Education in the Forming of American Society by Bernard Bailyn



First he wants to do a historiography on the way that the volumes of education history have been approached. 

He wants to go to the origins and then trace the development of current views and interpretations of that view.


Educational historians of the early 1900s problem was that they were trying to validate their profession in an atmosphere of social darwinsim.   An early 1900s book is Eggleston’s Transit of Civilization.  It is an effort to analyze “the original investment from which has developed Anglo-Saxon cutlure in America.”


National Characteristics are probably a result not so much of heredity as of controlling traditions.  Standards of thinking and living handed down from one overlapping generation to another.


It should have been seminal but more folks concentrated on William James’ friend Thomas Davidson’s “the Rise of Intelligence.  It’s purpose was really to back up social darwinism 


Monroe’s book (1906) was to give teachers a sense of professionalism.  It concentrated on the details of classrooom activities.  His “Textbook in the History of Education” was used in all normal schools.  It showed progress to towards the scientific method of education.

So particular it was that it turned others off from the study of education history. 


It also narrowed the focus of the definition of education to that of institutions and the careers in them. 


Cubberly (Sup of public schools) drew it up as the development of publicly funded schools.

So they went for the private vs. public theme  (which didn’t exist before the end of the 18th century) and they thought of education as an endevour without a context of society (as purely formal education as important).  It was anachronistic to only look back for hints of today’s public system. 


The treatment of Puritan times focuses only on their primers. 


This writer wants to think of education as a  process by which a culture transmits itself across the generations.  That can be your straight line as institutions come and go and issues come and go.  Education as transmission of culture writ large. 




The forms of education assumed by the first generation of settlers in America were a direct inheritance from the medieval past.  The instinctive traditional education method they followed wasn’t formal institutions of instruction or public instruments of communication, but the family.  And understanding the family is crucial to understandinng the education.

Schools were not the primary agents ofsocialization. 

The family was a patrilineal group of extended kinship gathered into a single household.  It was a large family, children stayed late and other dependents (neices and nephews, cousins etc were also included).


Family orginazation reflected society in that it had one male at its head.  The traditional instinctive sense of order as hierarchy that goes way back in the memory of man.


These families socialized the child.  It shaped his attitutdes, morals and manners.  And the family’s educational role was not restricted to elementary socialization. 


They also did the early vocational training.  This was the apprenticeship system.  This was formalized in apprenticeship in dependency and with contract in a family setting.  But the master to apprentice relationship was very father to son oriented.  The master was required by law to bring them up in good christian cultivation. 



            What the family left undone by way of informal education the local community most often completed.  It did so in natural ways. 

The family blended into the community as the people had intermarried extended families way back.  The governement and family and social groupings were largely permeated by the sense of family.



More formal in its educative role was the church. 


Just as one cannot separate education from the society one is educating for the early american education cannot be separated from the protestant church and its attitudes.


It provided the system of thougt and imagery which underlay the culture’s values and aims.  It provided the highest sanctions for the accepted forms of behavior and brought the child into close relatio ship with the intangible loyalties, the ethos and highest principles of the society in which he lived.  Via religion.


So family, community and church (more than deliberate schooling) were the educators.


But because the education was not formal, didn’t mean that it wasn’t intense.  As we have seent the puritans were intense.  The formal institutions only really did the reading and writing.  The justification for formal education was not phrased in terms of the enrichment of the personality and satisfactions of knowledge. 


Latin and Classical literature weren’t cultural ornaments, they were practical subjects necessary for physicians, architects and statestmen.


Even the middle class justified grammar school via its training in morals and social utility.  It was training for public responsibility. 


Social mobility was not expected.  Anyhow, that was Dad’s job. 


Schools were nearly all endowed by private benefactos expected to donate.  Taxes were local and temporary for supplementing immediate public need. 


Not reforming society, but reproducing society was the model.  Id was not sprung from a dissatisfation with the traditional modes of education, but confidence in them. 


The government encouraged and supervised and regulated education, but did not initiate or sustain it.  Support for schools and universities was almost universaly from private benefactors (usually gifts of land).  Public tax was rare.  If it existed it was temporary and local.




This is the way things were and people had no reason to question it.  Ed was big but in its conservative form. There was no reason to suspect that the childs maturity would be the same as that of the parents youth and the past could guide the future.


By the end of the colonial period, though, ed had been radically transformed.  Ed was dislodged from its ancient position in the social order, and put up for question as its functionings became problematic.  It then became an instrument of social purpose.


