In fact, Montaigne was one of the first people to popularize the idea of an essay, which is now standard practice in school today. Our attention will be on his views on education.

Views on Education

Montaigne views on education were almost a reaction against Church views on education. Montaigne believed in a wholistic education of the man and not to divide him into pieces. He also criticized the study of Latin and Greek because he supported the development of the mother tongue first. This debate over mother tongue use is a recurring theme in early language education.

Montaigne also criticized the study of the classics as it did not prepare students for practical life but rather bade them conceited. Another target of criticism was the teaching methods of the day, which were often lecture-style. Montaigne views this pouring knowledge into the mind and not useful for the student.

Montaigne supported a more interactional approach to teaching in which the students and teacher take turns talking and listening. THrough action came understanding in his opinion.

Finally, Montaigne was a critic of corporal punishment. He viewed almost as if one was training an animal rather than a person. Again most of these criticisms were of common practices in education at that time period and the education was mostly controlled by the church.


Montaigne was a theoretician on education but not much of a practitioner. His experience as a student led him to write strong reactionary criticisms against education. In spite of his lack of practical experience Montaigne’s thoughts are highly insightful and somewhat applicable to this day.

Luther and Educational Reform

Martin Luther (1483-1546) is best known for his religious work as one of the main catalysts for the Protestant Reformation. However, Luther was also a powerful influence on education during his lifetime. This post will take a look at Luther’s early life and his contributions to education

Early Life

Luther was born during the late 15th century. His father was a tough miner with a severe disciplinarian streak. You would think that this would be a disaster but rather the harsh discipline gave Luther a toughness that would come in handy when standing alone for his beliefs.

Upon reaching adulthood Luther studied law as his father diseased for him to become a lawyer. However, Luther decided instead to become a monk much to the consternation of his father.

As a monk, Luther was a diligent student and studied for several additional degrees. Eventually, he was given an opportunity to visit Rome which was the headquarters of his church. However, Luther saw things there that troubled him and in many laid the foundation for his doubt in the direction of his church.

Eventually, Luther had a serious issue with several church doctrines. This motivated him to nail his 95 theses onto the door of a church in 1517. This act was a challenge to defend the statements in the theses and was actually a common behavior among the scholarly community at the time.

For the next several years it was a back forth intellectual battle with the church. A common pattern was the church would use some sort of psychological torture such as the eternal damnation of his soul and Luther would ask for biblical evidence which was normally not given. Finally, in 1521 at the Diet of Worms, Luther was forced to flee for his life and the Protestant Reformation had in many was begun.

Views on Education

Luther’s views on education would not be considered radical or innovative today but they were during his lifetime. For our purposes, we will look at three tenets of Luther’s position on education

  • People should be educated so they can read the scriptures
  • Men and women should receive an education
  • Education  should benefit the church and state

People Should be Educated so they Can Read the Scriptures

The thought that everyone should be educated was rather radical. By education, we mean developing literacy skills and not some form of vocational training. Education was primarily for those who needed it which was normally the clergy, merchants, and some of the nobility.

If everyone was able to read it would significantly weaken the churches position to control spiritual ideas and the state’s ability to maintain secular control, which is one reason why widespread literacy was uncommon. Luther’s call for universal education would not truly be repeated until Horace Mann and the common school. movement.

The idea of universal literacy also held with it a sense of personal responsibility. No one could rely on another to understand scripture. Everyone needs to know how to read and interpret scripture for themselves.

Men and Women Should be Educated

The second point is related to the first. Luther said that everyone should be educated he truly meant everyone. This means men and women should learn literacy. The women could not hide behind the man for her spiritual development but needed to read for herself.

Again the idea of women education was controversial at the time. The Greeks believed that educating women was embarrassing although this view was not shared by all in any manner.

WOmen were not only educated for spiritual reasons but also so they could manage the household as well. Therefore, there was a spiritual and a practical purpose to the education of women for Luther

Education Benefits the Church and the State

Although it was mentioned that education had been neglected to maintain the power of the church and state. For Luther, educated citizens would be of a greater benefit to the church and state.

The rationale is that the church would receive ministers, teachers, pastors, etc. and the state would receive future civil servants. Therefore, education would not tear down society but would rather build it up.


Luther was primarily a reformer but also was a powerful force in education. His plea for the development of education in Germany led to the construction of schools all over the Protestant controlled parts of Germany. His work was of such importance that he has been viewed as one of the leading educational reformers of the 16th century.

Education During the Reformation

By the 16th century, Europe was facing some major challenges to the established order of doing things. Some of the causes of the upheaval are less obvious than others.

For example, the invention of gunpowder made knights useless. This was significant because now any common soldier could be more efficient and useful in battle than a knight that took over ten years to train. This weakened the prestige of the nobility at least temporarily while adjustments were made within the second estate and led to a growth in the prestige of the third estate who were adept at using guns.

The church was also facing majors issues. After holding power for almost 1000 years people began to chaff at the religious power of Europe. There was a revival in learning that what aggressively attacked by monks, who attacked the study of biblical languages accusing this as the source of all heresies.

The scholars of the day mock religion as a superstition. Furthermore, the church was accused of corruption and for abusing power. The scholars or humanists called for a return to the Greek and Romans classics, which was the prevailing worldview before the ascension of Catholicism.

Out of the chaos sprang the protestant reformation which rejects the teachings of the medieval church. The Protestants did not only have a different view on religion but also on how to educate as we shall see.

Protestant Views of Education

A major tenet of Protestantism that influenced their view on education was the idea of personal responsibility. What this meant was that people needed to study for themselves and not just listen to the teacher. In a spiritual sense that meant reading the Bible for one’s self. In an educational sense, it meant confirming authority with personal observation and study.

Out of this first principal springs two other principles which are education that matches an individual’s interest and the study of nature. Protestants believed that education should support the natural interest and ablities of a person rather than the interest of the church.

This was and still is a radical idea. Most education today is about the student adjusting themselves to various standards and benchmarks developed by the government. Protestants challenged this view and said education should match the talents of the child. If a child shows interest in woodworking teach this to him. If he shows interest in agriculture teach that to him.

To be fair, attempts have been made in education to “meet the needs” of the child and to differentiate instruction. However, these goals are made in order to take a previously determined curriculum and make it palpable to the student rather than designing something specifically for the individual student. The point is that a child is more than a cog in a machine to be trained as a screwdriver or hammer but rather an individual whose value is priceless.

Protestants also support the study of nature. Be actually observing nature it reduced a great deal of the superstition of the time. At one point, the religious power of Europe forbade the study of human anatomy through the performing autopsies. In addition, Galileo was in serious trouble for denying the geocentric model of the solar system. Such restrictions stalled science for years and were removed through Protestantism.


The destabilization that marks the reformation marks a major break in history. With the decline of the church came the rise of the common man to a position of independent thought and action. These ideas of personal responsibility came from the growing influence of Protestants in the world.

Secular Education During the Middle Ages

The Middle Ages (500-1500 CE) is often viewed as a low point in the world of education. This was a time a strong superstition among people and a lack of scientific progress.

The European world was divided into three classes or estates which were the Priest, Nobility, and lastly, everyone else. These were the three estates. The Priestly estate held significant power over the other two estates. The priests would use the psychological terror of removal from having access to the sacraments of the church to maintain power.

When an individual was denied the sacraments it was called excommunication, when a region loss access to the sacraments it was called an interdict, final if an entire province or kingdom was denied the sacraments war was then declared and this was called a crusade.

There were two common forms of education below the university and these were the Knightly schools and the Burgher schools.

Knightly Schools

Knightly schools trained boys to become knights. The training was divided into 3 segments of seven years each. The first segment was from 0-7 years of age under the care of the mother. From ages 7-14, the boy would live with another knight perhaps as a page. The third stage from 14-21 had the boy serving as a squire. At the age of 21, a young man was declared a knight.

The subjects taught in the KNightly practicum focused on the physical, artistic, and strategic. Music, chess, manners, poetry, and military training were all part of the curriculum. There was almost no intellectual training but an obsession with practical learning.

