| In the New World (in
the 13 colonies), the first formal schools appeared in the 1630s. The
Boston Latin School, which opened in 1635, is considered the first town-supported
school with a continuous history. In 1647, the "old Deluder Satan Act
" required that every Massachusettes town of at leat 50 households hire a
teacher of reading and writing. Towns with a hundred or more households
had to operate a grammar school as well. The colonists were mainly
concerned that children learned to read and write to "possess a knowledge
of the Scriptures." If the towns didn't obey the law, they were fined
5 pounds-- about $25.00. So, in New England, public school houses were
built although there weren't always proper schoolmasters in them. In
the middle colonies, such as Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania,
education was left to the royal govenor and various church groups. In
the South, the children of rich planters were taught at home-- usually by
tutors from England. Poor children were usually apprenticed to a craftsmen.
It wasn't hard to become a teacher in those days. Anyone who could read or write was allowed to teach, as long as they believed in the Church, were loyal to the Crown and kept out of trouble. Often the schoolmaster had to do other things in the town, too, such as digging graves, running errands or leading the choir. Colonial schoolmasters were not paid very much and sometimes received a cow, a pig, apples or some other food for their teaching. In winter, the teacher's fee was sometimes paid with wood for the school fireplace. Children who didn't bring their share of wood had to sit in the coldest part of the room!
The classroom was an empty-looking place with only chalk or pencils and very little paper and no chalkboards. There were never blackboards or maps in colonial schools. To write, the schoolmaster often had to use a stick of charcoal on a piece of birch bark that they pulled off the trees. Whenever the children used pens, they were cut out of goose quills and the schoolmaster made the ink. Boys also wrote with lumps of lead. Students sat on hard benches while the teachers stood behind high desks.When the school master got paid, he usually got more corn and food than he could eat so he'd sell the food for supplies.
After the students learned their alphabet, they then learned to read from the Bible and the Book of Psalms. Boys spent most of their time learning how to write crisp, clean and small. If they wrote like that, no one cared how the words were spelled. Even a school master put an ad in the paper to say he taught "writeing and spilling." Most people spelled the same words in different ways. In 1690, the New England Primer was published and became a popular beginners textbook and was still in use a hundred years later! The Primer taught spelling, religion and the alphabet. It was a small book, only 3 inches wide by 4 inches long and about 90 pages in length. This required textbook contained pictures and short poems that gave children stern moral lessons, such as,
The idle fool
Is whipt at school!
In the New England Primer there were rhymes for each letter, such as D:
There were also lists of spelling words; their words were a lot different than ours!
Everyone had to know the Bible verses, as well.
The boys who learned the New England Primer could go onto another school to learn more. Some boys at the age of 11 went to college and the boys that were rich went to college in England.