The Literary Canon: Who Makes the Cut?

A few days ago I got involved in a bit of a Twitter debate about the idea of a literary canon. Here’s the tweet that started it. (Matt is worth the follow!)

I found it interesting because, to me, the reality and importance of a canon is self evident. We have a set of books/writings that are considered to be classics and that ought to be taught.

What is the Canon?

Our word canon comes from the Greek word kanôn, which means measuring rod or standard. The term kanôn was initially used in Christianity to distinguish which scriptures were God-breathed and thus canon with those that were merely written by man and were therefore, apocryphal. Canon made its first, consistent foray into broader literature in 1768 when David Ruhnken used it to describe a selective list of writing (McDonald, 2007). And his use stuck. 

The literary canon is made up of works of literature that have been particularly influential and lasting. Generally there has been a region attached to the canon such as the Western Literary Canon or American Literary Canon. For our purposes, the modifier before canon is only signalling where the works became influential and lasting and is not particularly important. Different regions will have different, yet overlapping canons because while some works of literature will impact multiple regions, others have a more localized one.

What makes something “canon” is that it has been influential and lasting, not who wrote it or where it was written. This is how the Greek poet Homer made the list with his Iliad and Odyssey. And why The Brothers Karamazov by the Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky are included. They aren’t American or from the West, but their works greatly influenced American and Western thought and culture.

Entering the Canon

So, how does a piece of literature become canon? To enter the canon a work of literature not only must be influential and long lasting, it must also be continuously selected and reselected (Rabb, 1988).

However, beyond being “continuously selected and reselected”, the criteria for entering the canon remains vague, for better and for worse. For example, in a 1984 meeting by the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies entitled, “Making and Rethinking the Canon caused quite a ruckus.

“The title of the seminar- provoked a striking lack of consensus about what kinds of topics or methods of inquiry would suit such a title. Questions about power and authority offered the only stable common ground. Other questions varied in focus and perspective. What are the principles by which the canon has been formed in the past and is re-formed in the present? How reliable are the processes by which works are included or excluded? Are we moving toward a narrowing or a broadening of the canon? How will questions of gender affect the eighteenth-century canon? What roles do exigencies of pedagogy and/or publishing play? How wide is the gap between adulation for a work and reading it? between respect or tradition and critical/ theoretical trends? What is the relationship between esteem for a work and its susceptibility to popular modes of analysis? What are the conceptual frameworks and categories by which we ascertain the “greatness” of literature? For scholars, critics, and teachers of the eighteenth century, these questions were, and continue to be, vexing” (Rabb, 1988).

Others have suggested that to become canon, or to be considered among the “great works” the literature generally must be something we can learn from, help us judge and shape personal and social values, move the reader to identify with the characters, define genres, push/expand genres, etc (Altieri, 1983).

So, entering the canon is complex. Not only do different people place different weights on different aspects, but some of them disagree on which aspects should be included in assessing the literature at all! I’d go further and say that the above is a non-exhaustive list of potential ways to determine canon. The fuzziness is frustrating, but there is no alternative. Any sort of ranking would produce a canon and suffer from its own shortcomings.

If you want to operationalize this, just apply the above “qualifications” to any literary criticism framework. They are not all equally valid, but most of them will get you to roughly the same place.

A good and relatively (not totally!) controversy free parallel to the literary canon would be the Hall of Fame for any sport, which is essentially a selective list of the greatest players. Let’s look at baseball. To enter baseball’s hall of fame, a player must receive at least 75% of the vote. That Babe Ruth or Mariano Rivera deserve their spot in the hall of fame is obvious. But the disagreements become clear if you look at who barely made the cut for example, Ryne Sandberg slipped in with 76.2%. Meaning that there were a relatively large percent of voters who thought he had a good, not outstanding career. 

Or, to court controversy, look at Pete Rose. His stats show that he deserves a place, but his gambling baseball games, including those he played in kept him out. Look at Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds today. Based on their play in the field alone, they warrant entrance into the hall of fame, but they are cheaters (steroids) and have thus far been kept out.