Burgher Schools

Burgher Schools were for tradesmen and artisans and provided a basic education. The subject taught included reading, writing, and arithmetic as well as geography, history, natural science, and Latin.

THere was a constant power struggle between commoners and the priest for control of these schools. Locals wanted to control these schools themselves. However, technically only the church had permission to teach. This resulted in alternating back and forth in terms of control.

Teachers in these schools were paid almost nothing and traveled from school to school as vagrants. Teaching was not seen as a noble profession at this time thus having a powerful effect on the quantity and quality of education.


Education in the Middle Ages was designed to meet the needs of the three estates. People would often attend school corresponding to their rank in society. This system had an air of stability until rapid social changes brought about the decline of this system.

Monastic Schools

During the early Middle Ages (500-1000 CE) monastic schools began to take shape and heavily influence education. Their influence was felt for over a millennia providing education directly or indirectly to a countless number of people.


The monastic schools grew out of the philosophy of Asceticism. Asceticism is the belief in a life of severe self-denial from the viewpoint that the body was evil. Practitioners of asceticism would forego marriage, financial gain, and most earthly pursuits, in order to focus on spiritual development usually in isolation. This a strong reaction to the non-Christian world’s focus on eating a drinking

There were two common ways to follow Asceticism. Hermits would often live in nearly complete isolation to pursue spiritual development. Monks, on the other hand, practice asceticism as well but would stay near communities of people in order to provide spiritual care for others. In addition, monks would live together in monasteries to support and encourage each other. Of course, at least in the past, monks were only men. Women could become nuns if they desired to live in similar conditions among women.

The largest order of monks was the Bendectin Order. The monasteries served as an asylum for the oppressed, as a missionary station, and most importantly as a preserver of knowledge.


The curriculum of the monastic schools consisted of the 7 liberal arts. These seven subjects can be broken into two categories, which are the trivium and the quadrivium.

The Trivium consisted of three subjects which were Latin, logic, and rhetoric. Latin was the lingua Franca of the Chuch at the time so its grammar was taught extensively. Logic was derived from the ideas of Aristotle and included deductive and inductive reasoning. Rhetoric is another term for public speaking and this was studied for the purpose of developing communication skills.

The quadrivium consisted of four subjects which were arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. Many of the subjects are not studied as they are today. Arithematic study the mysterious or gnostic properties of numbers. Geometry was studied superficial and of little use. Astronomy was treated almost the same as astrology.

However, music was studied for the purpose of worship. The chants that the monks sang came to be called Gregorian chants named after Pope Gregory who had the chants codified. This is some of the earliest written version of western music. The notational system was different from modern notation using four lines instead of five and use squares instead of ovals to indicate notes.

The significance of Gregorian chants cannot be overestimated as they laid the foundation for modern music. Chants in the halls of monasteries provided the beginnings of most music found today.


Radical views in terms of the body led to the idea of asceticism. From this focus on self-denial comes the idea of living among like-minded people in monasteries. While in monasteries the monks would pursue education for personal development. This led to the liberal arts curriculum that is still used in part to this day.


Education in the Early Church

The early church provides a unique look at the development of a system of religious education fairly recently in history. With the death of the apostles, believers who were still alive had to face the reality of two major problems.

  1. What do we do with our children in terms of their education?
  2. How do we educate people who want to join the church?

The answers to these two questions intersect in many ways. This post will examine education in the early church.

Education of Children

The education of children was a problem for the early church. Children needed an education but state-run schools were not really an option. The reason has to do with the difference in philosophy of Christian education and state education.

Christian education is focused on character development and being prepared for eternity. In contrast, state education is focused on skill development and the here and now as eternity is often not a concern. As a result of this, Christians did not consider state-controlled schools as an option for their children.

In addition, it was common for state-led schools to mix Roman worship with education and for the Christians this was unacceptable. It is also important to realize that Christians were frequently persecuted as atheists during this time so it was impossible to go to school when one’s life was in danger.

The solution to this was the one that the Jews used, which was homeschooling. The focus of the child’s training was to develop a trust in the Christian God. By keeping the child at home he or she was protected from the influence of the world for a time. This led to a simplicity of taste that non-Christians found bewildering.

The Bible was the sole book for most children. The stories within it served as nursery tales. Scripture was memorized and the Bible was even used for learning to read.

With the focus on character development and a sense of morals, Christian education was vastly different from the education of other societies. Even without the focus on the classics and even technical training Christians were a spectacle to the world at this time. In terms of the results of this education among women one heathen author exclaimed “What wives these Christians have” indicating his awe in how these people conducted themselves.

Catechetical Schools

As the church grew, it became difficult to address the needs of new members. In particular, there were concerns over how to prepare prospective members for church membership. One answer to this problem was the development of Catechetical schools which were a place for prospective and current members to receive training in Christian beliefs.

For people considering baptism, the training could last anywhere from a few months to as long as three years. The curriculum consisted of learning the Ten Commandments, Lord’ Prayer, other parts of scripture, and as well as a confession of faith.

For people who were already Christian, they could receive advanced training that would prepare them for ministerial work as a teacher or leader. Some of the subjects covered for believers included philology, rhetoric, math, and philosophy.

The most prominent of these schools was found in Alexandria, Egypt. For several centuries after this,  Alexandria has a powerful influence on the Christian church.


The purpose of education is to meet the needs of the people in the context in which it is needed. The Early Christian Church had the dilemma of having to be separate from the world while still developing skills needed to survive in it. This led to the development of the homeschool for children and the Catechetical School for new converts.

Education in Ancient Rome

The Roman Empire was around in one form or another for over 1,000 years. To attempt to try and cover the educational approach of an empire over such a long period is not practical in a blog post. Instead, certain key ideas will be highlighted to provide a brief picture.


The Romans had a war-like spirit due in part to the context in which they found themselves. They were surrounded by enemies on all sides and had no choice but to fight for their survival. This war context influence education in that the Romans were focused on a practical utilitarian education for their children. This is in stark contrast to the aesthetic education of the Greeks who loved beauty for beauty sake.

Another unique characteristic of Roman society was the status given to women. Women in Roman culture were often viewed as Queens of the Household and wielded tremendous power behind their husbands.

What they Taught

The Romans taught the same basic subjects of many other ancient cultures. Some of the subjects included reading, writing, math. grammar, poetry. However, due to their practical nature, the early Roman empire did not have a strong aesthetic culture. This came later as Rome began to absorb and imitate Greek life.

How Learning was Organized

Education was divided into three main stages of life. The first stage lasted from birth until about the age of 7 and was under the mother. Basic life skills were taught and not too much in terms of academics. Later, the mothers would reject this responsibility and leave their children in the care of a pedagogue but this did not happen until Rome began to decline.

From ages 7-12 a child went to elementary school and studied under a literature. Being a literator was often viewed negatively as someone who had failed in life. Therefore, primary education was full of washed up men. Corporal punishment was common as well and stern discipline was instilled.

From age 12-16 a boy would receive advanced training under a literatus. Unlike the primary teacher, the literator, the literatus was highly respected and could earn a great deal of money from his occupation.

At the age of 16, a boy was considered an adult and would pursue his life work which could be anything such as agriculture, law, politics, military, etc. were some of the many options available.


Roman education was focused on what was necessary to improve the practical life of the people. There quest for conquered lands help them to spread their influence over the entire planet.  Therefore, Rome is remembered for their sense of independence that is still remembered until this day.

Education in Ancient Athens

In many ways, Athens is the home of Western thinking. Countless philosophers were either from Athens or at least spent time there. In this post, we will take a look at education in Ancient Athens.


Athens is located in Central Greece and during antiquity had a population of about 500,000 with about 80% of this population being slaves. This huge disparity between freemen and slaves makes it more amazing that a population of only 100,000 could contribute so much to history.

Generally, slaves and women were not educated. It was considered embarrassing for women to obtain an education. It was the father’s responsibility to educate his son for usefulness.  Failure to do so meant the father forfeited whatever support his son would give him in old age.

