1600-1754: Education: Overview
1600-1754: Education: Overview
Cultural Distinctions. Education was at the heart of European efforts to colonize America. Whether Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, or English, colonists from the Old World found success only as they adapted familiar ways of life and their own expectations to the peoples, geography, and natural resources they found in this strange New World across the Atlantic Ocean. Driven by a mixture of motives, aptly captured in the phrase “God, Gold, and Glory,” Europeans wanted to teach the Indians about Jesus, to exploit economically both the people and natural resources they discovered in America, and to advance the strategic interests of their respective nations. The later inclusion of large numbers of Africans, most of whom were imported as slaves, into this cultural cauldron significantly influenced the lives of Indians and Europeans as well as the Africans themselves. Despite their unequal status and their suspicion—if not outright hatred and fear of one another—Europeans, Indians, and Africans together forged an increasingly complex, many-layered civilization. The educational process—which included ideas, practices, and institutions—at once reflected and regulated the interaction of all three peoples and shaped in many ways the evolving societies in which they lived and labored.
Christian Perspective. Throughout the colonial American era Christian theism remained the dominant worldview of the European settlers. The fundamental purpose of education, both formal and informal, was to explain the ways of God to humankind and the duty of men and women to God; human salvation was the ultimate goal. Everything else, including scholarship and occupational training, was deemed secondary. “The end then of Learning,” wrote John Milton in 1644, “is to repair the ruines of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him.” In the fifteenth century elements of Renaissance humanism, especially as conveyed by Erasmus of Rotterdam and other Christian humanists who were inspired by the Greek and Roman classics, became incorporated into the mainstream of Western Christian thinking. In the early sixteenth century the Protestant Reformation broke the hegemony of the Catholic Church. Protestants rejected the conventional wisdom that the path of eternal salvation was only through the sacraments of the Holy Catholic Church. Instead reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin emphasized the priesthood of all believers, God’s sovereignty, original sin and human depravity, and salvation through grace. Like Martin Luther himself, most Protestant reformers advocated literacy training so that the faithful might seek God’s guidance for themselves from his Holy Word, in their own language. Competition between Protestants and Catholics over evangelizing the American Indians contributed considerably to the European colonization of the Americas.
The New Learning. During the Renaissance the humanistic revival of Greek and Roman knowledge laid the foundation for the emergence of modern science. Critical of the deductive method of reasoning, especially as advocated by Christian scholars of the Middle Ages such as Thomas Aquinas, European thinkers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries found they could improve upon the knowledge of the ancient world through inductive reasoning based upon empirical inquiry. Applying inductive methodology, scientists such as Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, and Galileo discredited the theory that the sun and stars revolved around the Earth (geocentric view) and advanced the proposition that the sun is the center of our solar system (heliocentric view). This scientific method, or “new learning,” as the seventeenthcentury English scientist Francis Bacon called it, prepared the way for Sir Isaac Newton’s path-breaking Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687), which identified and explained the law of gravity. “Man, as the minister and interpreter of nature,” wrote Bacon in 1620, “does and understands as much as his observations on the order of nature... permit him, and neither knows nor is capable of more.” The impact of the new learning on western thought proved nothing less than revolutionary.
The Enlightenment. Newton’s discovery made scientific inquiry the catalyst for modifying the European worldview. If there were laws governing the physical universe, might not the principle of cause and effect also provide insight into human nature, human thought and behavior, and social interactions? Inspired by Newton, the great mathematician’s good friend, John Locke, applied the scientific method to his own seminal work in human psychology, education, and politics. Locke’s political thinking on natural law and natural rights put governmental authority squarely in the hands of the people. His ideas on human nature and psychology inspired fundamental change in child rearing and teaching generally. Along with Locke and Newton, other thinkers in various fields, such as René Descartes in philosophy and Adam Smith in economics, contributed to this Age of Enlightenment, whose consequences profoundly influenced educational thought in America as well as Europe.
