My son graduated from grade eight last night. It got me to thinking about how much education has changed in two centuries and how most of the critical change happened in the 19th Century.
Before 1820: Private Education
No public schools. You either paid to send your child to a private school or you hoped there was a charity-run school they could attend part-time.
There were no set professional standards for teachers. Many tutors and teachers were young men teaching to earn money while they studied for law, the ministry or an academic career at a college.
The closest thing to today's public schools were established in the northern British colonies/states. They generally ran for 10-12 weeks per year. Boys were favored and they were not free.
Pioneer children would learn their letters and numbers from their parents. As towns were established, those who could might take on teaching as a sideline when their real work was slow.
1820: The Common School Movement
Precursor to modern public schools, the movement was started by Horace Mann who believed that a free and sectarian education was a universal right for all. He advocated a longer school year and teaching standards. He helped shape policy and laws that would make elementary schooling mandatory. The first Normal School, for teaching teachers, opened in 1839 but it took until 1918 for all the states to make school attendance compulsory.
Standardized universal education required standardized text books. William McGuffey's Eclectic Readers became that standard. His first reader was published in 1836 and his readers were used in public schools up into the mid-twentieth century - and are still in print.
The first book contained 55 illustrated lessons that introduced children to reading, arithmetic and an ethical code. McGuffey was a Presbyterian minister but his readers were non-sectarian Christian. Reformers believed that moral lessons should go hand in hand with academics. McGuffey fit the bill. His second reader, which came out shortly after the first, had eight-five lesson covering diverse subjects from history and geography to table manners. Eventually his books covered primary to grade six.
1840's: Feminization of Education
The Common School Movement had its roots in the Industrial Revolution and was happening in Britain and Europe as well. A workforce with basic literacy and numeracy skills was considered valuable.
Women's education was another banner being taken up and the 1820's and 30's saw the opening of the first women's colleges America. It deserves it's own post but mention should be made how women teachers came to dominate in public, especially primary, education.
The following pretty much sums it up:
"God seems to have made woman peculiarly suited to guide and develop the infant mind, and it seems...very poor policy to pay a man 20 or 22 dollars a month, for teaching children the ABCs, when a female could do the work more successfully at one third of the price." -- Littleton School Committee, Littleton, Massachusetts, 1849