When English colonists emigrated to America, they transmitted the wealth of English culture. A significant part of this culture was the Christian ethic and the British Common Law that had developed and prevailed in England over the centuries. In the British Common Law, it was stated that parents owed children three duties: maintenance, protection, and education. It was deemed the duty of parents to provide their children “an education suitable to their station in life.”
Two primary methods of tutorial education came into existence. These were the “dame school” and “apprenticeships.”
“Dame schools” were arrangements between parents and a woman of the community who used her home for instructing several children in the rudiments of reading, writing, and arithmetic.
The “apprenticeship” system involved a contractual arrangement between the parents and a vocational teacher who would bring the children into his home while training them in his trade. In exchange for this training, the child was indentured to the teacher for a stipulated amount of time.
In 1647 Massachusetts Colony passed a law requiring each town populated by at least fifty families to provide an elementary school teacher for the education of their children.
The Middle Colonies were disinclined to adopt legislation requiring unified education. In the rural areas of the Middle Colonies there were fewer schools than there were in the market towns and more industrialized communities of the New England colonies. Religious groups in the farming communities were prone to provide non-secular education by establishing parochial schools.
In the Southern Colonies, a three-level class system evolved: the plantation dynasties of the aristocracy, the middle class comprised of merchants and land owning farmers with moderate acreage, and an all inclusive category of the common laborer and servant. The type and quality of education was determined by the social class of the family in which the child was educated.
The aristocratic class engaged tutors to educate their children at home. The middle class strata of farmers and merchants used a familial structure for the education of their children. The quality of education imparted to the children was determined solely by the academic background and expertise of the parents.
In none of the colonies was school attendance mandatory.
Home schooling existed in all of the original colonies. It was recognized as an important aspect of the colonial educational experience. The family had to transmit orally the knowledge, skills, and values of living in the colonies.