The government was shaped largely by Solon. As a democracy, Greece was revolutionary for its time. Solon also established other laws such as outlawing the selling of children and requiring fathers to train their children.

What they Taught

The Athenian education was focused on aesthetics. The idea of beauty influenced everything that was taught.  Subjects taught in Ancient Athens included reading, writing, rhetoric, math, philosophy, music, and poetry. Music and poetry often worked together as poems were set to music. Music was viewed positively as a hobby but professional musicians were looked down on as common laborers.

Physical education was also rigorously taught as beauty was so important. Subjects include swimming, wrestling, running, jumping. One field of study that was often neglected was moral training. The Greek gods were not the best role models.

In place of morals, Greek boys were taught to be patriotic, respect religious rights, and generally to always strive to maintain a good appearance in public.

The teaching methods involved primarily transmission approaches. The teacher would read or say something and the student wrote it down. This was how most subjects were taught.

How they Organized Education

There were essential four levels of education in Ancient Greece. From 0-6 years of age, a boy was under domestic training under his mother or a nanny. Nannys were for the rich.

From 7-14 years of age, the boy was placed under a guardian called a pedagogue and sent to school. There he studied with private teachers the basics of education.

From 14-18 there was a split, the rich continue their education while the poor would branch off and focus on learning a trade from their fathers. For the rich, they would study more complex subjects such as philosophy or higher match. At 18 years of age, a boy would enter military service.


The education found in Ancient Athens was unique in its focus on aesthetics. However, there was at times an indifference to substance and there was almost no interest in moral development. However, educational systems have their flaws and even Ancient Athens is without exception in this regard.

The Life of Pythagoras


Pythagoras was a highly influential educator during the time of ancient Greece. In this post, we will take a brief look at his life and impact on education.

Early Life

Pythagoras was born around 570BC on the island of Samos. His early life was spent in private study. However, as a young man, Pythagoras traveled to Egypt to acquire additional education.

Down To Egypt

While in Egypt, Pythagoras studied with the Egyptian priest. The Egyptian priest were the masters of education in Egypt and was the only class in Egypt that received an advanced education. Under their tutelage, Pythagoras was exposed to various math and science subjects as well as some of the religious practices of Egypt. He was particularly touched by their way of life and it led him to develop his own style of living that would eventually be called Pythagoreanism.

After completing additional studies in Egpyt, Pythagoras moved to Italy and founded his own school. The school had essentially two levels which were the exoteric and esoteric. Students began in the exoteric studies and stayed there for at least 3 years. After completing exoteric studies a student would begin esoteric studies with Pythagoras himself.

In Italy

The subjects taught at Pythagoras’ school includes physics, geography, medicine, math and even metaphysics. In terms of math, it was Pythagoras who gave algebra students the Pythagorean theorem which states that the square of a  hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the square of the base and the square of the height as shown in the expression below

 base2 + height2 = hypotenuse2

Pythagoras also had distinct metaphysical views. He believed in one true called as a form of monotheism. This was in stark contrast to the commonly held beliefs of Greece at the time. Christianity was a rather strong religion at this time and it is possible that Pythagoras may have come into contact with this religion.

Pythagoras also believed in the transmigration of the soul. This essentially means that when an animal died they would come back as a lower animal. This is in many ways a form of reincarnation. It was simply another way of saying “You shall not really die” which was an idea shared in a garden by a snake to a woman.

Pythagoras’ school was known for being authoritative, strict, and even have a habit of being aristocratic. This along with other ideas made Pythagoras school unpopular. So unpopular that a mob would eventually burn his school down to the ground.


It is not clear if Pythagoras died in the flames or lived on as scholars are still debating this. What can be seen is that Pythagoras view of education has continued to live on to this day. His way of life had an influence on many people and his contribution to mathematics has touched the life of practical every algebra student on the planet.

Education in Ancient Sparta

With Ancient Greece there was a small city-state called Sparta. MAny today know of Sparta because of the movies that have been made of this war-like people. Spartan education was primarily a one about military training.

The reason for this emphasis on developing soldiers was due in part to the context in which the Spartans lived. In their own country, they were a minority with a large population of neighboring freeman and an even larger population of slaves. The only way in the Spartans minds to maintain power was through the use of strength. As such this was the focus of their education.


The founder of the government of what makes up classical Sparta was Lycurgus. After spending time in Egypt Lycurgus came to Sparta and developed their constitution. Some of the practices he made lawe included the making all money out of iron to discourage greed and to require men to live in barracks together to encourage unity towards the military and state over the family.

By discouraging greed and familial affections Spartan men were focused on developing strength and military prowess almost to the exclusion of anything else. What else is there for a man to do when he cannot acquire wealth or enjoy his family?

One last point to mention is that children were seen as the property of the state. In a rather cruel way, weak children were eliminated at birth and only the strong were allowed to live. This further strengthens the idea of the state over family.

What They Learned

The training was primarily physical in nature. Young boys were taken from their homes at the age of 7 to live in the state barracks. Once there, they were given a minimum amount of clothes and food. The cold and hunger often compelled the boys to steal. Stealing was actually encourage as it taught stealth. However, being caught was punished severely because it indicated carelessness, which could prove deadly on the battlefield.

Gymnastics, wrestling, and the use of weapons were also emphasized. Despite the contradiction in encouraging stealing the Spartan education also strongly inculcated moral training as well. Boys were to control their appetites, respect the aged as well as their parents, and to be indifferent to suffering. It was considered shameful to lose control of one’s behavior in any way. This naturally discourages such behaviors as drunkness.

Unlike other ancient cultures, the Spartans loved music and spent a large of amount of free time developing this skill. Songs were frequently about war and brave acts.

Women also received an education and the focus was on the development of the physical nature.

How Were They Taught

Spartan boys were taught primarily by the senior citizens or the aged of the society. The old would spend time with the young boys. The common forms of instruction involved a question and answer format. This instilled a great deal of practical wisdom in the youth.

Another primary method of learning was imitation. Young people would learn simply through copying the actions and behaviors of the aged. This imitation of the aged rather than of other young people help Spartans to mature and develop a seriousness to them that would be hard to find in young people today.


The Spartans were a military culture with a strong state apparatus. Their educational system was developed to suppress the people around them in an attempt to maintain their own safety. This desire to survive contributed to a highly oppressive system from the viewpoint of an outsider but perhaps a saving grace for the Spartan.

Education in Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt is perhaps one of the oldest if not the oldest civilization on the planet. With a rich history dating several thousand years Egypt also had a reputation for education as well. This post will discuss education in Egypt with a focus on training by caste.


Egypt was famous for their wisdom and architectural work. In terms of architecture, we are probably all familiar with the pyramids that are still standing after several thousand years. In terms of wisdom, Egypt was so highly regarded in the past that the Greeks sent several future philosophers and leaders to Egypt to study. Among those who went include Plato perhaps the greatest philosopher of all time, Lycurgus, the founder of Sparta, and Solon, the famous Athenian Statesman.

Egypt also had a strong caste system similar to India’s. There were essentially three classes. At the top were the priests, second, was the military, and the lowest classes was everybody else. The lowest class was also sub-divided into three subclasses of farmers/boatmen, then mechanics and tradesman, and lastly the herdsman, fishermen, and laborers. A person was born into their class and it was almost impossible to move from one to the other.

The priestly class was also exempt from taxes and owned as much as 1/3 of the land in Egypt. Their skills and training also commanded high salaries. Egypt was essentially a priests’ country in terms of status and privileges.

What They Study

The education an Egyptian received was heavily influenced by the caste they came from. The priest received the most extensive training. They studied philosophy, natural history, medicine, math, history, law, etc. With this training, a person from the priestly caste could be a physician, historian, surveyor, customs inspector, judge, counselor, etc.

Everyone else received a basic education depending on their occupation. Merchants learned how to read, write, and perform simple math. Tradesman only learned their trade from their parents.

