|A Year of Colonial American Frontier History|
The Massachusetts General Court passed the Massachusetts Act of 1642. The goal of the legislation was to ensure that all parents and guardians “make certain that their charges could read and understand the principles of religion and the laws of the Commonwealth.”
Main Provisions of the Law
The law decreed each town to select people to watch their neighbors. Their purpose was to ensure that they were teaching their children to read and write. Parents and guardians were also to instruct the children in the grounds and principals of religion at least once a week. Parents and guardians also took responsibility for teaching their children a trade or husbandry. If the parent or guardian was not performing their duty to the child, the authorities could fine them or remove the child. They could then place it in a situation where it was educated.
Importance to the Colony
The colonists regarded education as utmost importance. For many, it was important to be able to read and understand the bible. The colony's leaders knew that order was easier to maintain it people could read. Then they could understand the laws the Assemblies passed. Education during this period was a family or religious function. Note the law did not require school attendance, it required the parents or guardians to educate the children. Boston citizens had established the first free public school, the Boston Latin School, in 1635. However, attendance was not compulsory.
Massachusetts Act of 1647
Five years later the Massachusetts General Court passed the Massachusetts Act of 1647. This built on the earlier statute. It required each town of more than fifty people to hire a teacher to educate the children. Towns of one hundred or more had to have a Latin instructor who was to prepare children for entry in Harvard College. This Act still left the educational responsibilities in the hands of the family. But, it provided a means for public funds to be provided for aid.
A Year of Colonial American Frontier History
© Paul Wonning 2016