The Academy and College of Philadelphia
The Academy and College of Philadelphia
Franklin’s Proposals. Having been influenced by Enlightenment ideas, especially the writings of John Locke, Benjamin Franklin became the foremost proponent of utilitarianism in education in the eighteenth century. His background as a printer and his avid love for applied science formed his belief that learning should be useful for one’s life and for society. To that end he envisioned a new kind of formal school that would educate America’s future leaders. In 1749 he wrote Proposals Relating to the Education of the Youth in Pennsylvania, in which he described his model for an academy, and in 1751 added Idea of the English School, Sketch’d Out for the Consideration of the Trustees of the Philadelphia Academy, which included further details for the six-year curriculum. His ideas departed radically from the founding principles of earlier colonial American sectarian schools and colleges. Proposals advocated broadening and liberalizing the standard classical curriculum by de-emphasizing Latin, Greek, and modern foreign languages—subjects that he thought should be optional—and by requiring English to be the language of instruction. Franklin’s new curriculum was based on practical rather than classical instruction, that is, an education that would train students for careers in commerce, manufactures, or some profession other than the ones classical education prepared them for, such as the ministry, law, medicine, and teaching. Though Franklin considered it necessary to educate virtuous and moral citizens, religion was no longer to be the organizing focus of the curriculum.
The Academy of Philadelphia. Franklin’s plans for an academy were realized in 1753, when the Academy and Charitable School of Philadelphia was chartered and opened with about 145 boys. The new academy introduced a dual school system: one school was a traditional Latin grammar school offering a classically based curriculum, and the other was an English grammar school, where students could take useful courses, such as English grammar, composition, handwriting, astronomy, science, natural history, writing, drawing, rhetoric, history, agriculture, accounting, and mechanics. For the English school, English grammar, composition, and writing formed the core of the program because Franklin wanted to educate students for the communities in which they lived and worked. He saw history as an equally important discipline to prepare students for civic and political duties in service to the state. Furthermore history would lead to other areas of study, such as geography, ancient culture, and eventually political theory. However, Franklin’s ideas did not solidify in the new academy. Though he became its first president and sat on the Board of Trustees, he thereafter kept himself at a distance, rarely visited the school, and remained ignorant of its progress. He complained that the trustees had violated the original plans set forth in his 1749 “The Constitutions of the
Publick Academy in the City of Philadelphia,” which had explained the purposes of the two academies. The Latin school was the favorite choice of many parents, who saw in its curriculum an opportunity for their children to advance in society, and of the school’s influential subscribers, but Franklin was most interested in the English school, which he wanted most to succeed. However, public preference for the Latin school overpowered Franklin’s premature education reforms, and the English School collapsed under the weight of the more popular Latin academy. In 1756 Franklin was removed as president of the board but remained a trustee for the rest of his life. It was not until twenty years later that his educational ideas influenced the founding of an academy: in 1778 Phillips Andover was founded in Andover, Massachusetts, the first of many academies to follow that based their curricula on some of Franklin’s ideas for a practically oriented liberal arts education.
William Smith. About the same time that Franklin was creating his new academy William Smith was thinking and writing about new forms of curricula. Born in Scotland and educated at King’s College of the University of Aberdeen, Smith arrived in America in 1751 and, while working as a tutor on Long Island in 1753, wrote a pamphlet titled A General Idea of the College of Mirania, in which he designed the ideal or utopian college of Mirania that offered two curricula. The classical curriculum was for men planning to be clergymen, lawyers, doctors, or government officials, and the practical curriculum was for students preparing for trades and the mechanic arts. Like Franklin’s English school, this was a new idea. Smith also proposed to alter and expand Mirania’s classical curriculum with courses such as science, surveying, history, and agriculture. Smith wrote this pamphlet with the hope that he would be considered a candidate for president of the newly proposed King’s College in New York City, but since he was not an ordained clergyman, he was not eligible. However, he sent a copy to Franklin, who was so impressed with it that he invited Smith to head the Academy and Charitable School of Philadelphia. Smith accepted the position. In 1755, under the terms of the Additional Charter, the academy was granted collegiate rank and became the College, Academy and Charitable School of Philadelphia in the Province of Pennsylvania, otherwise called the College of Philadelphia. Smith became the college’s first provost.
College of Philadelphia. In 1756 Smith took the idea for the college of Mirania and wrote a “scheme of Liberal Education” for the College of Philadelphia, adapting some of the ideas put forth in Mirania for a more secular and pragmatic curriculum for the new college. Parts of his plan such as the creation of a separate college of “mechanical arts” never received approval from the trustees. Nevertheless some significant changes were made to the classical curriculum: to the sciences were added more practical courses, including agricultural chemistry, surveying, navigation, and mechanics. Also new were history, political science, and commerce. To the College of Philadelphia belonged the distinction that it became the first college in North America to place emphasis on the study of science and the first to institute a department of medicine. Though smaller and much newer than Yale, Harvard, and the College of New Jersey, its curriculum was the most comprehensive and innovative and anticipated the reforms later proposed by Horace Mann in the nineteenth century.
John S. Brubacher and Willis Rudy, Higher Education in Transition: A History of American Colleges and Universities (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1997);
Lawrence Cremin, American Education: The Colonial Experience, 1607-1783 (New York: Harper & Row, 1970);
Lorraine Smith Pangle and Thomas L. Pangle, The Learning of Liberty: The Educational Ideas of the American Founders (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1993);
Meyer Reinhold, “Opponents of Classical Learning in America During the Revolutionary Period,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 112 (1968): 221-234;
Lawrence C. Wroth, An American Bookshelf: 1755 (Philadelphia: Publications of the Rosenbach Fellowship, 1934).