Spiritual Training in Early American Education – Part 2

by Sharmen S. Wright

Education of youth will always be important.  He who educates the children and youth of a society today will shape a society for tomorrow.   Thomas Jefferson said; “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”  Our Founders knew this and set out to make sure we would have a society which was both virtuous and free as liberty is freedom plus morality.   One of the ways they intended to do this, was through education.  In 1647, The Old Deluder Act was passed by the Puritans in Massachusetts.

“It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures, as in former times by keeping them in an unknown tongue, so in these latter times by persuading from the use of tongues, that so that at least the true sense and meaning of the original might be clouded and corrupted with false glosses of saint-seeming deceivers; and to the end that learning may not be buried in the grave of our forefathers, in church and commonwealth, the Lord assisting our endeavors.

It is therefore ordered that every township in this jurisdiction, after the Lord hath increased them to fifty households shall forthwith appoint one within their town to teach all such children as shall resort to him to write and read, whose wages shall be paid either by the parents or masters of such children, or by the inhabitants in general, by way of supply, as the major part of those that order the prudentials of the town shall appoint; provided those that send their children be not oppressed by paying much more than they can have them taught for in other towns.

And it is further ordered, that when any town shall increase to the number of one hundred families or householders, they shall set up a grammar school, the master thereof being able to instruct youth so far as they may be fitted for the university, provided that if any town neglect the performance hereof above one year that every such town shall pay 5 pounds to the next school till they shall perform this order.” – The Old Deluder Act (1647)
From Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England (1853), II: 203

One would expect to find these words in the Mission Statement of a Christian School or church, but in government?  Yes.  These words give us “The Old Deluder Act” of 1647. (

The purpose of this act, according to, was to encourage children to learn to read, “so that they would be enabled to read the Bible.”(emphasis mine)  While the Left screeches that public education should have nothing to say about God, they ignore, or are ignorant of, what our Founders believed and practiced.

In part one of this series, I mentioned the New England Primer.  This was first printed in 1690 and the purpose of it was to “combine the study of the Bible with the alphabet, vocabulary, and the reading of prose and poetry.” (

The New England Primer was used as an important textbook in American Schools, including Public Schools as recently as the last century and was still in print as recently as 1930 according to David Barton from

So, what does the New England Primer contain?  What were the Founders, their children, grandchildren and others reading from their early youth?  What can we learn that shaped their thinking as they built this nation, realized their inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and wrote our founding documents?  Let’s take a look.

On page 11 we find these words-new-england-primer

In Adam’s Fall

          We sinned all.

          Thy Life to mend,

          This Book attend.

          The Cat doth play,

          And after flay.

          A Dog will bite

          A Thief at Night.

          An Eagle’ flight

          Is out of fight.

          The idle Fool

          Is Whipt at School.

From a young age, children in Colonial America until the Great Depressions times, would very likely have read these words.  A clear teaching of our descent into sin and the remedy, God’s Holy Word, The Bible.  If these words were to be found in a textbook used in many American Public Schools today, we would find those who would protest even the mere mention of God’s name, let alone the remedy for our sinfulness.

On page 21 of a downloadable version of the Primer, we find two documents which are foundational to the Christian Faith of Catholics and Protestants alike.  The first is The Lord’s Prayer and the second is The Apostle’s Creed.  Imagine a first grader learning to read “I believe in God the Father Almighty Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord…he shall come to judge both the quick and the dead.  I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”

The Shorter Catechism is also included in the Primer.  Here we find a question and answer section.  The very first Q&A?

Q-What is the chief end of man?

          A-Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Further on in the Shorter Catechism section, we find the Ten Commandments discussed, teachings about the Lord’s Supper, and praying to God.

Somehow, a youngster’s thinking and beliefs must have been affected greatly, as they always are, by what was taught and read at an early age.  By learning The Lord’s Prayer, The Apostle’s Creed, et al, children KNEW that they were destined for something besides servitude to a King on another continent.  Instead, they knew that their rights came from God and that He expected them to live justly with each other.  They recognized early that He alone should be king and that liberty was His gift to them as human beings.  Parents wanted their children to learn these things and our Founders could not imagine an education system which did not include them.  May we find ways to once again educate our youth about the founding principles which helped to make our country great to begin with and challenge them to live their lives in the way our Founders did knowing that Nature’s God was guiding them.