THE COLONIAL SCHOOLS

Among the significant features of Connecticut's early development was the value that the founding fathers placed upon education. This was for no profound intellectual purpose. Rather, it was so that all children would be able to read scripture, have a proper upbringing, be knowledgeable of the law, and find "honest" work. Education found its roots in the Puritan's religious values. Satan was a reality to these people, a reality who was determined to destroy God's Church in the new land. Education which enabled one to fortify himself with the strength of Biblical readings was a necessity:

It being one chief project of that old deluder Sathan, to keepe men from the knowledge of the scriptures . . .

In education, as in other aspects of colonial life, the church was the predominate force, and much teaching was of an ecclesiastical nature, and some modern historians find that education had a strong secular purpose as well. Colonial leaders tried to enforce the need to read the "holy word" by use of the Code of 1650 which required each town with fifty families to hire a schoolmaster to teach students to read and write. Towns of one hundred families were to open "Grammar Schools" to prepare students for further studies. Students entering these Grammar Schools were expected to be literate. This meant that families wishing their children to attend these schools had to take an active part in the child's preparation. These laws were modified in 1662 to make then applicable to New Haven after its inclusion in the Connecticut Colony. (In 1864 school property, like Church property, was made tax exempt.)

In 1717 the General Assembly required every parish, in towns with more that one parish, to have a school. The upkeep of the school was to come from a tuition paid by the parents. However, the town covered the cost for anyone too poor to afford it. In those townships where no school-houses existed students received their instructions at the teachers' home. When the teacher lacked a home the class would be rotated among the homes of the families whose turn it was to board the teacher.

Throughout the 18th century the building, or room, that a town used as its school was usually about 25 by 20 feet, and housed anywhere from a handful to sixty or more pupils. These students sat on backless benches positioned along the side walls and facing the teacher. A child's first instruction consisted of reciting letters. The teacher called up one student at a time to do his lesson while the rest sat and read. Since the class contained children of all age levels, older ones often helped younger students. A horn-book was used as a text. This consisted of a small, short-handled wooden board upon which was fixed a single page containing that alphabet, syllables, and the Lord's Prayer. The New England Primer was introduced in 1685 and remained the basic text for a century. This five-inch by three-inch, eighty-page book consisted of the alphabet (with pictures and religious rhymes such as, "In Adams fall, we sinned all", words to spell, and prayers for morning and evening. Later editions included secular poems and stories. It was not until 1783 that a uniform attempt at spelling was made with Webster's 168-page American Speller. It was even later, in 1788, that English arithmetic texts with pounds and pence, were replaced by an American book written by Nicholas Pike.

- - - - Clifford J. Dudley

Colonial Schools Bibliography