Massachusetts School Law (April 14, 1642)
MASSACHUSETTS SCHOOL LAW (April 14, 1642)
English Puritans founded the colony of Massachusetts Bay in 1630 upon the belief that they could create a model commonwealth in the New World based on the Christian principles of faith in God and obedience to His will. They believed that Church and State worked best when linked closely together. Suffrage was granted only to those males who had "owned the covenant" before a congregation of "saints," the community of believers who cared for and watched over each other. Personal liberty was subordinate to civil liberty, which was the right of the individual to conform to the laws of the commonwealth. It was of utmost importance, then, that children be raised in proper ways to become useful, obedient members of the commonwealth.
The Puritans believed that the best approach to educating the young was prayer and work. Masters who had charge of children apprenticed to them until they reached maturity were just as responsible as parents to inculcate proper Christian beliefs and respect for the civil authorities. In 1642, the General Court of Massachusetts assumed the responsibility of overseeing masters and parents in the education and employment of their apprentices and children. To the English Puritans of Massachusetts, such firmness seemed the only way to guarantee order in a religious commonwealth.
This Cort, taking into consideration the great neglect of many parents & masters in training up their children in learning & labor, & other implyments which may be proffitable to the common wealth, do hereupon order and decree, that in euery towne ye chosen men appointed for managing the prudentiall affajres of the same shall henceforth stand charged with the care of the redresse of this evill, so as they shalbee sufficiently punished by fines for the neglect thereof, upon presentment of the grand iury, or other information or complaint in any Court within this iurisdiction; and for this end they, or the greater number of them, shall have power to take account from time to time of all parents and masters, and of their children, concerning their calling and implyment of their children, especially of their ability to read & understand the principles of religion & the capitall lawes of this country, and to impose fines upon such as shall refuse to render such accounts to them when they shall be required; and they shall have power, with consent of any Court or the magistrate, to put forth apprentices the children of such as they shall (find) not to be able & fitt to employ and bring them up. They shall take … that boyes and girles be not suffered to converse together, so as may occasion any wanton, dishonest, or immodest behavior; & for their better performance of this trust committed to them, they may divide the towne amongst them, appointing to every of the said townesmen a certaine number of families to have special oversight of. They are also to provide that a sufficient quantity of materialls, as hemp, flaxe, ecra, may be raised in their severall townes, & tooles & implements provided for working out the same; & for their assistance in this so needfull and beneficiall imploymt, if they meete wth any difficulty or opposition wch they cannot well master by their own power, they may have recorse to some of the matrats, who shall take such course for their help & incuragmt as the occasion shall require according to iustice; & the said townesmen, at the next Cort in those limits, after the end of their year, shall give a briefe account in writing of their proceedings herein, provided that they have bene so required by some Cort or magistrate a month at least before; & this order to continew for two yeares, & till the Cort shall take further order.
SOURCE: The Charters and General Laws of the Colony and Province of Massachusetts Bay. Boston: T. B. Wait, 1814.