A study of the effects of Puritanism upon the formation of colonial education in Massachusetts Bay



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Puritanism, as an attitude of mind, a moral force, and ultimately a movement, grew out of man's recognition of the sovereign majesty of God. From such a belief came reverence for the Bible as the absolute Word of God. Because of these initial ideologies, Puritanism became the desire to purify the Established Church of its human orientation, or to separate from the Church to worship by forms so purified. This definition germinated in the teachings of Wycllff, who not only questioned Papal suzerainty but upheld the efficacy of an educated priesthood of all believers. Wycllff's educational Idealism developed deeper roots in the fermenting social soil resulting from the New Learning and from Henry VIII's political, ecclesiastical, and financial split with Rome. Puritanism achieved full blossom in the subsequent reigns of Edward VI, Mary, and finally Elizabeth I, whose Emphasis upon building an Independent, tolerant, educated, unified nation allowed Puritanism the opportunity to fully develop and focus Its defining doctrines. Massachusetts Bay was founded by Puritan intellectuals at a time when reform doctrines, withstanding siege from both Catholicism and Anglicanism, had attained consummate articulation. Thus Massachusetts Bay was founded to show protestants at home how the Reformation should be perfected. The result was a biblical polity based upon the covenant theology—i. e. , by becoming a partner with God, where man promised to obey God, God then granted man salvation, worldly success, and happiness. Because fulfillment of the civil covenant demanded, fulfillment of the personal covenant, education of the young became the important means of assuring that the highly articulate concepts of the Bible State were correctly perpetuated. Otherwise, Puritanism would cease to exist, and the reformers' attempt to build "a city upon a hill" would utterly fall. Thus the Salem Puritans created an education which, even in the face of wilderness severity, was designed according to the profoundly Intellectual traditions of their rich religious and historical heritage, Puritan education, based upon stringent philosophies, advocated humanistic education--the Arts. Puritans believed that Adam's fall had resulted in all men's inability to reason correctly. Yet, the ability to attain regenerate reason was present In every man. Since God was defined as Perfect Logical Ability, the Perfect Mind, then man, created in God's image, retained the ability to approach God through regenerate Logical ability. Thus salvation was not prostration but intellectual elevation. Although complete logical regeneration could never be fully attained or even begun except by God's Grace—distributed upon his elect—education prepared the child for the salvation experience. The Arts were seen as emanating from the Mind of God. That is, the Arts (ectype) reflected God (entype). Mastering the Arts enabled one to approach God, to perceive the Universe, the Mind of God in action, once Grace was bestowed. Hence education became an essential preparation for the salvation experience. In Massachusetts Bay, books like The New-England Primer, The Day of Doom, The History of Genesis were used to make the child aware of his fallen state. The trivium, the quadrlvium, and ultimately technologia (the meaning and essence of the Arts) prepared youth to comprehend, through the Arts, God's ultimate Truth. Puritanism has been acknowledged as one of the continuing factors in the development of American attitudes, because it was the first ingredient in the American experience to be rigorously articulated. The motivation behind this legacy was largely due to the church-state concept and the belief in government as God-sanctioned, which existed in Europe long before the Reformation. These ideas passed Intact through the Reformation and were not only rigorously upheld but combined and rigidly particularized by Puritan theorists. The result was that the Puritan Commonwealth was organized on a God-state concept, where the Inward covenant was logically reframed as a federal covenant. Thus spiritual well-being was interpreted as civil welfare and order, social stratification, and obedience to the God-state, Maintenance and perpetuation of this Puritan state demanded education. Thus, children were taught the fear of breaking God's (hence the Commonwealth's) laws and a fear of the dreadful social and spiritual consequence of sin. The result of this teaching was that even after Puritanism as an orthodoxy died, the conviction and intensity remained alive to infect the consciences of succeeding generations. Thus, the doctrine that man was not a free agent provided, a powerful stimulus to extreme effort. The result was that New-Encrland Puritans not only made themselves physically secure, but immediately began to lay the foundations of government, education, thought, and literature which greatly exceeded the achievements of any other colony and established New England as the intellectual and educational leader of the nation for generations to come.