So while halls of fame (canons for sports) may have some specific rules like a minimum vote percentage, who gets selected is still subjective. Forming a canon is an inexact science with inexact boundaries. 

The Fuzzy Canon

Shakespeare obviously deserves to be included in the canon, anyone who doubts his place is as sane as one who doubts Michael Jordan’s place in the basketball hall of fame. The places near the peak of any canon are clear. But where does the canon start? Who makes the cut? Why?

Again, as entrance to the literary canon is not scientific, we cannot draw a line. To attempt to do so would result in the butchering of literary analysis. 

If you are seeking for some magic line, or formula to better understand the canon, you are seeking for fool’s gold and Atlantis. You will always be disappointed. The fact that the canon has fuzziness does not negate its reality any more than the fuzziness of tallness or shortness negates the reality of your height. The best we can do is follow general rules and to realize that the edges are fuzzy as a feature, not a bug. 

Altieri (1983) explains the fuzziness well when he says,

 “Clearly, canons are not natural facts and do not warrant the kinds of evidence we use in discussing matters of fact. We are not likely to find general laws governing our acts as canon-formers, nor is extended empirical inquiry likely to resolve any of the essential theoretical issues. Canons are based on both descriptive and normative claims; we cannot escape the problem of judging others’ value statements by our own values.”

Does Ryne Sandberg deserve his hall of fame slot? Does every book in the canon deserve its spot? What do we do when different groups produce differing canons? It’s fuzzy.

Criticisms of the Canon

Criticisms of the canon invariably center around around relevance or who gets in. And this is healthy. Because the canon is formed over time in a relatively idiocentric, organic process, there is no way to filter out the bigotry and oversights of the past. As a result, great minority writers have been excluded from the canon through no fault of their own. We can and should work to remedy this as we engage in the endless Canon Wars and “continuously select and reselect” the canon. 

The Purpose of a Canon

Even with all the disagreement surrounding what qualities a book should have in order to enter than canon. The concept is still eminently useful. A canon gives us a list of works that are considered to be the best of the best that has some sort of filter beyond “best selling”. This is helpful for individuals who want to read good literature, not just famous or popular works. 

While the canon is helpful for individuals, it is irreplaceable for educators. The primary limitation in education is that there is too little time and too many good books. We have to choose and canons are eminently helpful in this regard.

As far as how teachers should use the canon, I do not think there are any hard and fast rules. I would say that teachers should regularly but not exclusively teach from the canon.

The Alternative to a Canon

Maybe you dislike the canon because it is primarily old works written in and about cultures vastly different from the one our students inhabit. And in addition you think that too many minorities have been excluded by racism and bigotry. So you decide to get rid of the canon and do what’s best for your students.

Maybe you choose Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling for its themes of courage and friendship.
You choose the Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseimi for its themes of betrayal/redemtion, family relationships, and political or cultural relevance.
And you choose Counting Descent by Clint Smith for how his poetry engages the minority experience and complicates our conception of lineage and tradition.
(Your reading list for your students includes many more works of literature but for our purposes three books is enough)

And your list starts becoming more popular. Other teachers begin to use it and add similar works to it. Its use grows and it is gradually taught in more and more schools. And you are happy because your list of recommended books is more inclusive than the old canon.

But, don’t you see what is happening? As your list gains popularity, it gains authority. More teachers reference your list while planning their curriculum, there is an occasional news article about a trendy new reading list. One of the articles calls it a new canon for a new age…

You see, there is no true alternative. The canon is a list of works considered to be the best of the best. If you would get rid of the canon, what would you replace it with? The replacement would simply be another list, a new canon.

If you think we should abandon the canon yet do not attempt to replace the canon, you would lead yourself and others adrift in a literary sea. We must assess books for quality. Determining (assessing) which are the best is a useful exercise. The result of this assessment will always lead to some sort of canon, even if you change the name to make yourself feel better.