It changed due to the rigours of life disrupting the city on a hill concept.  Rigours made, during the starving periods, the more adaptable young authorities.  A little chaos appeared.


In the reduced, nuclear family, thrown back upon itself, traditional gradations in status tended to fall to the level of necessity.    Relationships go more to achievement than ascription.  The status of women rose; marriage became more of a contract between equals.


The child had less structure as settlement and resettle ment smashed community relations.  The all encompasing penetration of family and community dissolved.  The border between family and community got bigger.  And the passage of the child from family to society lost its ease, its naturalness, and became abrupt, deliberate, and decisive:  Open to quesiton concern and decision.

But by the end of the colonial period education was dislodged from its ancient position in the social order.  Not automatic, instinctual mechanism of society, but conscious. 

In England, they never doubted or thought about the perpetuation of society.  All was stable.  But in America all was jarred loose, by dislocation and frontiers and so schools assumed cultural burdens they never bore before. 


The families role as cultural tranferance agent was threatened.   The young and not their parents became the effective guides to life in the new world.  Also, parents had to be involved in demeaning menial labor for survival.  Elder’s prestige faded greatly during the starving periods.

Enforcement of norms was hard when courts were crude and irregular. The response was extraordinary.  The 17th century laws around family are brutal.  Penalties for contempt and abuse by children were necessary.  Capital punishment for all. 


There were laws giving death to those who didn’t obey their parents.  Virginia created a law that allowed the county officials to “take up” children whose parents “are sidabled to maintaine and educate them”

And finally the smaller family emerged in the 1750s with its classic features

Sociologist refer to “isolation of the conjugal unit,” the “maximum of dispersion of the lines of descent,” parible inheritances and multilinear growth.  The status of women rose. 


The interpenetration of family and community dissolved.  Family and community separated.  Community was weakening, family was failing.


As a consequence of such a translation into the world, the individual acquired an insulation of consciousness which kept him from naked contact and immediate involvement with the social world about him.  It separated him.  He saw society from without and not from within.


The Massachusetts statute of 1642 was to shore up failing parents, it reminded parents and masters of their duty to provide for the “calling and implyment of their children” and threatened punishment for irresponsibility.  It also made them responsible for the childrens “ability to read and understand the principles of religion and the capitall lawes of this country.”   It was prefaced by its sharp condemnation  of “the great neglect of many parents and masters in training up their children in learning and labor,”


In 1647 there were famous laws passed in Mass and Conn ordering all towns to maintain teaching institutions, fining recalcitrants, stating and restating the urgencies of the situation, expressed more than a traditional concern for literacy.” (pg 27)

The reason for this intensity was the fear that things were disintegrating and that their small community lost in the forests (25,000) would lose their grip on civilization.  The fear of their children becoming barbarians.


This again was due to a fear that civilization would be “buried in the grave of our fathers”

The Puritans consciously transferred the main roles of family to the schools of formal instruction. 


The broad enforcing legislation thinned out in the 18th century.  Local concerns were allowed to sink to local requirements.  The high education standards were too much to maintain, but still they made Yale and Harvard and their willingness to make state schools went into when we became a nation.


In the south, the need was hardly less acute.  However, their geographical dispersion gave them a bigger challenge.  Their intellectual needs, for survival, were less.  They were worried about barbarianism and savegery, but it mostly showed up in their bequest for their children after death. 

A lack of formal institutions made the south more amenable to becoming Old Worldish with nobles and such.  It was there by the 18th century. 


But everywhere, cutlural transmission needs were the driver.



Bonded servitude fell under extreme pressures in the 17th century.  Opportunity made for restless servants.  Servitude and old social orders were attacked. 


Masters needed apprentices for labor.  Moral christian training and instruction in literacy seemed encumbrances upon a contractural arrangement of limited purpose. 


Masters in charge of orphans, poor and incompetent were in existence as they were sold to them due to their being seen as a threat to the community.  But the transfer of educational functions were increasingly farmed out to external agencies.


The transfer was intitutionalized by the introduction of evening schools.  The apprentices were farmed out to these.  There were many of these schools.  Their curriculum soon went beyond rudimentary literacy. 

What the needs were is best perhaps seen in the educational work of Benjamin Franklin.  He organized his junto of printers, scriveners, shoemakers and joiners.  He interested them in high brow Enlightenment concerns.  But they were really practical.  His whole life could be seen as “the Junto ….enlarged and extended.” Carl Van Doren (pg. 34).  Both Adams and Franklin wrote autobiographies to spread their accomplishments.  Both wanted to locate themselves in an unfamiliar world.  Early training prepared neither. Both knew the past didn’t hold the key to the future.  Both undertook their own education. 