The writing was also divided along class lines. THere were two types of writing systems. The Demotic style was for the masses while the Hieratic style was for the priestly class. The main difference between these two styles is the proportion of hieroglyphics used.

Two subjects commonly ignored in Egyptian education was gymnastics and music. Gymnastics was considered dangerous due to the risk of bodily harm. Music was considered to have an effminate influence on a man if studied to excess.


Ancient Egyptian was unique in terms of the dominance of the priestly class. The priest was allowed to study extensively while everyone else did not seem to enjoy the same access to education. This allowed the priest to wield tremendous informal power within Egypt and to quietly work behind the scenes to achieve goals

Education in Ancient China

As one of the oldest civilizations in the world, China has a rich past when it comes to education. This post will explore education in Ancient China by providing a brief overview of it. The following topics

  1. Background
  2. What was Taught
  3. How was it Taught
  4. The Organization of what was Taught
  5. The Evidence Students Provided of their Learning


Ancient Chinese education is an interesting contrast. On the one hand, they were major innovators of some of the greatest invention of mankind which includes paper, printing, gunpowder, and the compass. On the other hand, Chinese education in the past was strongly collective in nature with heavy governmental control. There was extreme pressure to conform to ancient customs and independent deviate behavior was looked down upon.  Despite this, there as still innovation.

Most communities had a primary school and most major cities had a college. Completing university study was a great way to achieve a government position in ancient China.

What Did they Teach

Ancient Chinese education focused almost exclusively on Chinese Classics. By classics, it is meant the writings of mainly Confucius. Confucius emphasized strict obedience in a hierarchical setting. The order was loosely King, Father, Mother, then the child. Deference to authority was the ultimate duty of everyone. There is little surprise that the government support such an education that demanded obedience to them.

Another aspect of Confucius writings that was stressed was the Five Cardinal Virtues which were charity, justice, righteousness, sincerity, and conformity to tradition. This was the heart of the moral training that young people received. Even leaders needed to demonstrate these traits which limited abuses of power at times.

What China is also famous for in their ancient curriculum is what they did not teach.  Supposedly, they did not cover in great detail geography, history, math, science, or language. The focus was on Confucius apparently almost exclusively.

How Did they Teach

Ancient Chinese education was taught almost exclusively by rote memory. Students were expected to memorized large amounts of information.  This contributed to a focus on the conservation of knowledge rather than the expansion of it. If something new or unusual happened it was difficult to deal with since there was no prior way already developed to address it.

How was Learning Organized

School began at around 6-7 years of age in the local school. After completing studies at the local school. Some students went to the academy for additional studies.  From Academy, some students would go to university with the hopes of completing their studies to obtain a government position.

Generally,  the education was for male students as it was considered shameful to not educate a boy. Girls often did not go to school and often handle traditional roles in the home.

Evidence of Learning

Evidence of learning in the Chinese system was almost strictly through examinations. The examinations were exceedingly demanding and stressful. If a student was able to pass the gauntlet of rot memory exams he would achieve his dream of completing college and joining the prestigious Imperial Academy as a Mandarin.


Education in Ancient China was focused on memorization, tradition,  and examination. Even with this focus, Ancient China developed several inventions that have had a significant influence on the world. Explaining this will only lead to speculation but what can be said is that progress happens whether it is encouraged or not.

Education in Ancient Israel

The Nation of Israel as described in the Bible has a rich and long history of several thousand years. This particular group of people believed that they are the keepers of the knowledge of the true God. Their influence in religion is remarkable in that a large part of the theology of Christianity is derived from Hebrew writings.

In this post, we will only look at a cross-section of Hebrew education around the time of the time of the monarchy period of David and Solomon.

What Did they Teach

The goal of Hebrew education was to produce people who obeyed God. This is in stark contrast to other educational systems that emphasized obeying earthly rulers. The Hebrew system stress first allegiance to God and then allegiance to man when this did not conflict with the will of God. When there was a disagreement in terms of what man and God commanded the Hebrew was taught to obey  God. This thinking can be traced even in Christianity with the death of martyrs throughout Church history.

The educational system was heavily inspired by their sacred writings. At the time we are looking at, the majority of the writings were by Moses. The writings of Moses provide a detailed education of health principles, morality, and precise explanation of performing the rites of the sacrificial system.

The sacrificial system in the Hebrew economy is particularly impressive in that the ceremonies performed were all meant to help the Israelites remember what God had done for them and to be shadows of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ as understood by some Christian theologians.

In order for children to learn all of the laws and sacred writings of their nation, it required that almost everyone learn to read. People were held personally responsible to understand their role in society as well as in how to treat others and God’s will for them. Again this is in contrast to other religions in which people simply obeyed the religious leaders. The Jew was expected to know for themselves what their religion was about.

How Did They Teach

Despite the theocratic nature of the government and the details of the religious system, the educational system in Ancient Israel was highly decentralized. The school was the home and the teachers were the parents. Most nations that reached the strength and level of the Monarchy of Israel had a state ran educational system. However, the Hebrews never had this.

The decentralized nature of education is unusual because secular leaders normally want to mold the people to follow and obey them. In Israel, this never happens because of the focus on serving God. The personalized education allowed children to grow as individuals rather than as cogs in a nation-state machine. The idea of allowing parents to all educate their children as they decide would seem chaotic in today’s standardized world. Yet the Israel monarchy lasted as long as any other kingdom in the world.

How Did They Organize 

Once a child completed their studies they would learn a trade and begin working. Higher education was not focused on secular matters and was often reserved for the priestly class to learn skills related to their office. Example include law, sacred writings weights and measures, and astronomy to determine when the various feast days would be.

Another form of additional education was the Schools of the Prophets. Apparently, these were independent institutions that provided training in the scriptures, medicine, and law. At least one author claims that the Schools of the Prophets were established because Hebrew parents were neglecting the education of their children.  In other words, when the parents began to neglect the education of their children is when the nation begin to decline as well.


The Israelite educational system during the early monarchy period was an interesting example of contrasts. Highly detailed yet decentralized in execution, focused on obeying God yet having a monarchy that probably wanted to keep power, and little regard for higher education while producing some of the most profound theological works of all-time.  The strength of this system would be considered a weakness in many others.

Education in Ancient Persia

The Persian Empire was one of the great empires of ancient civilization. It was this Empire that defeated the Babylonians. This post will provide a brief examination of the educational system of Persia.


The religion of Persia was Zoroastrianism. The priestly class of Persia were called Magi. They responsible for sacred duties as well as the education of princes.

These are the same Magi that are found in the Bible in reference to the birth of Jesus. Due to their priestly responsibilities and knowledge of astronomy, this information merged to compel the Magi to head to Jerusalem to see Christ as a small child.

Teachers for the commoners were normally retired soliders. Exemption from the military began at the age of 50. At this age, if a male was able to live this long, he would turn his attention the education of the next generation.

What was Taught

The emphasis in Persian education was gymnastics, moral, and military training. The physical training was arduous, to say the least. Boys were pushed well nigh to their physical limits.

The moral training was also vigourously instilled. Boys were taught to have a strong understanding of right and wrong as well as a sense of justice. Cyrus the Great shared a story about how, as a boy, he was called to judge a case about coats. Apparently, a large student had a small coat and a small student had a large coat. The large student forced the small student to switch coats with him.

When Cyrus heard this story he decided that the large boy was right because both boys now had a coat that fitted him. The large boy had a large coat and the small boy had a small coat. However, Cyrus’ teacher was disappointed and beat him. Apparently, the question was not which coat fit which boy but rather which coat belonged to which boy.

Something that was neglected in ancient Persian education was basic literacy. The reading, writing, and arithmetic were taught at a minimal level. These skills were left for the Magi to learn almost exclusively.

How Was the Curriculum Organized

From the age of 0-7 education was in the home with the mother. From 7-15 boys were educated by the state and were even considered state property. After the age of 15, students spent time learning about justice in the marketplace.

Girls did not receive much of an education. Rather, they focused primarily on life in the home. This included raising small children and other domestic duties.


