History of America's Education Part3:
Universities, Textbooks and Our Founders
Date: April 4, 2002
Author: April Shenandoah
Bill Maher, of Politically Incorrect, said,"America has never been a Christian Nation". However, as we read about the founding of our universities and the first textbooks that were used in this country, we can not dispute our Christian foundation.
106 of the first 108 colleges were started on the Christian faith. By the close of 1860 there were 246 colleges in America. Seventeen of these were state institutions; almost every other one was founded by Christian denominations or by individuals who avowed a religious purpose.
Harvard College, 1636 - An Original Rule of Harvard College: "Let every student be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life, (John 17:3), and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning."
William and Mary, 1691 - The College of William and Mary was started mainly due to the efforts of Rev. James Blair in order, according to its charter of 1691, "that the Church of Virginia may be furnished with a seminary of ministers of the gospel, and that the youth may be piously educated in good letters and manners, and that the Christian religion may be propagated among the Western Indians to the glory of Almighty God."
Yale University, 1701 - Yale University was started by Congregational ministers in 1701,"for the liberal and religious education of suitable youth…to propagate in this wilderness, the blessed reformed Protestant religion…"
Princeton, 1746 - Associated with the Great Awakening, Princeton was founded by the Presbyterians in 1746. Rev. Jonathan Dickinson became its first president, declaring, "cursed be all that learning that is contrary to the cross of Christ."
University of Pennsylvania, 1751 - Ben Franklin had much to do with the beginning of the University of Pennsylvania. It was not started by a denomination, but its laws reflect its Christian character. Consider the first two Laws, relating to Moral Conduct (from 1801): "1. None of the students or scholars, belonging to this seminary, shall make use of any indecent or immoral language: whether it consist in immodest expressions; in cursing and swearing; or in exclamations which introduce the name of God, without reverence, and without necessity. "2. None of them shall, without a good and sufficient reason, be absent from school, or late in his attendance; more particularly at the time of prayers, and of the reading of the Holy Scriptures."
Some other colleges started before America's Independence include: Columbia founded in 1754 (called King's College up until 1784), Dartmouth ,1770; Brown started by the Baptists in 1764; Rutgers, 1766, by the Dutch Reformed Church; Washington and Lee, 1749; and Hampton-Sydney, 1776, by the Presbyterians.
It may surprise many to know that the Bible was truly the first textbook. The New Haven Code of 1655 required that children be made "able duly to read the Scriptures… and in some competent measure to understand the main grounds and principles of Christian Religion necessary to salvation."
(a) The Bible was the central text - John Adams reflected the view of the founders in regard to the place of the Bible in society when he wrote: "Suppose a nation in some distant region, should take the Bible for their only law-book, and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited!… What a Utopia; what a Paradise would this region be!" John Adams, Feb.22, 1756
(b) Hornbooks - Hornbooks were brought to America, from Europe, by the colonists and were common from the 1500's - 1700's. A hornbook was a flat piece of wood with a handle, upon which a sheet of printed paper was attached and covered with transparent animal horn to protect it. A typical hornbook had the alphabet, the vowels, a list of syllables, the invocation of the Trinity, and the Lord's Prayer.
(c) Catechisms - There were over 500 different catechisms used in early education. Later, the Westminister Catechism became the most prominent one.
(d) The New England Primer - It was the most prominent schoolbook for about 100 years and was used through the 1800's. It sold over 3 million copies in 150 years.
(e) Webster's Blue-Backed Speller - First published in 1783 it sold over 100 million copies. It was one of the most influential textbooks and was based on "God's Word."
(f) The McGuffey Readers - Written by minister and university professor William Holmes McGuffey, the McGuffey Readers "represent the most significant force in the framing of our national morals and tastes" other than the Bible.
While there were many other textbooks (especially in the 1800's), the ones just mentioned were some of the most important.
Education in Religion was central to our Founders: Benjamin Rush signer of the Declaration of Independence wrote, "…the only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion. Without this, there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments." The type of education that shaped our Founders character and ideas was thoroughly Christian. It imparted Christian character and produced honest, industrious, compassionate, respectful, and law-abiding men. It imparted a Biblical world-view and produced people who were principled thinkers.