Grade: Elementary
Subject: History

#1918. Brief History of American Public Schools

History, level: Elementary
Posted Mon Aug 21 08:48:47 PDT 2000 by Dr. Brian F. Geiger (
The History of Education Site
Univ. of Alabama at Birmingham School of Education, Birmingham, AL USA
Materials Required: elementary history text, story- or bulletin board, or models representing Roman and colonial lives
Activity Time: single 45-60-minute session
Concepts Taught: public education in America, colonial life

Read together elementary history text chapter(s) on colonial life in America. Use story- or bulletin board, diorama, models, or videotaped segments portraying lives of classical Egyptians, Greeks, or Romans. Contrast simple differences between ancient and modern schools: 1. Ancient schools were mostly for boys and young men, while American schools educate boys and girls, pre-K to 12th grade. 2. Ancient schools were often in temples and taught about religion, Vs. modern public schools as community facilities which focus on academics. 3. Ancient schools were reserved for the wealthy, Vs. modern schools which are open to all citizens and supported by our taxes.

Discuss students' perceptions of colonial life during the lifetimes of Benjamin Franklin, Paul Revere, and Martha Washington. Present characteristics of early American schools in the 18th century: 1. New England colonists sought freedom from England and established Dame schools to teach reading and religion. 2. Teachers often traveled to several different schools, therefore, students may have attended only 2-3 days of school each week. 3. Later, Township schools included all students living within a surrounding town or village. These schools offered instruction in 4 R's: Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and Religion. Students completed only 4-5 years of education.

As classwork or homework assignment, students should illustrate a typical colonial American school day, assuming the role of a pilgrim girl or boy whose parents recently arrived in the colonies from Europe. What was life like for early settlers? Early each morning, home and farm chores must be completed before school. What would these chores be? Students walk to school held in a nearby home, town hall, or church. How is this different from the way you go to school? What is your school building like now? Parents paid tuition in the form of money, farm products, or other goods. How do we pay for schools today? Students attend school in the fall and winter when there are fewer farm chores. What seasons of the year do you have vacation from school now? Each night you finish your homework and chores. Usually, you retire soon after dark. What are your duties at home after school now?

Optional: conclude the lesson with a class visit by the principal or local school board member. Provide a simple flowchart or use photos to illustrate the roles and duties of school superintendent, board of education, principals, teachers, and other school personnel.

(This lesson was prepared to assist cub scouts to meet badge requirements.)