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January 28, 2020

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To School or Not to School

April 1, 2015

I am waiting for the day I get a review that disputes the education level of both David and Annie in my book Keeping Secrets, as well as the historical context of the school they attend. The fact of the matter is, members of the Society of Friends (Quakers) placed a higher value on education in the 18th century than the average colonial citizen. They had more schools, with more teachers, than the average colonial community. What is even more remarkable is that they educated their girls, at least in the early years, with as much vigor as they educated their boys. Still, while education was important, it was not what defined a person. It was merely a means to an end.


It amazes me how much stock people put in education these days, and how the government, especially, thinks that education will solve the nation’s problems. The fact is that America was founded during a time when education took a back seat to putting food on the table, putting clothes on children’s backs, and forming children to be honest, hardworking, self-reliant citizens. And it must not be lost that these were the people who started and finished a war against the most powerful nation in the world.


The fact is, that most adults in the pre-Revolutionary war period were barely literate themselves. They had to send their children to school to learn to read, write, and cipher. As for the Chesapeake planters, before the middle of the 18th century there were very few free schools in Virginia. Private schoolmasters were paid by the parents who pooled their money together to pay his salary. Even then, teachers were in short supply. For example, in 1724, there was only one schoolteacher for every 100 white families covering an eight parish area. In two Piedmont parishes, there were only four teachers responsible for 400 families. That means very few children in 18th century Virginia were formally schooled for even a short length of time.