Persia education was one strongly dominated by the state. The purpose was primarily to mold boys into just, moral soldiers who could serve to defend and expand the empire. This system is not without merit as it held an empire together for several centuries. The saddest part may be the loss of individual freedom and expression at the expense of government will.

Education in Ancient India

In this post, we take a look at India education in the ancient past. The sub-continent of India has one of the oldest civilizations in the world. Their culture has had a strong influence on both the East and West.


One unique characteristic of ancient education in India is the influence of religion. The effect of Hinduism is strong. The idea of the caste system is derived from Hinduism with people being divided primarily into four groups

  1. Brahmins-teachers/religious leaders
  2. Kshatriyas-soldiers kings
  3. Vaisyas-farmers/merchants
  4. Sudras-slaves

This system was ridged. There was no moving between caste and marriages between castes was generally forbidden. The Brahmins were the only teachers as it was embarrassing to allow one’s children to be taught by another class. They received no salary but rather received gifts from their students

What Did they Teach

The Brahmins served as the teachers and made it their life work to reinforce the caste system through education. It was taught to all children to understand the importance of this system as well as the role of the  Brahmin at the top of it.

Other subjects taught at the elementary level include the 3 r’s. At the university level, the subjects included grammar, math, history, poetry, philosophy, law, medicine, and astronomy. Only the Brahmins completed formal universities studies so that they could become teachers. Other classes may receive practical technical training to work in the government, serve in the military, or manage a business.

Something that was missing from education in ancient India was physical education. For whatever reason, this was not normally considered important and was rarely emphasized.

How Did they Teach

The teaching style was almost exclusively rote memorization. Students would daily recite mathematical tables and the alphabet. It would take a great deal of time to learn to read and write through this system.

There was also the assistance of an older student to help the younger ones to learn. In a way, this could be considered as a form of tutoring.

How was Learning Organized

School began at 6-7. The next stage of learning was university 12 years later. Women did not go to school beyond the cultural training everyone received in early childhood.

Evidence of Learning

Learning mastery was demonstrated through the ability to memorize. Other forms of thought and effort were not the main criteria for demonstrating mastery.


Education in India serves a purpose that is familiar to many parts of the world. That purpose was social stability. With the focus on the caste system before other forms of education, India was seeking stability before knowledge expansion and personal development. This can be seen in many ways but can be agreed upon is that the country is still mostly intact after several thousand years and few can make such a claim even if their style of education is superior to India’s.

William Kilpatrick: The Project Method

William Kilpatrick (1871-1965) was a prominent educator of the early to mid 20th century. He was a colleague of John Dewey and a proponent of Dewey’  educational model. Kilpatrick’s contribution to education was not only as a supporter of Dewey’s work but also in his expansion of the work of Dewey.

Views on Education

Kilpatrick supported Dewey’s view of getting away from rote memorization and a rigid curriculum and replacing it with a child-centered approach. He was a major critic of the Committee of Ten with their emphasis on acquiring knowledge through traditional means. Kilpatrick saw school not only fulfilling an intellectual purpose but also a social one.

For Kilpatrick, education was about the social development of the child rather than their cognitive development through the mastery of content. This is not saying that the mind did not matter. The emphasis was on learning to think and not focusing on what to think.

The curriculum should come from real-life and not compartmentalized subject matter.  This idea calls for a need for an integrated curriculum that stressed maximum student participation. These beliefs led Kilpatrick to create a unique form of teaching.

The Project Method

Kilpatrick’s Project Method is a blend of behavioral psychology and progressivism. It was behavioral in that student behavior was observed but it was also progressive in the focus on child-centered learning. The four steps of the Project Method are as follows.

  1. Purpose
  2. Plan
  3. Execute
  4. Judge

Teachers first need to decide what are they trying to do. Next, the need to develop a plan for achieving these objectives. The development of observable goals is clearly the behavioral aspect of this method. Execution involves the implementation of the the plan. Last is judge, the teacher assess the success of the plan. Again, assessing the students and curriculum is a behavioral aspect of the Project Method.

The progressivist aspect of this method was the constant revision of the curriculum based on student need and interest. The curriculum was developed jointly with the students. This was a core belief of Kilpatrick that students should be leaders in the development of their learning as nothing would motivate them more. This also led to the development of decision-making skills.

It is important to remember that the Project Method was not a rigid method but actually a philosophy. The steps in the method were really just an idea of approaching a child-centered learning experiencing.


Few have heard of Kilpatrick today. He was a major supporter of the work of Dewey and lived in the shadow of Dewey throughout his career. Despite living behind a legend, Kilpatrick was an innovator in his own right and developed a distinct strain of progressivism that had an impact within many classrooms. His influence may not have been as strong but nevertheless, he played a role in how teaching is approach in America.

Bobbitt and Charters: Pioneers in Curriculum

Franklin Bobbitt (1876-1956) and W.W. Charters (1875-1952) were colleagues at the University of Chicago and work together as trailblazers in the development of curriculum. Both of these men were a product of their time. in the early 20th century, there was an emphasis on efficiency and science. Bobbitt and Charters brought the concepts of the early 20th century with them as they developed their ideas about curriculum.


Franklin Bobbitt

Franklin Bobbitt

Bobbitt believed that curriculum should start with outlining what the student needs to know in what he called objectives. Next it was necessary to develop activities that the students do to achieve the objective. Bobbitt emphasized having students complete activities in order to learning.

The use of objectives was somewhat revolutionary. Bobbitt was heavily influenced by science and behaviorism with their focus on observable change. Bobbitt brought this idea of observable change into education in his development of objectives.

Bobbitt also developed several guidelines for developing objective. Some of the more prominent ones are in the list below.

  • Objectives should be practical
  • Objectives should prepare students for adulthood
  • Involve the community in developing objectives
  • Sequence objectives by grade level

These concepts were completely groundbreaking in providing a framework for curriculum development. Now educators had an approach, even if it was not perfect, for developing curriculum for students.

W.W. Charters

W.W. Charters

W.W. Charters

Charters was also a behaviorist like Bobbitt. He developed a method for selecting objectives based on social needs. After developing or selecting objectives, Charters encouraged analysis to see how objectives are applied in the classroom. This idea of assessing the implementation of objectives providing the groundwork for curriculum evaluation.

Charters viewed the curriculum as scientific. In his view, curriculum was a collection of goals that the students needed to achieve in order to have competency. This idea has always been a part of education but Charters stated it specifically and made it clear .

Bobbitt and Charters Legacy

Educators are indebted to the work of Bobbitt and Charters. These men laid down the idea of objectives. The concept of objectives would blossom into goals, aims, standards, learning outcomes, indicators, and benchmarks. Though all these terms are confusing the really are at heart just different forms of objectives depending on the level of specificity.

Bobbitt and Charter also introduced the idea of learning experiences. These are the things the students do to learn. Again this led to such concepts as experiential learning, hands-on activities, authentic assessment, and more. Action-based learning is the norm today.

Lastly, Bobbitt and Charters were some of the first proponents of consulting the community in developing curriculum. In other words, a needs assessment was necessary before determining what to teach. Consulting stakeholders is now considered best practice in education.

Bobbitt and Charters influenced in education continues to this day. They provided the foundational concepts of many standard operation procedures in education. The world of education would be different today if not for the work of these two men.

Early 20th Century Educators: Flexner & Judd

Perspectives on education began to shift in the early 20th century. With the move towards education for the masses came a need to make education about more than preparation for college. Many began to push for a move from only a classical education to a practical one. Two reformers who pushed for this transition are Abraham Flexner and Charles Judd.

Abraham Flexner


Abraham Flexner

Abraham Flexner (1866-1959)  was actually a former teacher of Latin. With time, he began to think that teaching a subject like Latin was not beneficial for the students. For Flexner, Latin did not serve any useful purpose for the students and was out of step with education in the 20th century.

In Flexner’s opinion, tradition was not a strong enough reason for justifying the content of a subject. The world was experiencing rapid change at the turn of the 20th century. As such, education needed to find ways to keep up with the changes of time.

