Home  »  Volume XVII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II  »  § 6. New England; The Massachusetts Law of 1647

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XXIII. Education

§ 6. New England; The Massachusetts Law of 1647

It was the colonists of New England, particularly those of Massachusetts, who had visions of a new education in a new society and who left us abundant written records of their purposes and achievements. As specific as the Pennsylvania formulation and far more effective was the often quoted statement of the Massachusetts law of 1647:

  • It being one chief point of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of Scriptures, as in former times, by keeping them in an unknown tongue, so in these latter times, by persuading them from the use of tongues that so at last the true sense and meaning of the original might be clouded by false glosses of saint-seeming deceivers, that learning might not be buried in the graves of our fathers, in church and commonwealth, the Lord assisting our endeavours,—it is therefore ordered.…
  • From this law came the establishment of schools in every town, elementary schools only in towns of fifty families, secondary or Latin grammar schools also in towns of over one hundred families. Within the century, through the provision of the law and the experience of a free people, these schools became free. Consequently this statute of 1647 constitutes the Magna Charta of the American public school system. The theory of education expounded may now seem narrow, but it was at least far more concrete, definite, and vitally connected with the life of the times than the worn-out theories used by later generations to justify the same narrow linguistic education.