So the only answer is to improve the canon. Which works should be considered in that aren’t? (probably many) Which books should be taken out? (probably a few)

Sources

Altieri, C. (1983). An Idea and Ideal of a Literary Canon. Critical Inquiry, 10(1), 37–60. doi: 10.1086/448236

McDonald, Lee Martin (2007). The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission and Authority (Updated and revised 3rd ed.). Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers. ISBN 978-1-56563-925-6.

Rabb, M. A. (1988). Making and Rethinking the Canon: General Introduction and the Case of “Millenium Hall”. Modern Language Studies18(1), 3. doi: 10.2307/3194697

A Day In The Life: 19th-Century Students

The school day would typically start around 8 a.m. Before school started, students would need to finish their chores on the farm, and then walk up to 3 miles to school. Teachers would also commonly assigned morning duties (to be finished before 8 a.m.) to older, stronger students. This included gathering firewood in the winter and collecting water for drinking and washing.

Before classes could begin, schools had a ritualized practice to go through. The students would line up outside in two lines (boys and girls) from youngest to oldest. Then, the girls would enter the school, curtseying/bowing to the teacher as they walked by. The girls would then stand at attention and wait for the boys to follow their lead. After all the students entered the school children would recite the Pledge of Allegiance. This would be followed by either the Lord’s Prayer or a moral lesson that typically involved the Bible. Finally, children would be seated, take roll call, and begin the academic portion of the day.

Reading was the first lesson taught. The teacher would assign work for each level, and once students were working, one level would be called to the front to “toe the line”. This meant that they would be required to recite a passage from memory or read aloud from a textbook. When it came time for arithmetic class, the teacher would have the younger children solve problems on the blackboard. After this was finished, the older students would come to the front and practice solving math problems orally. Penmanship came next. Students would write their names, dates, and a moral saying. Penmanship class was accompanied by an oral explanation of the written morals.

Lunch was next. After students ate, they would gather more firewood and water if necessary. Then they could use the remaining time to play.

The first lesson of the afternoon would be grammar and spelling. This would be followed by a history lesson. The last class of the day was geography.

After the teacher assigned chores for the next day, most students would gather their things and head home. The teacher could give after school punishments to students who misbehaved. This commonly involved some sort of cleaning. Thus, you have a day in the life of a 19th-century student.

 

Sources

The Late Nineteenth Century One Room School, by Oak Hill School Teacher’s Resource and Curriculum Guide

http://mentalfloss.com/article/58705/11-ways-school-was-different-1800s

 

Researchers Call Teaching A Semi-Profession

The assumed status of teachers is believed to impact who decides to become a teacher and who decides to stay in the profession. Amongst education researchers, there is some debate as to whether teaching is a profession or a semi-profession.

In a 1985 study, Hoswam et. al identify teaching as a semi-profession because it lacks one of the core components of a true profession; professional expertise. Harsh. But, unfortunately, they do have some evidence to back it up. Many teachers do not base their practice on validated principals and theories. Many teachers also do not “contribute to building a scientific knowledge base through the development of principals, theories, or to validating practices.”

The consequences of this are only negative. Due to the lack of a widely used scientific knowledge base around which to build teaching into a true profession, there are not agreed upon standards for evaluating teachers. Teacher education also suffers because of this.

Another researcher, Hoyles argues that teaching is only a semi-profession because teachers tend to rely on knowledge gained through experience without also relying on a systematized scientific knowledge base.

“although knowledge gained through experience is important, this recipe-type knowledge is insufficient to meet professional demands and the practitioner has to draw on a body of systematic knowledge” -Hoyle

According to the OECD study I am basing this article on, there are three main reasons teaching fits better into the semi-professional category than in the professional category.

  1. A profession-specific systematized and scientific body of knowledge that informs the daily activities of practitioners
    • This has been covered above. Essentially, teachers rely on their experience without reference or regards to research.
  2. a lengthy period of higher education training and induction and continuous professional development
    • While teaching has similar requirements as say nursing or engineering the standards are lax. It is considered to be easy to get into and graduate from an education program. This is compounded by many education programs not being based on a scientific body of knowledge.
  3. autonomy, both in connection with the right to exercise professional judgment and decision-making in practice and in governance over the profession.
    • Various education reform movements and legislation have impacted teacher autonomy both in a negative and positive manner. Teacher autonomy also varies from region to region and from school to school.

