Common Schools before the “Common School Revival”: New York Schooling in the 1790s

  • Carl F. Kaestle


In late colonial America schooling was plentiful but unorganized; schools were increasing in importance but still supplementary to the family, the church, and apprenticeship. Throughout the colonies schools provided training in rudiments for the many, classical training for the few, and some supplementary schooling in technical subjects for a growing number of town dwellers. Common schooling was not “neglected,” as historians of the public school system once asserted; rather, the legacy of the colonial period was a mode of schooling quite different in structure and operation from that to which we have been accustomed since the mid-nineteenth century. In coastal towns like New York, parents bought schooling as a commodity in an open market. Schoolmasters competing for students offered subjects ranging from the alphabet to astronomy, for children of all ages, at all times of the day. Schooling arrangements were haphazard and temporary; people in all ranks of society gained their education in a patchwork, rather than a pattern, of teachers and experiences.1


York City Public School Colonial Period Free School Schooling Arrangement 
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© John L. Rury 2005

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  • Carl F. Kaestle

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