In the Middle Colonies, colonial leaders agreed that education was important but were not concerned with providing it. The decision of whether to educate children was left to individual families until 1683, when a Pennsylvania law was passed, requiring that all children be taught to read and write and be trained in a useful trade. Pennsylvania’s first school was established in the same year. The middle colonies were characterized by schools sponsored by many different kinds of religious denominations, rather than just the Puritan Church. There was more interest in the middle colonies in practical education.
William Penn and Benjamin Franklin stressed education in Pennsylvania.Middle Colonies drastically influenced the availability of schooling. In addition to these diverse cultural groups, all of which tended to want separate schools, there was no legal tradition, as there was in New England, which viewed providing schools as a major responsibility of a colonial government. Pennsylvania’s case amply illustrates both these conditions. The constitution (usually known as the “Frame of Government”) which Penn granted to Pennsylvanians in 1682 included requirements for a public school system stressing religious values and a practical education in some skill or trade for youngsters over twelve years of age. That these ideas in Penn’s mind may be considered noble, but no Governor, Assembly, or Council in the colony ever saw that they were enforced. Instead, schooling was left up to the various religious groups to handle as they chose. There were a few private non-sectarian schools in Philadelphia; these increased during the eighteenth century so that several other larger towns also had such schools.
Dutch settlers in New York, just as with Pietists in Pennsylvania, wanted their schools to reflect closely the teachings of the church, especially the Dutch Reformed Church. Some people believe that New Amsterdam had a public school in 1633, even before Boston. However, the school was “public” in a very limited sense because it was only maintained for children whose parents belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church. Fourteen years later colonists were complaining that no school existed and that “the school is kept very irregularly, by this one or that, according to his fancy, as long as he sees fit.” Another ten years went by, and settlers started pleading the Dutch West India Company for a Latin grammar school. The request was finally granted, “But by that time Massachusetts had half a score of Latin schools, and seventeen classes had been graduated from Harvard.
“After the English conquered New Netherland in 1664, Dutch schools became fortresses against acculturation, which is the modification of the culture of a group or individual as a result of contact with a different culture. Dutch parents wanted to be sure their native language was taught to their children, and even refused to use English in their church services. As late as 1755, a group of Dutch parents in New York refused to hire a schoolmaster who spoke English. Instead, they doubled the schoolmaster’s salary, paid all the moving expenses for a teacher and his family to come from Amsterdam, and then voted an additional bonus of ï¿½20 because Mr. Welp had suffered a loss from the quick sale of his possessions. The parents were overjoyed, reasoning that “a man who knew no English would not surreptitiously spread that commercial language, and certainly he would not favor loosening church ties with Holland.”Dutch schools emphasized religious teachings by using catechism drills and including activities with prayers from the Dutch Reformed liturgy during the day.
Girls attended school with boys, but they were seated in different classrooms. Just as in Puritan New England, Dutch schoolmasters had duties at church often assisting with baptisms, funerals, and with keeping children quiet and attentive. With such strong community spirit and often blatant resistance to English culture among the Dutch, it is not difficult to see why no public school system for the children of all groups was established in colonial New York.Two other famous institutions of the period, however, still had the preparation of ministers as their primary reason for existence: Princeton, founded in 1746 by the Presbyterian Church as the College of New Jersey, and Rutgers, founded in 1766 as Queen’s College by the Dutch Reformed Church. Princeton has an especially interesting history as the product of Presbyterian revivalism during the First Great Awakening.
Its beginnings go back to Rev. William Tennent’s so-called “Log College,” established in 1727 about twenty miles north of Philadelphia on Neshaminy Creek. Tennent, a graduate of The University of Edinburgh, located in Scotland, was distressed because no institution existed for preparing ministers in the appropriate revivalist evangelical mode of “New Light” Presbyterianism.Tennent was determined to offer the entire curriculum himself, and, as time went on, “Log College “graduates became renowned for the soundness of their doctrine and the sincerity and effectiveness of their revivalist techniques. This institution moved to Newark and finally to Princeton, New Jersey, where it was housed in 1756 in the newly built Nassau Hall (named for King William III of the house of Nassau). The building was constructed from money raised in England by Gilbert Tennent (son of the Log College’s founder) and Samuel Davies, the Virginia revivalist.
Princeton, which emerged from the Great Awakening’s furor, was very different from the College of Philadelphia so characteristic of the newer higher education institutions which were being released from the theological moorings of the earliest colonial colleges. But for this story and its emphasis on an “English education” to produce enlightened leaders we need to look at the life of Benjamin Franklin. If Cotton Mather can be thought of as the exemplar of education in New England’s Puritan tradition and Thomas Jefferson can serve as the prototype of the educated Southern aristocrat, then Franklin may be seen as the exemplar for the emerging merchant and entrepreneurial class in the Middle Colonies. Franklin, just as Jefferson, stepped out of the tradition of informal education and had much to say about schooling and practical curricula. In fact, studying the early history of the University of Pennsylvania and Franklin’s Academy, this gave many insights into Franklin’s life and into the educational issues with which he struggled.