Outside of the profession, semi-profession debate there is a debate over the perceived status of education. Salary is considered to play an influential in the public’s perception of a job field. According to the OECD data, in 2016, primary teachers earn an average of 81% of the salary a full-time college graduate would earn, while high school teachers earned an average of 85% of that benchmark. Work conditions also play into the status of teaching. Class size, school resources, teaching hours, high workload, school safety, lack of professional development, and large administrative duties have all been cited as a negative influence of the teachings perceived status.  Teachers do not have many pathways for moving “up” the career ladder if they wish to remain in the classroom. This often leads to teachers feeling as if teaching is not a career unless they wish to move out of the classroom and into administration.

Many researchers have said that in order to both professionalize and improve the public’s perception of teaching, steps should be taken to make teaching an evidenced-based occupation. One way to start this is for researchers to look into teacher knowledge and draw attention to it. Research in the area of teacher pedagogical knowledge is lacking. There are a few studies that suggest teachers with a high level of pedagogical knowledge is associated with competent teaching. However, there is a lack of research looking at teacher pedagogical knowledge and student learning outcomes. This is an incredibly important area to research because of the potential impact to teachers and students.

References:
Guerriero, S. (ed.) (2017), Pedagogical Knowledge and the Changing Nature of the Teaching Profession, Educational Research and Innovation, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264270695-en.

Education 1960-1980: The Coleman Report (1965) and EHA (1975)

1966 saw the publication of the report titled Equality of Educational Opportunity, which became known as The Coleman Report (Wikipedia). The report’s purpose was to see if students of different races, religions, and national origins had equal access to educational opportunities. It revolutionized the way schools were evaluated by both the public and the government (Hanushek, 2016). Previously, schools were evaluated based on their inputs: how much money they spent per pupil, books per pupil in the library, breadth/depth of curriculum, etc. The Coleman report focused on outcomes such as how much students learn each year, long-term employment, future earning opportunities, etc.

It found that student background and socioeconomic status dramatically impact student achievement, though it is disputed how accurate these findings were. Some argue that the report valued student/family background too highly and that the analysis was skewed as a result.

The Coleman report also found that black students who attended majority white schools performed better academically. This finding led to “mass bussing” where black students were bussed to “white” schools in order to help desegregate schools and improve outcomes for black students. This intervention proved to be incredibly controversial, and ultimately ineffective. In a later report, Coleman said that the bussing strategy failed, not because the original finding was incorrect, but because the bussing policy led to white flight (Kiviat, 2000).

In measuring academic outcomes, the Coleman Report was able to definitively show how large the achievement gap was. In 1965, in a national test of math, black 12th graders came in at the 13th percentile of the score distribution for white students. This means that the 87% of white students scored better than the average black student (Hanushek, 2016). The results were slightly better, but still depressing for reading. As the achievement gap became public knowledge a push was made to rectify this injustice (injustice is the correct term for a man-made problem of this scale).

Shortly after the report was published, President Johnson was pushing for a federally funded education program that would help equalize the educational opportunities of low-income students by increasing funding schools in low-income neighborhoods. A bit later, in the 1970s there was the Serrano v Priest California Supreme Court Case. The decision stated that all schools in the state of California must spend the same amount per pupil (Hanushek, 2016). The hope was that this would increase educational equity. These went forward even though their basic premise is contradicted by the Coleman Report that increased funding does not impact educational outcomes. Today, further research has shown more clearly that money does matter. How states, schools, and districts spend it matters (Baker, 2017).

 

In 1975, Public Law 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) was passed. The core of this law was that all children are entitled to an education. The law required that all public schools receiving money from the federal government needed to provide free, equal access to education and one meal per day for children with physical and or mental disabilities. This law also forced schools to interact with these children’s parents. Schools would work with parents to create an education plan for the child that would provide the least restrictive environment, and therefore imitate the regular curriculum as much as possible.