Natural Religion. Native American religious beliefs, institutions, and practices were diverse and complex and defy easy characterization. Subsistence patterns, usually either hunting, agriculture, or a combination of the two, did much to shape religious expressions. So did the level of social and political integration of the particular nation or tribe. Despite its many and various manifestations the religious life of Indians did reflect certain common themes that make for interesting comparisons with European Christianity. Native Americans saw the material world of nature and the supernatural world of the spirit as constantly intersecting and interacting so that they became different expressions of the same reality. Some Indians possessed rather elaborate creation myths, even identifying a specific creator; others did not, or referred to the spiritual realm in vague and ambiguous terms. But mythologies connecting the natural world and the present with the spiritual world and the past abounded. Some tribes spoke of a pervasive spiritual presence, variously called orenda by the Iroquois, manitou by the Algonquians, and wakan by the Lakota. Virtually every plant, animal, rock, or object in the sky was thought to possess a spirit. Rituals were usually performed over animals slain in the hunt lest their spirits become angry and bring bad luck upon the hunters. Unlike Europeans, Indians saw themselves as a part of nature rather than having dominion over the natural world. Shamans, or priests, were called upon to perform various rituals to assure the harvest or the success of the hunt or to ward off evil spirits thought to bring disease and death. Many Indian tribes worried that the spirits of the dead would haunt the living, though a few, like the Pueblo tribes in the Southwest, saw the spirits of their departed friends and family as assisting the living. Religion in general upheld the communal standards and conformity among the various tribes and nations.
Catholicism. The Catholic Church played a major role in uniting the principalities that became Spain. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella particularly looked to the church to supervise the removal or conversion of the Moors and Jews. In the Americas the Spanish Crown relied upon the Catholic Church to Christianize and civilize Native Americans. The clergy also tried with only limited success to protect the Indians from abusive treatment by the conquistadors, who used them as slaves and forced laborers. The church similarly intervened in later years on behalf of African slaves, whose status was also defined and protected by Spanish-Roman law. The church became the primary agency for propagating both Christianity and Spanish culture among the Indians and settlers alike. Its clergy ministered not only to the spiritual but also to the medical and educational needs of the people, whether Spanish, Indian, African, mestizo, or mulatto. Outside the family—and to a considerable degree within it as well—the church dominated formal education in Spanish America, including the Spanish borderlands in North America that were later incorporated into the United States.
Catholic Schooling. The Catholic Church founded and regulated not only primary and secondary schooling but also the ten major and fifteen minor institutions of higher learning in Spanish America. In Mexico City in 1536 the College of Santa Cruz, initially designed for Indian students, was the first institution of higher learning founded, followed by universities at Mexico City and Lima, which were chartered in 1551. Regular clergy such as the Jesuits and Franciscans led the missionary efforts among the Indians and settlers in the borderlands, but parish clergy who were not in the orders but answered directly to the local bishop also contributed considerably to the establishment of schools. In Brazil the Catholic Church was not nearly as well established as in Spanish America. However, it did organize primary and secondary schools there, though not a university during the colonial era. Much like Spanish America, in seventeenth-century New France the Catholic Church presided over an extensive system of schooling, including college and university training. In British America, Catholic priests, despite the threat to their lives should they be discovered, periodically ministered the sacraments and conducted schools among the settlers, particularly in Maryland and the larger British American port cities.
Spain’s Rivals. North of Mexico, where the Spanish had explored and found little worth exploiting, the English, French, and Dutch began their colonies, thereby encouraging Spain to pay greater attention to its borderlands. Spain’s rivals found no rich native civilizations to plunder, and the intermingling of male colonists and female Indians did not occur to the extent that a formidable mestizo population ever developed, as was the case throughout Spanish America and Brazil. As English, French, and Dutch colonists came to America, they adapted elements of their respective national cultures to the New World environment. Many factors shaped the societies that began to emerge after the English established Jamestown in 1607; the French founded Quebec in 1609; and the Dutch West India Company brought settlers to New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island and Fort Orange farther up the Hudson in 1624. Educational institutions were fundamental to the colonial civilizations that began to emerge.
