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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 16.djvu/693

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THE EARLY FREE SCHOOLS OF AMERICA.

THE EARLY FREE SCHOOLS OF AMERICA.
By ALICE HYNEMAN RHINE.

WITH the discovery of America, the founding of colonies in the New World relieved the Old of so much surplus population as gave the people of both hemispheres many new chances in life. The advantages of education, meager as was the information given by the schools, inspired men with a desire for larger liberty than the old monarchical governments were either able or willing to give. The men that emigrated to America were of the liberty-loving type. Unfortunately, however, it was love of liberty for themselves, not for others. The Puritan fathers, far from being the lofty minded men historians have fondly painted, were bigots, without learning or desire for anything beyond worshiping their own idea of God in their own peculiar fashion. In some respects it was the misfortune of America that these men were the inaugurators of her religious and educational codes. An opportunity so splendid had never been granted to humanity. America started into life with the civilization, the culture, the experience of past ages as her teachers; she was enabled to take up at the last leaf the book of progress which had been commenced cycles before in India, Egypt, Chaldea, Greece, and Rome. The slow emergence from barbarism, the crude and cruel experiences of all other peoples, could have been remitted in her favor; like the fairy princess in the story of the "Forest of Lilacs," her teaching was proceeding while she slept. Had she been able, upon awakening, to make use of this culture—had her governors been men of liberal views and greater foresight—in America the "Utopia" of More might have become a possibility, and the "New Republic" of Plato a successful reality.

Instead of this enlarged freedom, the history of education in America is replete with theocratic superstitions. Theology interfered with the civil laws, and both Church and state hampered with their bonds the free development of education. Colleges were founded, not so much for the advancement of science as to provide learned ministers for ecclesiasticism. In the early colonial times, the Bible, Psalm-book, and Catechism comprised in great measure not only the school-books of the children but the family library. In 1720 we read that but one parish library could be chronicled in the colony of Virginia. This library consisted of three books—"The Singing Psalms," "The Whole Duty of Man," and "The Book of Homilies.

This dearth of reading matter, as might have been expected, resulted in making Biblical stories as familiar to the children of the colonists as the legendary tales of fairies and gnomes had been to the dwellers on the borders of the Rhine and Rhone. The dramatic trage-