The ongoing impact of EHA can hardly be overstated as, it the time of its passing, around one million students were excluded from public education because they had a physical or mental disability (Special Ed News, 2018). The impact from this has compounded as every year since 1975 these children have been allowed to be students. This often not only improves the child’s quality of life because they have a greater opportunity to learn, but it probably improved the families quality of life as well (I can’t find sources, but assume it is true). This happened because the family would no longer need to pay for private schooling/daycare and both parents would be able to fulfill their obligations during the day. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), there are approximately 6.7 million students receiving some form of special education today.

20th Century Education: 1900-1960 A Brief Briefing

The Progressive Era began in the 1890s and continued into the 1930s. The era was characterized by dramatically increasing children’s access to education. John Dewey is perhaps the most famous figure in education from the Progressive Era. He advocated for schools to become more democratic. He also wanted students to be more active in the classroom. This led him towards what has become known as the Constructivist Learning Theory. The core of this theory states that students must individually “construct” their knowledge. In this approach, according to Professor Hein of Lesley College, “Learning is not understanding the “true” nature of things, nor is it (as Plato suggested) remembering dimly perceived perfect ideas, but rather a personal and social construction of meaning.”

Through much of the 1900s, education was segregated. Booker T. Washington played a major role in African American education. He led Tuskegee College and essentially turned an empty lot into a growing university that had over 1,500 students by its 25th anniversary. He advocated for schools that could prepare African Americans for every sphere of life: scientific, industrial, and agricultural. This meant that he was pushing not only for access to secondary education but tertiary education as well. A simple way to measure Booker T. Washington’s impact would be to look up how many places are named after him. According to Wikipedia, there are currently 26 schools and government facilities with his name.

At the beginning of the 20th century, 78% of school-age children were enrolled in school. The average rate of attendance hovered around 70%. During the early 1900s, many students’ education would end with primary or middle school, only 11% of students enrolled in secondary school. Thankfully, throughout the 1900s and into the 2000s we have been able to drastically increase school attendance. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), by 1940 nearly 80% of students who were high school aged (14-17 yrs) were enrolled in school. Wikipedia adds that 50% of adults had earned a high school diploma by this time.

This huge jump happened in spite of the Great Depression of 1929-1939. Many public schools struggled with funding as their tax revenues fell. They struggled so much that many were not able to pay teachers. President Roosevelt instituted the New Deal in 1933 to get people to work and jump-start the economy. The parts of the New Deal applying to education were focused on helping the poor. But it did not use best practices and the new schools the program built were not designed by experts. Educational best practices were largely ignored as well. This led to great angst among the education community and played a substantial role in “deprofessionalizing” teaching.

As the 1900s went on, the population increased its rate of urbanization. This reduced the number of farmers and increased the number of factory workers. The change led many parents to place more of an emphasis on their children’s education. Companies began placing more emphasis on education as well. They wanted more knowledgeable workers who were able to effectively use new technologies and analyze increasing amounts of data. The GI Bill was introduced at WWII’s conclusion. This bill made it possible for many veterans to attend college and played an instrumental role in creating a college-going culture. In the 1960s, President Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Great Society programs.

The Higher Education Act of 1965 (part of the Great Society) set up scholarships and low-interest federal loans for college students. It also greatly expanded the number of community colleges. Another act of 1965, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act increased federal funding for compulsory public schools. A combination of the aforementioned demands, a flourishing economy, and government intervention proved to be a boon for universities as their number at least doubled between 1950-1970.

Segregation was still legal in America until 1954. The Brown v Board of Education trial went to the Supreme Court and the justices ruled unanimously: separate but equal was not, in fact, equal, and was unconstitutional. Even though this made the law clear. Many places refused to follow it. Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas illustrates how tense and angry white people were over integration. President Eisenhower took control of the state’s national guard because the governor tried to use them to stop federal integration efforts. School integration has greatly improved but is an ongoing issue in America.

