Why & how did schools begin in the United States?

September 1, 2017

The Puritans Supported Education for Bible Literacy

The Puritans in colonial America strongly supported education.  Literacy and education, they believed, were necessary firstly so that people could read and understand the Bible.  The Puritans felt so strongly about Bible literacy that they passed education laws requiring sizeable towns to set up schools and to teach reading and writing.  The Old Deluder Satan Act of 1647, for example, required communities and towns to set up and fund grammar schools and to hire schoolmasters.  This act intended to prevent Satan, the “Old Deluder,” from deceiving people with illiteracy and keeping them from reading the Bible.  The Puritans’ Old Deluder law became the basis for the public school system in America.

A New England Dame School in Old Colonial Times, 1713. Engraving. Bettman Archive.

The Puritans’ support for Bible education and the Old Deluder law were influenced by the Protestant Reformation and their views about the church and the Bible.  The Puritans held the view that…

American schools thus began with the Puritans in the 1600s to insure Bible literacy.  As expected, the Bible was the core of learning in schools.  The New England Primer, the first reader in America, included Bible truths, stories, poems, hymns, and prayers.  The Puritans founded many of the first colleges and universities in America—including Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth—and they did so with a strong Christian purpose.  For example, Harvard’s rules and precepts declared, “Let every student be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed to consider well that the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life, John 17:3, and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom as the only foundation of all knowledge and learning.”  These and future schools shaped the leaders and thinkers of early America including the Founding Fathers of the United States.

The Puritans’ emphasis on education influenced the American public school system, widespread literacy, and the idea of an informed citizenry in America.  This emphasis on literacy and education promoted strong religious convictions among colonists and led to the creation of the most literate, educated society in the world.

From AHEF and Angela E. Kamrath.


Source:  Kamrath, Angela E.  The Miracle of America:  The Influence of the Bible on the Founding History and Principles of the United States of America for a People of Every Belief.  Second Edition.  Houston, TX:  American Heritage Education Foundation, 2014, 2015.

Activity:  Miracle of America High School Teacher Course Guide, Unit 3, Part 2 of 3, Activity 5:  Predicting What the Puritans’ New Colony Might Be Like, p. 119, 344.  MS-HS.

Predicting What the Puritans’ New Colony Might Be Like…

To download this whole unit, sign up as an AHEF member (no cost) to access the “resources” page on  To order the printed binder format of the course guide with all the units, go to the AHEF bookstore.

Copyright © American Heritage Education Foundation.  All rights reserved.

Published by: The Founding

Receive Blog Updates