Built in 1696, the Voorlezer’s House in Historic Richmond Town, Staten Island, New York is the oldest known school house in America.
- Voorlezer means “fore-reader” or “one who reads to others” in Dutch. Voorlezer was an important role in the Netherlands and in the Dutch New England colonies. A Voorlezer acted as a pastor’s apprentice and could lead religious services or teach school when no pastor was present.
- The Voorlezer house is a simple clapboard house with a rough stone foundation, hand-hewn boards, and a huge stone and brick fireplace. Here children met for school. The building was also used as a meeting place for the Dutch Reformed Congregation.
- It later became a private residence, a tavern, and a hotel. It was almost demolished in 1936, but the Staten Island Historical Society saved it and restored it as a museum, which is still open today.
- When the colonists first came to America, formal education was unusual. Most children were educated at home by their parents or by private tutors. Early schools were formed to teach colonial children Latin and Puritan values.
- In 1635, the Boston Latin School was opened in Boston, Massachusetts. This public school prepared wealthy boys for college and life. Massachusetts was at the forefront of the early school movement.
- Books were scarce on the frontier. In rural America, the Bible was the only book many families owned. Children learned to read by learning Bible stories.
- The one room school house appeared across the country. In these “common” schools, all ages met together to learn basic academics, such as reading, writing, and mathematics. These schools were not free. Parents paid tuition by feeding and lodging the teacher or offering some other compensation.
- One room schoolhouses became symbols of community and were often one of the first things local citizens built. The buildings were used for school, government, and church gatherings.
- Congregation: a group meeting for religious purposes
- Compensation: payment
Questions and Answers
Question: How has education changed since colonial America?
Answer: Early schools were fairly rigorous. Students were expected to know Latin and usually French. Students read from classical works of literature going back to the Greeks.
Frontier schools taught basic academics and usually had limited resources. During the1920s and 1930s, the Progressive Movement by John Dewey changed everything about how children are taught.
Read more about the Progressive Movement and the history of American education.
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