 

Sources

https://www.tuskegee.edu/discover-tu/tu-presidents/booker-t-washington

https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/culture-magazines/1900s-education-overview

https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d00/dt006.asp

https://www.exploratorium.edu/education/ifi/constructivist-learning

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_education_in_the_United_States#Education_after_1945

A Day In The Life: 19th-Century Students

The school day would typically start around 8 a.m. Before school started, students would need to finish their chores on the farm, and then walk up to 3 miles to school. Teachers would also commonly assigned morning duties (to be finished before 8 a.m.) to older, stronger students. This included gathering firewood in the winter and collecting water for drinking and washing.

Before academics could begin, schools had a ritualized practice to go through. The students would line up outside in two lines (boys and girls) from youngest to oldest. Then, the girls would enter the school, curtseying/bowing to the teacher as they walked by. The girls would stand at attention and wait for the boys to follow their lead. After all the students entered the school, children would recite the Pledge of Allegiance. This would be followed by either the Lord’s Prayer or a moral lesson typically involving the Bible. Finally, children would be seated, take roll call, and begin the academic portion of the day.

Reading was the first lesson taught. The teacher would assign work for each level, and once students were working, one level would be called to the front to “toe the line”. This meant that they would be required to recite a passage from memory or read aloud from a textbook. When it came time for arithmetic class, the teacher would have the younger children solve problems on the blackboard. After this was finished, the older students would come to the front and practice solving math problems orally. Penmanship came next. Students would write their names, dates, and a moral saying. Penmanship class was accompanied by an oral explanation of the written morals.

Lunch was next. After students ate, they would gather more firewood and water if necessary. Then they could use the remaining time to play.

The first lesson in the afternoon would be grammar and spelling. This would be followed by a history lesson. The last class of the day was geography.

After the teacher assigned chores for the next day, most students would gather their things and head home. The teacher could give after school punishments to students who misbehaved. This commonly involved some sort of cleaning. Thus, you have a day in the life of a 19th-century student.

 

Sources

The Late Nineteenth Century One Room School, by Oak Hill School Teacher’s Resource and Curriculum Guide

http://mentalfloss.com/article/58705/11-ways-school-was-different-1800s

 

19th Century Education: Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic

The school year in the 1800s was scheduled around the planting and harvesting schedule and had two terms running from May-August and November-April. The schools had one room, where students of all ages would learn. The typical arrangement would be for younger students to sit in the front and older students to sit in the back, but this wasn’t always the case because students were grouped by ability. Students would move towards the back (~equivalent to moving up a grade level) when the teacher decided they were ready.

In school,  the students would focus on reading, writing, and arithmetic. This lead to the common saying the 3 R’s. However, there was a fourth R, recitation. During this time period writing utensils and paper were harder to come by, many schools would make due with only chalk and a blackboard. Since students couldn’t record information on paper, memorization was prioritized. Recitation came about because it was an effective way to test what students had learned using the available (minimal) resources.

As every student was in one room, the teacher needed to come up with strategies for classroom management. Some of these were punishments. A more proactive method was the Lancasterian System (Monitoring System). This involved having more knowledgeable students teach those who were less knowledgeable. There were two primary benefits of this strategy. It reduced the number of teachers needed, saving communities money. And it gave every student a task, reducing misbehavior.

However, many parents were not pleased that their child was losing instruction time teaching a weaker student. This lead to the pupil-teacher movement. A child who wanted to become a teacher would begin a 5-year apprenticeship at age 13 under the head teacher. Some of the more successful schools using the pupil-teacher approach went on to become normal schools (Teachers Colleges).

 

Sources

The Late Nineteenth Century One Room School, by Oak Hill School Teacher’s Resource and Curriculum Guide

https://www.britannica.com/topic/monitorial-system

http://mentalfloss.com/article/58705/11-ways-school-was-different-1800s

Colonial Education: The Master and the Apprentice

Apprenticeships and indentures were a common way for a child to gain an education during the colonial time period. When a child was 14, his parents would arrange an apprenticeship or indenture for their child. This period in the child’s life could last up to 7 years. As the apprentice or indenture is still a minor in this case, the master was legally regarded as in loco parentis. As a result, the master was legally responsible to educate the apprentice/indenture at least to the legal standard. Many parents, however, wanted more. So the parents would haggle with the master in order to include specific educational provisions in the agreement. A study by Quimby (Apprenticeships in Colonial America) found that about two-thirds of indentures included provisions for education.

