Jerry Newcombe
Early American literacy versus today’s woke education
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By Jerry Newcombe
February 15, 2024

In recent decades the quality of American education has plummeted.

When you scan the headlines related to education, you realize how far we have fallen:

  • A “non-binary” activist teacher promotes the woke agenda for kindergarteners and claims that the U.S. and Israel have “no right to exist.”

  • Harvard, America’s oldest and most prestigious college (historically), now teaches a class on the pop singer Taylor Swift. Harvard’s tuition costs $75,000 a year.

  • A Seattle high school teacher, who praised Hamas in class, failed a student on a quiz. Why? The student said men can’t get pregnant. When the student’s mom complained, the school authorities stood by the teacher, not the student.

  • A social studies teacher in Maine assigned her high school students to write their own “Declaration of Independence,” maybe, she suggested, even from their own parents.

  • An elementary school principal in Oklahoma performed as a drag queen. He has since resigned.

Needless to say, there is a battle over education today.

But when you look at early American education, there is no question that the Bible in one way or another was the chief textbook for the first 200-300 years. This led to widespread literacy.

In fact, I have produced a documentary for Providence Forum entitled, “The Beginning of Wisdom.” The title comes from the scriptures, which say that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” This film aims to show what was right about early education, and how did it get that way.

At one time, America was among the best educated nations in the world. James Madison of Virginia, a key architect of the Constitution, said, “A well-instructed people alone can be permanently a free people.”

The first school law passed in America was in Boston in the 1640s, and it was nicknamed “The Old Deluder Satan Act.” The law begins, “It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures, as in former times,” therefore schools were to be systematically established so that the children could read and write for themselves.

The Puritans were "dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches, when our present ministers shall lie in the dust,” so they started a school of higher learning where more ministers of the Gospel could be produced. That school was Harvard, named after a donor, Rev. John Harvard.

All of the original colleges and universities in America were created by Christians for Christian purposes—Harvard, William and Mary, Yale, Dartmouth, Brown, and so on. These schools set the standard for education throughout the land.

The only Ivy League school that was not explicitly Christian in its founding was Cornell, which was established in the 1840s—more than 200 years after Harvard.

One of the guests in our program is the Jewish scholar Dennis Prager, founder of PragerU. He mentions the following fact about the third oldest college in North America: “The insignia of Yale University is in Hebrew. It’s the mantle or the breastplate that the high priest of Israel wore, Urim veha-Tummim, and it’s in Hebrew.… Do you know how immersed you had to be in the Bible to know that, and if you were not a Jew to know those words, Urim veha-Tummim? And that’s, to this day, the insignia of Yale University.”

In 1789, Catholics founded Georgetown University in what is now Washington, DC and in 1842, they founded Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. Even today, Catholic schools in the inner-city are legendary in throwing a lifeline for children in need.

Another guest in the documentary is Joyce Burges, who co-founded, with her husband, the National Black Home Education League. She says, “Booker T. Washington was a Christian man, and when he founded Tuskegee Institute he shared those Christian principles with the students. As a matter of fact, be believed in the broom, the Bible, and the book, meaning, education, chores, and the Word of God.”

Education for the masses, using Bible-based books like The New England Primer and McGuffey’s Readers (the earliest versions) helped create a well-educated populace in early America.

Using Mike Huckabee as the voice of Thomas Jefferson, we close the above-mentioned documentary with this statement from our third president: “If a nation expects to be ignorant & free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was & never will be. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.”

Around 1800, after almost 200 years of strong Christian influence in the schools, John Adams remarked that to find an illiterate man in New England was as rare as a comet.

How far we have fallen. My prayer is that God would revive the works of His hand in this nation.

© Jerry Newcombe

 

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Jerry Newcombe

Jerry Newcombe, D.Min., is the executive director of the Providence Forum, an outreach of D. James Kennedy Ministries, where Jerry also serves as senior producer and an on-air host. He has written/co-written 33 books, including George Washington's Sacred Fire (with Providence Forum founder Peter Lillback, Ph.D.) and What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? (with D. James Kennedy, Ph.D.). www.djkm.org @newcombejerry www.jerrynewcombe.com

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