The Impact of Jesus on American Education

, by Christopher D. Hudson

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

Soon after the Reformation fires spread across Europe, new colonies formed in America that were heavily influenced by the Reformers’ ideals. One of the areas in which the Reformers’ influence took root was the education of American children.

The earliest form of education in America occurred in people’s homes, as parents taught their children between harvest and the next spring’s planting. Families would also gather together in the local church building, which would serve as a community school during the week. Since most parents were literate, many of them could serve as the community’s teachers, as their work schedules permitted.

The education of children became a challenge, however, because many families needed to devote their entire daily life to survival. The struggle between survival and education led the Puritans to pass the first education law in 1642. It required responsible men to check in on parents in order to ensure they were educating their children. These men were

to take account from time to time of all parents and masters and of their children concerning their calling and employment of their children especially of their ability to read and understand the principles of religion and the capital laws of this country.1

Early education, infused with Christian principles, used the Bible as a primary textbook. The school law of 1647 in Massachusetts, propagated just five years after the Puritans passed their law, contained the following statement: “It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures.” 2 The residents of these new colonies saw education as a means of ensuring that people could read the words of Jesus for themselves and thereby avoid being misled by Satan.

Other textbooks revealed Christian perspective. The New England Primer, the first reading primer published in the American colonies, was first published around 1688 and used for two hundred years. This book included “The Lord’s Prayer”; “Morning Prayer for a Child”; “The Sum of the Ten Commandments”; “A Dialogue between Christ, a Youth and the Devil”; and children’s stories that taught Christian character and values.

As the colonies matured, the founding fathers recognized the need for citizens defined by their Christian worldview. They didn’t separate their belief in Christ from their belief in a free country but rather used their belief in Christ to justify their belief in a free country. Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying, “A nation of well-informed men who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them cannot be enslaved. It is in the region of ignorance that tyranny begins.”3

The words of Samuel Adams (1722–1803) sum up the attitude of these early leaders: Let divines and philosophers, statesmen and patriots, unite their endeavors to renovate the age, by impressing the minds of men with the importance of educating their little boys and girls, of inculcating in the minds of youth the fear and love of the Deity and universal philanthropy, and in subordination to these great principles, the love of their country; of instructing them in the art of self-government, without which they never can act a wise part in the government of societies, great or small; in short, of leading them in the study and practice of the exalted virtues of the Christian system.4

1 Glenn, Charles Leslie. The American Model of State and School an Historical Inquiry. (New York: Bloomsbury, 2012. 32).

2 The Old Deluder Act (1647); From the Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England (1853), II: 203

3 “Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790).” Benjamin Franklin Quotes. American History Central, n.d. Web. 01 July 2015.

4 Wells, William V. The Life and Public Services of Samuel Adams: With Extracts from His Correspondence, State Papers, and Political Essays. Vol. 3 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1865). 300.

This blog post has been adapted from How Jesus Changed the World. You can read more about it here.


Post a Comment