When these clauses were included the master would be required to teach the apprentice much more than just his trade. The master would be required to teach morality, bookkeeping, reading, and writing. Basic math would be included in bookkeeping. If the master was unable to teach his apprentice in areas outside his trade, the apprentice would go to an evening or winter school depending on when the apprentice had more free time. These schools began opening up in the late 1600s to early 1700s.

There were also several Poor-Laws enacted in the Massachusetts Bay Colonies in this time period. Their purpose was to ensure an elementary level education for all citizens who could not get it through other means. The laws stated that boys should learn reading, writing, and cyphering. While girls should learn reading and writing.

As time went on, education began to take on more social value. This put some of the education out of the masters’ abilities. As a result, masters would pay to send their apprentice to school to become educated. However, towards the end of the colonial period, this cost was shifted back onto the apprentices’ parents.

Once the apprentice completed their apprenticeship, many were not able to successfully run their own business. A defining characteristic of those who were successful in becoming independent after they finished their apprenticeship was the education they pursued on their own. In order to help apprentices progress in their careers, Boston built an Apprentices Library.

Sources

The Education of Indentured Servants in Colonial America by Mark R. Snyder

Colonial Education

Many of America’s colonists were religious, in this case, some variation of Christian and came to escape persecution. As a result of valuing their religion, the colonists sought a way to pass on their beliefs to their children. Education was seen as an effective evangelism method because a person who could read could read the Bible. The literacy rate (for men) in the colonies was about 70% versus about 40% for Britain and 29% in France.

Massachusetts made the reason it valued education explicit in 1642 by passing a law that states, “Select men of every town, in the several precincts and quarters where they dwell, shall have a vigilant eye over their brethren & neighbours, to see, first that none of them shall suffer so much barbarism in any of their families as not to indeavour to teach by themselves or others, their children & apprentices so much learning as may enable them perfectly to read the English tongue, & knowledge of the Capital Lawes…..Also that all masters of families do once a week (at the least) catechize their children and servants in the grounds & principles of Religion, & if any be unable to do so much: that then at the least they procure such children or apprentices to learn some short orthodox catechism without book, that they may be able to answer unto the questions that shall be propounded to them out of such catechism by their parents or masters or any of the Select men when they shall call them to a tryall of what they have learned of this kind…….”

In a positive reading of this law, Massachusetts is saying, while it takes a village to raise a child, each family is responsible to teach their children the basics of reading and writing. They are required to either do so themselves or to find some other arrangement (school/tutor) where their child will learn. The state also required parents to catechize (educate) their children about religion (Christianity).

In order to meet the demand for education, product hawkers and education publishers cropped up. One product that developed in this time period was the hornbook. A hornbook is simply a thin piece of wood with paper on top of it. Then, the paper is covered by a thin, transparent horn (hence, hornbook). The paper would often have the alphabet (upper and lower case), common syllables, and the Lord’s Prayer included.  

In 1647, Massachusetts passed a law requiring all towns of at least 50 families establish a petty (elementary) school and that every town of 100 or more families establish a Latin (grammar) school top help prepare students for higher education (often ministry, law, or medicine).

While both boys and girls would attend the petty schools, families prioritized education for their boys. There are a myriad of reasons for this, one of the large ones would be that the boys needed to be able to manage finances and take over the farm/family business one day. The petty schools taught reading, writing, cyphering (math, I think), and religion.

Students would attend Latin schools from the ages of 10-14. After this point, if students were going to continue their education they would move on to a university. In addition to Latin, these schools also taught math, science, and the classics.

Sources:

https://www.landofthebrave.info/colonial-education.htm

https://www.pbs.org/onlyateacher/timeline.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_the_Thirteen_Colonies

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammar_school#United_States