Flexner proposed four basic subjects for secondary education.

  1. Science
  2. Vocational skills
  3. Civics (history, government, etc.)
  4. Humanities (art, music, literature, etc.)

Even with his changes, Flexner was still heavily classical in his approach. The major difference for him was that all subjects must have a utilitarian nature in order to be a part of the curriculum.

Flexner’s contribution cannot be underestimated as his curriculum was adopted by Columbia University and heavily influenced a young John Dewey.

Charles Judd


Charles Judd

Charles Judd (1873-1946) was a colleague of John Dewey. He extended Flexner’s utilitarian view into a scientific approach. Judd was one of the first to use statistics in order to determine the worth of a curriculum based on student performance.

Judd focused on teaching kids how to think rather than on memorizing. He did this because he believed that students needed to be able to solve problems in a changing world rather than recall facts from the past. For Judd, education should be practical and not classical.

Judd influence was strong on the next generation of educators. His scientific viewpoint was extended by the likes of Franklin Bobbit, Werrett Charters, and Ralph Tyler.


Flexner and Judd were important transitional figures in American education.Their contributions are significant in their own right. However, Flexner and Judd biggest contribution was the influence the provided for the next generation of educators who extended the ideas of these men into something much larger.

If there had been no Flexner there may have been no Dewey. Furthermore, if there had been no Judd there may have been no Charters, Bobbit, or Tyler. As such, names that are considered much more influential in education are standing on the work and dedication of transitional figures such as Flexner and Judd.

Bringing Organization to US Education: Late 19th to Early 20th Century

By the dawn of the 20th century, education, particularly completing primary education, was a norm. Due to the growth in education, there was a corresponding expansion in the courses taught. However, there was no unifying hand over schools or curriculum.

The lack of coordination over education led to problems. The amount of time needed for a class was different from place to place. A student would be placed in different grades depending on where they enrolled. Lastly, the courses offered were focused on a classical tradition even though few went on to college (this last problem was exacerbated not solved).

With the confusion came a push for reform. In order to bring change, several influential committees were formed in the early 20th to bring order to the chaos of education. The major committees include

  1. The Committee of Fifteen
  2. The Committee of Ten
  3. The Committee on College Entrance Requirements

The Committee of Fifteen

The Committee of Fifteen was not so much a committee om reformation as it was a counter-reformation committee. This committee rejected adding additional courses, focusing on children needs, and interdisciplinary approaches to teaching.

Instead, the Committee of Fifteen supported a support for the three R’s, and separate subjects. In terms of change they did support reducing elementary school from grade K-10 to K-8, and including manual training starting in grade 7.

The Committee of Fifteen put breaks on change but did not stop it. With other committees arose the push for more reform.

The Committee of Ten

The Committee of Ten brought strong, but conservative, change to education. They recommended nine academic subjects covering language, math, history, and science. They also recommended having several different tracks that students can study on depending on their goals.The tracks were classical, science and or language focused.

The Committee of Ten ignored the humanities (art, music, etc,), PE, and even vocational education believing that these subjects did not benefit the mind. The overall purpose of the curriculum was still college preparation. The impact of this committee can be seen in how secondary schools still focus on college preparation.

The Committee on College Entrance Requirements

The Committee on College Entrance Requirements simply reaffirmed what the Committee of Ten proposed. They also proposed the number of credits students should earn for particular subjects if they want to go to college.

The biggest contribution of this committee was the development of the “Carnegie Unit” which was in response to the credit hour proposal of the committee. Seat time in class was now a measure of knowledge of a subject. This idea has worked for over 90 years but is now being criticized as seat time does not lead necessarily to mastery.


Rapid growth led to a need for rapid organizations. The committees mentioned in this piece have had a tremendous impact on secondary education in the US. For most, going to high school is preparation for going to college. This mindset is due to these committees that met in the late 19th century.

The focus on college preparation may be due to the fact that these committees were lead by college-educated scholars whose passion was naturally the training of the mind. This singular focused has made education one-dimensional to this day. Whenever pushing for change in curriculum, the team needs to have a mixture of personalities and abilities to produce a balanced system. This was missing from these great committees. They had a great vision that applied strictly to a minority of the population.

The Development of High School in the United States

Attending high school is an experience of virtually every teenager in the United States. However, this has not always been the case. The concept of high school evolved over most of the 19th century and was formalized much more extensively in the early 20th century.

The Beginning

High schools have their origins in what were academies. The concept of the academy was developed by Benjamin Franklin. These schools offered a more practical education in lieu of the Latin Grammar School. Academies also charged tuition as did Latin Grammar Schools.

Despite their emphasis on a practical education, academy curriculum was influenced heavily be college entrance requirements. Some of the more popular courses include Latin, Greek, grammar, geography, and arithmetic. The classical streak within academies was strong despite its emphasis on a practical education

Taxes and High School

High schools were slow to develop and they really did not begin to grow until 1874 with the Supreme Court Decision in the “Kalamazoo Case.” In this decision, the court ruled that tax dollars could be used to support high schools. Prior to this ruling, tax dollars were only used to support elementary education as part of the common school movement. With more and more students completing elementary school there was a greater need for high schools.

With the birth of high schools came the death of academies. Now, parents could send their kids to secondary school for free. Such a price is hard to argue with and made academies obsolete quickly. Today, few academies exist.

The Curriculum

With the results of the “Kalamazoo Case” enroll in high school exploded. With this came a need to determine what to teach the students. Initially, the curriculum was a classical, college preparatory model. This curriculum emphasized literature, languages, and mathematics.

As enrollment continued to increase the high school curriculum became more diverse and began offering such subjects as geography, chemistry, government, and even vocational training. This growth in diversity catered to the wide interest and career objectives of the students. With high schools becoming common it was more likely that not all the students who came were college bound. As such, a more varied curriculum experience was needed to support a more diverse student population.

It is important to note that high schools in the United States are comprehensive. This means that anyone and everyone can attend them regardless of race, class, or religion. This is in stark contrast to the European model with its influence on class distinction. This emphasis on being comprehensive partial explains the wide variety of courses offered in high school. Different students have different needs and high schools must address this.


Secondary education has come from something was for the elite to now being something that is essentially required by law. This slow transformation has a great deal to do with concepts of equality and even public funding. With the idea of equality and tax dollars, high schools have never flourished.

19th Century Schools in the United States: The Common School

During the 19th century, education in American was beginning to take root. As the nation matured there was a corresponding growth in providing education to the people.

One type of school that was not only a type of school but a movement was the common school.The idea of everyone having access to was at one time radical in the United States. As such, understanding the characteristics of the common school movement provides insights into US education.


The common school was developed in 1826 in Massachusetts which required every town to have a school. Other states copied Massachusetts idea and the common school began
to spread. Horace Mann was the main catalyst in spreading the common school idea.

Mann developed support for the common school by adjusting his message to his audience. For businesses, common schools would provide an educated workforce. For workers, common schools would provide for social mobility. In other words, Mann was making the claim that the common school would solve everyone’s problems in one way or the other. Catering to the needs of his audience was a brilliant strategy in encouraging the acceptance of universal education.

Soon the common school moved out west to the frontier where students were receiving the basics of education. Despite the rapid growth of the common school, it was not without problems.

Characteristics of Common Schools

Common schools varied from state to state. In general, the schools taught any child from age 6 to 15. With such a wide range of ages, teachers had to prepare multiple lessons in a day. There were also challenges with maintenance as the schools were in perpetual disrepair. Add to this the challenge of keeping the school warm in the winter and cool in the summer and the challenges become apparent.

Teachers were paid terrible salaries that were discouraging for many.  In addition, they often lacked training which led to low quality. There were critics of the system but at the time, this was all that was available for many children.

The common school was particularly popular in the frontier territories. This is where the iconic “little red schoolhouse” comes from. It seems as though most communities had a school. The schools were not only for education but were also used as a multi-purpose facility for voting, meetings, and other events.

