Colonial Classroom: Then and Now  Instruction in colonial schools was primarily religious and authoritarian. Its goal was preparation for eternity. The curriculum stressed the four Rs:...

  1. Colonial Classroom: Then and Now 

Instruction in colonial schools was primarily religious and authoritarian. Its goal was preparation for eternity. The curriculum stressed the four Rs: readin’, ’ritin’, ’rithmetic, and religion. Memorization and recitation were the dominant instructional processes. The schoolmaster relied on fear to motivate children and to keep them in order. It was not uncommon for a gag to be put in the mouth of a child who talked too much or for a child who did not perform well to be made to stand in the corner, sometimes on a stool, wearing a dunce cap.  Classes often lasted from about 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a two-hour break for lunch, for eight months (March to October) and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. for four months (November to February). In the early Colonial Period, classes were held in the house of the schoolmaster or the town meeting house. Later, when schoolhouses were built, they were scarcely more than a narrow log box with a master’s desk and crude wooden student benches. “Many schoolhouses did not have glass set in the small windows but newspaper or white paper greased with lard were fastened in the rude sashes, or in holes cut in the wall, and let in a little light” (Glubok, 1969, p. 120). 

Choose four points from above (e.g., fear to motivate, memorization and recitation as instructional practice) and compare them to today’s classroom.

In a one- to two-page essay, provide examples to demonstrate how the practices from colonial days are similar to or different from today’s practices. Describe any practices from the Colonial Period you wish were still in practice today and explain why. After reviewing the graphic organizer, explain whether or not progression has occurred in the education field over time. Outline how this transformation affects you as a classroom teacher in the 21st century. 

Expert Answers
pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Educational practices today differ from those of the colonial era in almost every way.  For the most part, I am glad that this is so.  I would not want to teach or learn using the old ways.  Let us discuss this with reference to four aspects of colonial schooling.

First, I will address the idea of the “4 r’s.”  To some degree, we continue to emphasize at least three of these.  We do place a great deal of emphasis on reading and math, and a fair amount on writing.  Of course, we no longer teach religion in public schools and we do teach many subjects, such as science and history, that were not included in colonial curricula.  In general, I like this change.  I do not think that public schools should try to inculcate religion.  I also think that it is important to educate students in areas other than the “3 r’s.”

Second, modern teachers do not typically use fear to motivate students.  We do to some extent because we threaten students with bad grades if they do not do their work or detention if they misbehave.  However, we do not typically humiliate students and we certainly do not punish them physically.  I think that this is a good thing because I think that beating students, particularly for failing to learn, is barbaric.

Third, we do not typically use memorization and recitation as our main method of instruction.  Of course, we do require students to memorize some things.  For example, they do need to memorize some dates for history and some formulas for math and science.  However, we do try to teach students to think more and to memorize less.  I like this change because I think that it is unlikely that students will retain the facts that they memorize unless they use them in their lives.  If they will not remember most of the facts that they learn, it is better to teach them skills like critical thinking that will not be lost.

Finally, we no longer tend to have crude educational facilities.  Today, schools tend to be fairly nice environments with many comforts and a great deal of technology.  This is good in many ways, but I do wish that we placed less emphasis on technology.  We tend to think that various kinds of new technologies will revolutionize learning and provide us with silver bullets for our educational problems.  I think that we should focus more on teaching and less on trying to use every new technology that comes along.