The English Chesapeake. Throughout colonial America the family was generally the chief educational institution, where boys and girls usually began their instruction in both religion and literacy. However, in Virginia and Maryland family formation was inhibited throughout the seventeenth century because planters recruited primarily young white males as indentured servants to work their tobacco crops. Family stability was also weakened by the harsh disease environment of the Chesapeake, where one or the other parent was likely to succumb before their children were raised. Not until after 1700 did sex ratios among whites come into equilibrium enough so the population could increase naturally. Scattered farmsteads or plantations became the rule in the Chesapeake, where slave labor replaced white indentured servants in the eighteenth century. Aside from regularly legislating apprenticeship regulations that increasingly called for literacy as well as occupational training, the provincial government did little to advance education in the Chesapeake, a pattern that would become characteristic throughout Britain’s southern colonies. Educational efforts depended upon individual families, or families cooperating, though Anglican vestrymen increasingly intervened in the care and education of poor and orphaned children. Among the emerging planter elite the consensus was that education should be restricted, with “every man according to his ability instructing his children,” as Gov. William Berkeley of Virginia wrote in 1671. “But, I thank God,” continued Berkeley, “that there are no free schools nor printing... for learning has brought disobedience, and heresy, and sects into the world, and printing has divulged them, and libels the best government. God keep us from both.” Charity, or free, schools would come to the Chesapeake, and the wealthy employed some fine tutors, but as late as 1724 Virginia reportedly had only two grammar schools, and as late as 1763 the governor of Maryland lamented that there was “not even one good grammar school” in his province.
Puritan New England. The Separatist Puritans who settled Plymouth in 1620 prepared the way for the major migration of English Puritans to Massachusetts Bay beginning in 1629. Estimates vary, but perhaps as many as twenty thousand people migrated from England to New England between 1630 and 1640. Perhaps as many as 90 percent of them came in family groupings. Unlike the Chesapeake, New England colonists settled in townships, with families given a “townspot” for their home garden plot and outlying fields for farming. Village life was encouraged, as were cooperative efforts in working the land. If all New England immigrants were not Puritans, Puritan ideology nevertheless dominated much of the thinking about church and state, and both institutions worked in tandem to fulfill this “Errand into the Wilderness.” Education was central to the Puritan plan of building a society based on biblical principles. John Winthrop’s vision of a “City Upon a Hill” required that the rising generation be well prepared to continue what their fathers and mothers had begun. Through the cooperative endeavors of the family, the school, the congregation, and the community in general, Puritan youth were expected to learn proper behavior, acquire literacy skills, and receive occupational training. Of all the European settlers to America, the Puritans were the most explicit and deliberate in tying educational efforts to their larger goals.
NewNetherland. According to the Dutch their province of New Netherland included all the lands from the Connecticut River in the Northeast to Delaware Bay in the Southeast. Beginning as hardly more than a series of trading posts in the Indian fur trade, the Dutch colony remained thinly populated because the general prosperity of the Netherlands discouraged people from immigrating to America. It numbered no more than ten thousand settlers when the English conquered it in 1664. Like the Dutch republic itself, New Netherland from the outset possessed a heterogeneous population composed of many nationalities and Christian confessions. Passing through the Dutch colony in 1644, Father Isaac Jogues reported, “there may be four or five hundred men of different sects and nations; the Director General told me that there were persons there of eighteen different languages.” The company brought over Dutch Reformed clergymen, who were encouraged to minister to the Indians as well as the colonists. It was a frustrating assignment. Of the Indians, Domine Jonas Michaelius, the first Reformed minister in New Netherland, complained in 1628 that they were “entirely savage and wild, strangers to all decency, yea, uncivil and stupid as garden poles.” The settlers, mostly made up of adventurous and rowdy young men, were not much better. As late as 1648 Domine Johannes Backerus characterized his congregation in New Amsterdam as “very ignorant of true religion, and very much given to drink.” In the later 1640s, thanks to property and trading concessions made by the Dutch West India Company, increasing numbers of young married couples began arriving in New Netherland, often with children. This shift toward domesticity encouraged Domine Backerus, who thought the young could be taught “to resist a bad world.” From 1647 to 1664 Director General Peter Stuyvesant struggled to reform New Netherland, urging parents, pedagogues, and preachers to cooperate in educating the young for successful living. Stuyvesant secured more preachers and teachers for the Dutch colony, but his efforts to impose Reformed orthodoxy upon the heterodox settlers failed as education remained primarily in the hands of the family.
