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How the Education System Has Evolved in the United States: the 1600s-1800s

“Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.” – Abigail Adams

Today we will be discussing the origins and evolution of the education system in the United States from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. An increased accessibility to a variety of subjects, resources, and technological advancements have created greater opportunities for education that students of all ages enjoy. There were no restrictions in terms of a separation between church and state. There was a heavy focus on educating the population in terms of future governance and the construction of a new nation. These, along with many other principles, are key to understanding the original intention of education in America as well as how those intentions have been reshaped for our generation and the generations to come. In the second part of this blog series, we will be discussing the 20th and 21st centuries and the effect that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on modern schooling.

17th Century: Education in the Colonies

In the early 1600s, settlers knew education was essential for understanding laws, creating businesses, and communicating with neighbors, friends, and even coworkers. Education was limited in who was able to pursue that benefit. Many families of the upper classes were able to have their children educated where schools were being established. These schools were typically funded using taxes and the need to pay teachers became an essential part of this process. In many cases, teachers were not available to educate children and the burden of education was heavily placed on parents and churches. Because of the limitations in access to education, not all families were able to afford or deemed “worthy” of educating their children in a school, due to their socioeconomic status, or other demographic factors, at the time. This standard of education was normal through the 1700s but standards quickly began to change as the 1800s approached.

19th Century: Common Schools

In the 1800s, the public school system was eventually accessible, free, and paid for by taxation. The idea of “common schools,” also known as the “normal schools,” began to grow in the 1830s with a focus on three areas of discipline: reading, writing, and arithmetic. The rates in attendance by varied school-aged children grew and more and more individuals throughout the country were being properly educated to the standards of the time. During this century, the first public high school was established, coeducational colleges were created, and public libraries were beginning to open for individuals looking to further their education in every way. However, the American Civil War, along with segregation in some states’ public schools, prevented some individuals from being educated at the standards that others were experiencing. The decision of Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 established the “Separate but Equal” doctrine of the United States and guaranteed that this doctrine was not in agreement with the fourteenth amendment of the Constitution. This monumental decision would have a huge impact on the future of segregation issues in the 1930s. Another issue influencing the public school system during this time was child labor. For many business owners and higher ups, hiring children was more cost-effective due to their lessened pay and possible heightened efficiency in their work. During the Industrial Revolution, textile factories were demanding their need for children in the workplace and many individuals were fighting against reformation acts that required children to, at the least, attend primary school. However, official requirements for school attendance would not come until the first half of the 20th century.

Continue reading part two of this blog series with information regarding education of the 20th and 21st centuries here at Wyoming Conservative, next week!


*All opinions expressed by WYO Conservative guests are theirs alone and may not represent the views of WYO Conservative’s Founder and Owner, Donna K. Rice, or any WYO Conservative affiliates.


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