Legacy of Common Schools

Common schools have contributed strongly to the American mindset that everyone is equal. Common denotes something that is available to all and the idea of a common education was unique to America. These schools provided basic education to all by the state. Without the contribution of the common school the concepts of citizenship and an educated workforce would have never been achieved.

Herbert Spencer: Scientific Education

Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) was an English social scientist whose contribution to education was his emphasis on bringing science into the curriculum of schools. In this post, we will examine Spencer’s views and his impact on education.

Spencer’s Views

Spencer was influenced by the work of Charles Darwin and applied evolution to the social sphere. In Spencer’s view, societies were evolving to more advanced societies.  Those who did not keep up would disappear.

Due in part to his support of evolution, Spencer was a critic of religion and other fields of the humanities. He viewed them as impractical and unrelated to contemporary life. The current school system was not providing students with the skills they needed for the modern world.

For Spencer, students should be taught how to think instead of what to think. This could
be done through focusing on the teaching of science. The benefit of science is due to its focus on progress and usefulness. It is the application of scientific breakthroughs that lead to a more advanced society.

Spencer’s Influence

Spencer’s influence runs deep in education. His principles about science in the curriculum have been a key component of secondary education since the early part of the 20th century. Spencer’s focus on using scientific knowledge in an industrialized society is literally the total focus of education today in the 21st century. The Humanities have long taken a back seat to science due in part to Spencer.

Spencer also laid the foundation for progressivism. His beliefs influenced John Dewey as Spencer looked not only at science but also at the need to develop social relationships and citizenship, which are components of progressivism. Dewey took Spencer’s views and systematized them in his scientific approach to education.

Edward Throndike‘s views on behaviorism were also influenced by Spencer. Behaviorism is still one of the major focuses of education to day due to its emphasis on observing changes in behavior.  This has contributed to the development of behavioral objectives in education.


Spencer’s views were controversial in their time. De-emphasizing religion and raising science above it was not popular with many. Now, his views can be seen as a major part of education.

Spencer’s desire to downplay and even remove the humanities on the curriculum puts too much emphasis on material gain and survival. Humans are more than just resource developing beings. Humans were created to express themselves in artistic and humanistic ways. The reason that music, art, and even history are a part of the human experience is that they are components of the humanity that make them human.

Spencer does provide for some role of the humanities but only in the leisure moments of home and family. This is a disservice as great art can only be developed the same way as great science and that is through a professional commitment to the field. To have a balanced society calls for both science and the arts. This was something that Herbert did not see.

Johann Herbert: Father of Moral Education

Johann Herbert (1776-1841) was a German educator during the 19th century. He is most notably for his work in moral education. Not only did he laid the foundation for moral education he also developed an approach to teaching morals as well as other subjects. This post will explore the contributions of Herbert to education

Foundations of Moral Education

Herbert believed that education was about developing good virtuous people. This is not unique as Aristotle also emphasized this. Herbert lays down what he thought were the five major ideas of moral character which are as follows

  1. Inner freedom-Action based on one’s personal convictions which is related to Maslow’s self-actualization
  2. Perfection-The idea of developing consistency between thoughts and actions.
  3. Benevolence-Concern with the welfare of others
  4. Justice-The balance between individual desires and group norms.
  5. Retribution-The idea of reward and punishment for behavior.

These five principles represent the core of Herbert’s view of moral education. However, he did not stop at this as he also identified two forms of interests that should be a part of education. The first was knowledge interest, which was scientific and philosophical knowledge. The second was ethical interest, which is knowledge of how to treat others and social relationships.

Herbert believed that education would contribute to people who had high moral character and the capacity to make appropriate decisions. Problems in the world were due to a lack of education and moral development. With his ideas in place, Herbert needed a method of teaching these concepts.

Herbartian Instructional Model

Herbert, with the help of his followers, developed a 5-step approach to teaching. This method became known as the Herbartian Model. The steps are explained below

  1. Preparation-The teacher gets students ready to learn by reviewing previous information.
  2. Presentation-The new material is shared with the students.
  3. Association-The new material is connected with material the students are already familiar with (an early form of constructivism).
  4. Systemization-The use of examples to illustrate the principles or the development of generalizations of the examples used (inductive and deductive thinking).
  5. Application-Assessment of the learning

It is hard to overestimate the impact of the Herbartian Model. Not only does it combined several theories that had not been developed yet, this model also may serve as one of the first attempts at instructional design (over 100 years before Tyler’s principles of curriculum). Herbert lays out a clear approach to teaching that can be used not only in morals but in many other subjects.

Herbart’s model of instruction was used in teacher training for years and still has influence to this day. It is common for teachers to look at the principles of this model and convert them into questions they need to answer. What should I review from yesterday? How will I teach today’s lesson? How is today’s lesson related to other topics? These are just some of the questions that teachers have been answered for years in part due to the pioneering work of Herbert.


Many if not all trained teachers have been influenced by Johann Herbert. From his views on moral education to his work in instructional design, Herbert was an innovating figure. One of the primary missions of schools in most countries is to developed upstanding, moral citizens. This focus on character is due in part to the work of Johann Herbert.

19th Century European Educators Part I: Pestalozzi & Froebel

Many of the ideas that serve as a foundation for modern educational thought were developed in the 19th century in Europe. Naturally, the United States derived many of their own ideas from Europe as well despite their desire to develop a separate identity.

This post will examine the contributions of two prominent educational leaders in 19th century European. Both Johann Pestalozzi and Friedrich Froebel have had a profound impact on education in both Europe and America.

Johann Pestalozzi

Pestalozzi was a Swiss educator whose ideas contributed to modern elementary school practice. Pestalozzi believed that education should be on the natural development of the child. This could be where the idea of ‘meeting the students needs’ came from.

In addition, Pestalozzi stated that learning takes place through the senses. Of course, this sounds somewhat like realism and perhaps Pestalozzi was borrowing from ancient Greek philosophers with this idea. However, his contribution is that he applied this concept to the education of children. The Greeks talk a lot but never laid down a systematic pedagogical approach in the way that Pestalozzi did.

Pestalozzi called his teaching approach that focused on the senses the ‘special’ method. The ‘special’ method may be the harbinger of experiential education and Dewey’s ideas. Pestalozzi’s other approach was called the ‘general’ method and focused on providing for the social-emotional needs of the children. This time, Pestalozzi was ahead of Maslow and his hierarchy by over 100 years.

Friedrich Froebel

Froebel’s, a German Educator, major contribution to education was the development of the Kindergarten or “children’s garden” as it means in English. He believed that the learning of small children should be focus around play and the interest of the children. Songs, stories, games were all used in this child-centered approach, which may have been the first of its kind.

Froebel believed that providing such a learning environment would allow the children to grow up naturally. This idea sounds similar to Pestalozzi’s idea of the natural development of the child. In addition, Froebel’s focus on action based education is another focus on the senses of the child.

American schools are deeply in-debt to the work of Froebel. Almost every elementary school has a Kindergarten. In addition, there is a tremendous push for pre-schools in America. Keep in mind that Froebel’s researched often focused on 3-4 year-olds or those who would attend pre-school.


Pestalozzi and Froebel provided both old and new ideas. They brought another emphasis on the senses. The provided important support of the education of young children. In addition, they took the focus off of books and onto the students in their approach to education. This concept only has resonated throughout American education. Even though America wants to be different from European. The foundations of American education is still European.

Webster & McGuffey: Molders of Culture in Curriculum

Noah Webster and William McGuffey played a critical role in shaping and defining America culture through their work in education. This post will take a look at the contribution of each of these important men in American education.

Noah Webster

After the Revolutionary War, America was free but lacking in a distinct identity. There was no literary tradition to think of and being a diverse group of immigrants further 1complicated the problem. As such, the question of language was one of many the new country had to deal with.

Noah Webster was one of the first to push for a distinct American language. He believed that the country should have both an independent government and an independent language. Having a separate American language would help to declare cultural independence in a way that the war provided political independence.