New France. In Canada fur trading, fishing, and farming the Saint Lawrence Valley secured the survival of French settlers. As in Virginia and New Netherland, females were also scarce in Canada, where the prohibition against Protestant immigrants kept the colonial population sparse. After making Canada a royal colony in 1665, the French government recruited indentured male servants, who got their freedom and received modest grants of land after three years, and orphaned females, known as the “king’s girls,” who easily found husbands. The colonial population grew, but slowly. Around 1700 the sex ratio among French colonists reached equilibrium. Outside the home formal education in New France was in the hands of the Catholic Church and its clergy. Jesuit priests early on established an extensive ministry among the Huron Indians. The Jesuits, various other religious orders, and the parish clergy not only continued their ministry among the Indians but also established educational institutions among the settlers, including several reading and writing schools, several grammar schools, and a few colleges and seminaries. The fur traders, called coureurs de bois (“runners of the woods”), frequently intermarried with the Indians, further strengthening Franco-Indian relations, which gave force to the French claim of the Mississippi Valley (christened Louisiana by Sieur de La Salle in 1682). As French settlements were established down the Mississippi Valley and along the Gulf Coast, Catholic schools, though relatively few in number, accompanied them. In 1718 New Orleans became the capital of Louisiana, where plantation agriculture and African slavery were expanding after 1720. By 1732 Louisiana possessed somewhat less than one hundred Indian slaves, four thousand African slaves, and two thousand whites. But the total population of New France remained small, numbering only seventy thousand settlers in 1754, compared to 1.2 million in British North America.
Spanish Borderlands. The outlying Spanish province in North America, Florida, with its troops and civilian settlers concentrated at Saint Augustine, scarcely progressed beyond a strategic military outpost. However, English and French colonization efforts encouraged the Spanish to pay more attention to the borderlands, especially New Mexico and Texas. Spanish expansion into the Southwest progressed slowly but steadily. Priests, usually Franciscans though some Jesuits were also involved, would first establish a mission among or near Indian encampments; then a garrison or presidio would be established; and lastly Spanish colonizers would be given mining concessions or extensive lands for cattle and sheep ranching. The colonists, sometimes with ecclesiastical or governmental assistance, were expected to recruit settlers, usually from Mexico or Spain itself. Catholic missions generally served both Indians and colonists alike, playing a major role in the religious instruction and formal education of their youth. In New Mexico the non-Indian colonial population increased from 2,800 in 1680 to 5,200 in 1750, but the Pueblo population decreased to 13,500 due to their prolonged but ultimately unsuccessful revolt against the Spanish from 1680 to 1692 and continued attrition because of disease. Due to their preoccupation with Mexico, Spanish officials did not establish any permanent missions and garrisons in New Mexico until 1716. As late as 1742 there were only one thousand Spaniards and thirteen hundred Indian allies in the province. The older colony of Florida was increasingly threatened not only by the French in Louisiana but also the English in Carolina after 1670 and Georgia in 1733. Its Spanish population remained sparse even as its Indian population declined, due in part to raiders from Carolina who captured and sold mission Indians into slavery.
Demographic and Economic Expansion. Unlike either the French or the Spanish, the British did not maintain a restrictive immigration policy toward their American colonies. Catholicism was illegal, but hardly rooted out, especially in Maryland. English officials also encouraged the immigration of Europeans to America, recognizing that colonial settlements meant commerce and protection against invaders, whether European or Indian. In New England the population burgeoned, due less to immigration after 1650 than to the natural increase from high birth rates and a much less malignant disease environment. Massachusetts Bay served as the cultural heart of the other New England colonies: Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. As in Massachusetts Bay, the Congregational Church was established in Connecticut and New Hampshire, as were Puritan educational practices and institutions. Rhode Island, castigated by the more-orthodox Puritans as the “latrina of New England,” followed Roger Williams’s views of separation of church and state, but its settlers nevertheless shared much in common with fellow New Englanders. An expanding economy stimulated by trade and commerce brought change to New England, including its educational ideas and institutions.
