The Obvious Priority of Education
September 7, 2022 by Jeffery Johnston
Imagine that you have been selected to participate in a massive sociological research project sponsored by NASA. They have chosen other candidates with similar socio/political views from a variety of occupations that could naturally form a community. They want to study human interaction in preparation for future colonization of the moon, orbiting space stations, or even other planets. The project involves establishing a working colony in a remote part of Wyoming. You and your family and 24 other families would initially be given enough resources to erect a few basic structures and the knowledge to begin developing the local resources. After a year, twenty-five new families would join you, and after another year, twenty-five more. Most of the resources used for establishing the colony would be supplied by NASA for those first three years. After that, the colony would be required to be independent and any further growth would have to be driven by the free market. If the colony is still successful in 20 years, you will be rewarded handsomely. NASA will study the dynamics of a developing community, including leadership, priorities, and how ideas are developed, agreed upon and executed.
Given this scenario, how long would it be before your colony established a college?
Perhaps this is an odd question, but your answer will be revealing. What it shows is the priority of education and your vision for the long term (i.e. generational) sustainability of the colony. Something very much like the imaginary experiment I described above was tried many years ago. We now call that colony Boston.
When the English Puritans established the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630, they had sufficient resources to make a strong foundation. Thanks to William Bradford and the Plymouth colony (which was established 10 years earlier, 26 miles to the south), they also had sufficient knowledge of the native population, climate and farming techniques. After they established civil government and the basic structures of the colony, the population began to grow tremendously.
What priority did they place on education? The first Latin Grammar School was established in 1635. Harvard University was established in 1636 by an act of the General Court of the colony. Only six years after coming ashore, these colonial fathers decided they needed a college. The colony grew rapidly and small communities began to spring up around the original settlement. This growth led to concerns for the families of the colony. By 1642 another law was passed that required every community to have their local magistrate ensure “that none of them shall suffer so much barbarism in any of their families as not to endeavor to teach (their children) by themselves or (by) others.” Five years later they passed another law that required every community that grew to a hundred families to maintain a grammar school that would be equipped to prepare children for university. The law became known as the Ol’ Deluder Satan Act of 1647. It was believed that unless men and women could read well enough to understand the Scriptures, they would be more easily tempted by Satan to all forms of corruption, vice, and superstition. They felt that the consequences of an ignorant voting population were too great for the commonwealth to tolerate.
As a result of their commitment to education, from that time through the next two centuries illiteracy was half that of Europe (even including slaves). Among male New Englanders literacy was close to 100%.
Sadly, too few have that same commitment today. At the time of the War for Independence virtually every American read with interest complex political treatises and understood writings like the Federalist Papers. Our colonial fathers had a mind for long term sustainability and as a result generations have benefited.
I believe the founding vision of this nation is threatened by the low priority this generation places on education. Not that we don’t constantly talk about our schools. Not that our society isn’t spending money on schools. I believe that the low priority on true education with a higher spiritual goal has been our downfall. We must restore that understanding and the work ethic that makes education possible and profitable. We must restore the conviction that all people must read not merely to get a job but to learn what it really means to be human and to gain the knowledge of the Scriptures. That must be a priority. I am not suggesting that we need to build a college, but I am committed to at least building the best model school for this community. May we do so together by the grace of God and for His glory. Peace and Grace.
P.S. Here is the full text of the Ol’ Deluder Satan Act of 1647: “It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures, as in former times by keeping them in an unknown tongue, so in these latter times by persuading from the use of tongues, that so that at least the true sense and meaning of the original might be clouded and corrupted with love and false glosses of saint-seeming deceivers; and to the end that learning may not be buried in the grave of our forefathers, in church and commonwealth, the Lord assisting our endeavors. It is therefore ordered that every township in this jurisdiction, after the Lord hath increased them to fifty households shall forthwith appoint one within their town to teach all such children as shall resort to him to write and read, whose wages shall be paid either by the parents or masters of such children, or by the inhabitants in general, by way of supply, as the major part of those that order the prudentials of the town shall appoint; provided those that send their children be not oppressed by paying much more than they can have them taught for in other towns. And it is further ordered, that when any town shall increase to the number of one hundred families or householders, they shall set up a grammar school, the master thereof being able to instruct youth so far as they may be fitted for the university, provided that if any town neglect the performance hereof above one year that every such town shall pay 5 pounds to the next school till they shall perform this order.”