In order to develop American English, Webster wrote several books on reading and spelling. He also wrote dictionaries and almost everyone in the United States has heard of “Webster’s Dictionary.” The development of these books led to uniform speech throughout much of the young nation.

The impact of Webster’s work is immense. His books were the curriculum of many schools and colleges. He developed many of the orthographical rules of American English. Lastly, his support of American English contributed to the development of an American identity. Webster rightly earned his nickname the “schoolmaster of the Republic.”

William McGuffey

McGuffey’s contribution was similar to Webster’s in that he was seeking to differentiate America from Europe. However, McGuffey was more willing to acknowledge the European roots of America. He made it clear that the contribution of America to the 1world was not cultural but political. The United States had shown the world that equality and representation can be used to maintain a government.

In terms of curriculum, McGuffey’s contribution to education is his “McGuffey Readers.” These books taught children to read. The stories in the books included ideas of patriotism, hard work, virtuous living. The ideas of capitalism, nationalism, and religious themes were sewn into the text. The concepts in these books became what is the American mindset.

McGuffey understood the importance of influencing the young. He did this by putting what he thought was important into these textbooks that taught children to read. Without McGuffey, the American way would look much different.


Webster and McGuffey were men with a vision to form a distinct American identity. They both want to break away from the limits of the European mindset. Webster focused on the mechanics of language while McGuffey focused on the transmission of distinct American ideas into the impressionable minds of children learning to read. Through their work, we have a language that is different from British and a mindset that is often unrecognizable.

Post Revolutionary Education in the United States

After gaining independence from England, the newly formed United States now had to deal with educating its populace. Before, different regions attending to education how they wanted. Now, there was a need for a united effort in providing education for the masses. For many of the founding fathers and influential educational leaders, democracy and education went together. In this post, we will look at the ideas and influence of two early education reformers Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Rush.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson stated that an ignorant nation cannot be a free nation. As such, Jefferson supported a plan that brought education to everyone through a system of taxation. His model was focused on the state of Virginia and included schools in every parish of the state. There was to be a tiered system of scholarships so that a handful of the best students would attend college for free.

Unfortunately, Jefferson’s plan was never accepted. Taxation was not a popular idea at the time.  It did provide a model of how education could be. In other words, it provided at least a theoretical framework that other educators could consider as they wrestled with the issue of educating people.

Benjamin Rush

Rush supported Benjamin Franklin’s view of a practical education. Since the goal was now to educate the masses and not just the elite, it was necessary to modify the curriculum. Latin and Greek was of no use to the masses and should not be the foundation of a universal education.

Rush proposed to his home state of Pennsylvania a model of education in which every area that had 100 families or more would have a school. Students would receive a free elementary, secondary, and tertiary education if they wanted it. This system of universal education would be supported through taxes.

Rush’s argument was that the taxes people paid now would be returned in having access to educate, productive workers. However, there was little support for taxes after several decades of British rule. As a result, Rush’s proposal suffered the same fate as Jefferson’s.


Both Jefferson and Rush brought what was at the time a radical idea to the table for leaders to consider about education. This idea was one of a universal educational system supported by tax funds. Education had always been available but almost never on the scale that Jefferson and Rush was proposing. The idea of everyone receiving an education was somewhat radical. In addition, the idea of having everyone pay for the education of everyone else was even more radical.

Both of these men were reacting to the need of having an educated populace that could help to maintain the democracy. Citizenship is what Jefferson called this and progress is what Rush called it. However, the idea of sending tax money into education and thus increase the size and the power of the government was something that people were not ready for.

The ideas of Jefferson and Rush serve as seed for many to come after them. Consider the work of Horace Mann and the “Common School” movement or John Dewey and his ideas of progressivism and democracy in the classroom or even the ideas of Pablo Friere and the call for developing people who can think critically  and you can still see the footprint of Jefferson and Rush/

Types of Schools During the Colonial Period in the United States

In a prior post, we looked at the three regions of the colony period and how they differed in their approach to education. This post takes a closer look at the different types of schools that were found in the American colonies. Furthermore, we will look at some of the teaching materials used during this period.

Types of Schools

Among some of the schools found in the American colonies includes the following

  • Parochial/Private schools
  • Town schools
  • Latin Grammar Schools
  • Academies
  • Colleges

Parochial/Private Schools

The parochial/private schools were found in the middle and southern colonies. The difference between parochial and private schools is that the former was religiously focus while the latter often was not. The focus of these schools was on reading. writing, and arithmetic, which came to be known as the “three R’s”. Parochial schools would always include a religious element to it such as memorizing sermons, singing hymns, or Bible study.

Town Schools

Towns schools were found in the New England colonies. These schools were locally controlled and conditions were not always accommodating for learning. The schools were often only one room and weather would affect attendance severely.  The primary goal was on memorization which was assessed by the teacher.

Latin Grammar Schools

Latin Grammars schools were in many ways a type of high school for the affluent. They were intended for those who were going to enter some form of profession such as medicine, law, or business. A boy (no ladies at this time) would enter the school at around 8 and complete their studies around the age of 16-17.

The focus of the curriculum was on the classics. In many ways, perennialism had its roots in this system. Students studied Greek, Latin, rhetoric, logic, and other subjects. This was a humanist curriculum and had much in common with education in Europe.


The origin of academies was in developing an educational model for those who were not going to college. Academies were invented by Benjamin Franklin. The curriculum focused on vocational skills and was much more secular in nature. Students would study history in place of the bible. The academies form the foundation for vocational curriculum later in American history.


Students who completed their studies at the Latin Grammar school often went on to college. College originally was a place to further train ministers of the gospel. Both Yale and Harvard were started for this purpose. The curriculum of this schools focused on the Latin, Greek, astronomy, ethics, natural sciences, and more. Colleges were not only for ministers but this was one of its main purposes.


There were different schools for different needs. From educating children occasionally to higher education that focused on the preparation of an educated core of leaders, education was highly diverse at this time. One concern was the lack of uniformity and control over the system. This is a problem that will be recurring throughout history in American education.

Origin of Colonial Schools in the United States

Colonial education in the United States dates back to the 17th century. In general, the characteristics of education in the United States can be divided into three regions, which are…

  • New England schools
  • Middle colonies
  • Southern Colonies

We will explore each of these areas briefly in this post.

New England Schools

New England Schools included the colonies of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and other colonies of the utmost northern part of the American colonies. Schools were initially started in this area through the establishment of various laws. For example, Massachusetts, in 1642, passed a law that required parents to teach their children to read and understand the bible and the laws of the colony. In 1647, the “Old Deluder Satan” act was passed. This law stipulated that towns of a certain size had to employ teachers. This law provides an insight into how important religion was at this time in American history. The example of Massachusetts was followed by most of the other New England colonies.

Middle Colony Schools

The Middle Colonies, which included New York, New Jersey, and other colonies, were never able to adopt a single system of education as was found in the New England Colonies. In comparison to the New England Colonies, there was much more religious and political variety in the Middle Colonies. As such, this independence of thought and action was seen in the establishment of schools. In the Middle Colonies, one will find independent and parochial schools to match the many different flavors of ethnicities and religions. Schools were usually locally controlled.

Southern Colonies

The Southern Colonies had the most independent spirit in term of education than the New England or Middle Colonies. In the South, the education of children was left to the family with almost no state interference. For poor children, the most education they could hope for was training in some sort of vocation, which did not include learning to read and write. For children of affluence, such as the plantation owners, the best education was provided through private tutors. For slaves, it was actually illegal to even learn to read and write. The political system of the South prevented the growth of a school system since a widely available education was seen as a threat to the established order.


As one moves from North to South, one will see that the control over schools gradually decreases. From the religiously inspired laws of the North to the independent spirit of the South, the control over education varied greatly. This can be seen in who goes to school. In the North, everyone was “required” to go to. school. In the South, some were “required” to not go to school.

The curriculum of all areas consisted of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Learning emphasized memorizing and conformity. These values would endure for almost the first 200 years of American history.