The Middle Colonies. Wedged between growing British populations in New England and on the Chesapeake, New Netherland fell to the British during the Second Anglo-Dutch War in 1664. However, the Dutch settlers were encouraged to remain in the lands the English christened New York and New Jersey. Their religious freedom, property rights, and customs of inheritance were all protected. Consequently, Dutch cultural influence remained pronounced in many communities along the Hudson Valley, on western Long Island, and in eastern New Jersey. Of course continued emigration from New England, the British Isles, and Europe further variegated the cultural landscape of New York and New Jersey. As for the lands west and south of New York and New Jersey that the Dutch had also once claimed for New Netherland, King Charles II granted those in 1681 to William Penn in payment of a debt owed the young Quaker’s father. The English and Welsh Quakers who first settled in the Delaware Valley brought with them a distinctive religious culture. According to historian Barry Levy the Pennsylvania Quakers were primarily concerned with the proper raising and educating of their children in the faith. Quakers were followed by thousands of Germans and Scotch-Irish immigrants attracted by the liberal politics, religious toleration, and cheap land available in Pennsylvania and Delaware. The cultural mixture found in the Middle Colonies called forth an educational pattern that maintained ethnicity even as it made compromises with the dominant English culture.
The Carolinas and Georgia. The Carolinas, granted by Charles II in 1663 to eight friends in his Restoration government, developed differently in the northern and southern parts of the huge territory, dictated largely by geography. The first settlers in northern Carolina came from Virginia, which was shifting to slave labor and larger-scale tobacco plantations. They were small farmers, often growing some tobacco but also grains and raising hogs and cattle. The treacherous coastline and lack of a good harbor inhibited the growth and development of North Carolina, though it would become a major supplier of naval stores in the eighteenth century. By 1700 some ten thousand settlers (including one thousand slaves) lived in North Carolina, which was treated as a separate colony after 1712. South of Cape Fear the coastal plain widens considerably and is distinguished by an excellent harbor, around which the town of Charleston grew. Among the first settlers in this area were British immigrants from the West Indies (especially Barbados), whose slaves apparently introduced the cultivation of both rice and indigo, which produced the richest planter aristocracy on the British mainland. By 1700 there were six thousand settlers (including at least two thousand slaves) in South Carolina. Not founded until 1732 and initially intended as a military buffer against Spanish Florida and as a haven for Englishmen imprisoned for debt, Georgia would begin developing along the lines of South Carolina after 1750 when its population numbered five thousand (including two thousand slaves). By 1760, 60 percent of South Carolina’s ninety-four thousand population were slaves. As in Virginia, the style of life, especially the economic pursuits of settlers in the Carolinas and Georgia, would influence their culture and the educational institutions that transmitted that culture across the generations.
New Trends. Although the American colonies were cultural provinces of Europe, they nevertheless were influenced by the cultural and intellectual movements that swept through England and the Continent. Enlightenment ideas, for example, made their way to the Spanish borderlands and the Illinois country of New France as well as the coastal cities of British North America. During the revivals of the Great Awakening, American evangelicals were plugged into a pietistic religious network that stretched across the Atlantic through England and into Germany. After 1700 American thinking, like that of Europe, began to change regarding child rearing and pedagogy. It became less authoritarian, more childcentered, and secular in orientation. The expansion of trade and the growing economic and social complexities of colonial societies increased the demands upon educational institutions throughout the Americas. The importance of a classical education was questioned by those who wanted a more utilitarian turn given to school and college curricula. This was especially so in British North America, where the humanistic and scientific dimensions of the European Enlightenment were being widely discussed by the general population. By 1754 more than 80 percent of adult males in British America were literate, whereas literacy rates were considerably lower in the Spanish borderlands and New France. Throughout the colonial era, cities were the hubs of intellectual activity. As the eighteenth century wore on, the cultural influences of the cities penetrated deeper and deeper into the hinterlands, thereby lessening the cultural gap that separated them.
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