            Franklin said that the proper aims of educatio nwere to equip the young for just such a tour of suprises as he had kown.  He sketched plans for a revolution in education.  Too often this revolution is derided as “utilitarian”.  He wanted them to be trained (as all in education do).  But for the broadest possible range of enterprises.  He had no problem with classics.  But didn’t like their monopoly. 


He concluded his “Idea of the English School”: “Thus instructed youth will come out of this school fitted for learning any business, calling or profession.”  Any business! Any Calling, Any profession!

Tradition resisted this.  But he made inroads with his University of Penn curricullum. 

            The juntos and the evening schools, the self-improvement efforts of the 18th century tradesman, were ot a passing phenomenon.  They reflect eh beginings of a permanent motion within American Society by which the continuity between generations was to be repeatedly broken. 

Continuity in career and social role was already, by Franklin’s time, becoming the rule, ot the exception. 

Learning wasn’t just about skills, but new ways of thinking.  It was big part of the intellectual life and could not be acquired through existing intitutions without adaption and new devices for self-improvement.



The planners of settlements in early communities of the 17th century assumed that the colonies would be disparate and have conflicting groups and that the differences would center on religion. 

They had to convert indians to christianity. 

In Virginia, Maryland, and Mass, the first and most carefully planned efforts in education were directed, not at settlers, but at indians.  This action gave a new dimention to the role of education. 

The methods devised for converting and civilizing the Indians were easily transferred to imported Africans and to a variety of infidels, sectarians and backsliders into savagery on the wild frontier.  By the 1740s it was a natural response of one like Franklin, to start the Society for the Propogation of the Gospel to the Germans in America. 

The most characteristic for of this American pattern was in denominationalism. 

In the mobile America, sectarian religion became the most important determinant of group life. 

It was impossible to say which group was orthodoxy and which dissent.  All lacked the authority to compel allegience.

Christianity is a promotional religion.  It has a sense of mission and sects especially so.  Schools and colleges were therefore essential.  They needed to ensure the orthodoxy of the preachers they sent out.  Education was to be an instrument of deliberate group action. 

They were to be more close to the gospel than their opponents. 

The once automatic process of transfer would continue to operate only by dint of sustained effort.  Education was an act of will.




Such a view and use of education, dynamic, aggressive and disputatious, rested upon the assumption that the control of education would remain in the hands of the group itself. 

Everywhere the original reliance was on private benefaction.  But it quickly became apparent that such benefactions would not satisfy the needs. 

Traditional enowments relied on rent.  But that didn’t work as an income source in early big USA.  Traditional land grants provided no income.


The solutio of mid-century New England, pooling of community resources in the form of general taxation, didn’t appear everywhere.  But everywhere the schools required a repeated donation from the community, individuals or families.  The autonomy that comes from an independent self-perpetuating source of income was everywhere lacking.

The economic basis of self-direction failed to develop. 

The tradition of external control was well established.   American education at all levels has continued to be sensitive to community pressures (especially at the top).



The War of Independence and Revolution had a typical limited impact on social institutions.  The Revolution did not flow from deep sources of social discontent, and its aims were not to recast the ordering of society. Its effects were to free the trends of the coloial period from legal and institutional encumbrances and confirm them. 

            Many leaders of the Revolution had sweeping plans for education reform.  But they rose too far above the needs and interests of the scattered, variegated, semi-autonomous communities. 

The central question was that of the survival of denominational influence and that was never in doubt.  Wherever schemes for state systems of education threatened the influence of sectarian groups they were defeated.

This idea of local control was deated through the 1780s.  It culminated in the Dartmouth case which gave control to local groups. 





Confirmed rather than disturbed by the Revolution, American education passed on ito the 19th century.  On almost every major point the original inheritance had been called into question, challenged altered or descarded. 

            No longer instinctive, no longer safe and reliable, the transfer of culture, the whole enterprise of education had become controversial, conscious, constructed: a matter of decision, will, and effort. 

            Society shaped education and education has turned back and shaped American society. 

There have been two results. 

1st, education has proved I itself to be an agency of rapid social change, a powerful internal accelerator. It changes quickly to the pressures of society rather than inhibiting them.  The change has happened away from families. 

2nd, education as it emerged from the colonial period has distinctively shaped the American personality; it has made our national character of the “American, new man.” An American optimism and enterprisingness which took the individual  isolated him and propelled him away from the simple acceptance of a predetermined social role, and to nourish a distrust of authority.