Education in Colonial History Essay

Thomas Jefferson and Robert Coram both had different plans for education in colonial America. Jefferson was the most well known advocate for education while Coram was the least famous devisor of educational plans. Jefferson, as we all know, wrote the Declaration of Independence and later became the third President. Robert Coram was a young man who worked for a Republican newspaper in Delaware. He based most of his plan on the works of Noah Webster, who was a supporter of public schools.

The objective of this essay is to determine which person’s plan is more democratic. Before that can be established, I think a definition of democracy should be stated so that it may be called upon later in this essay. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, democracy is stated as “the principle of social equality and respect for the individual within a community” .

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Thomas Jefferson had very basic ideas for education in colonial America. He felt that the law did not need specific details, but simply a basic system.

Jefferson felt that the school should be set up to educate children in reading, writing, and arithmetic. Jefferson stated that every county should be broken down into hundreds, which were small districts of five or six square miles. In these hundreds, the first three years of a child’s education would be gratis according to Jefferson. After the first three years, it would be up to the parents to fund their children’s education, but they would still be able to attend school for as long as they wanted. This seems to provide an excellent democratic system of education. He continues on, stating that certain students should receive benefits. One case is that Jefferson feels that the smartest child in the school, whose parents cannot afford further education, should be sent onward to the grammar schools, with costs dismissed from the family. Also, continuing with this gratis education, Jefferson believes that twenty of the smartest students should go on to receive an education from William and Mary College. Robert Coram had a different plan for education in the colonies. Coram felt that equal education should be dispersed to everyone. He goes on to state that education should be given “to every class of citizens, to every child in the state” with the backing of the government.Coram goes on to disagree with Jefferson by stating that more than just reading, writing, and arithmetic should be instructed in the public schools. He suggested that arts and sciences should also be taught. Also, opposed to only three years, Coram agrees with Noah Webster who feels that six years of education should be given to both boys and girls .

These two views bring us to the ultimate question, which plan is more democratic? Well, this is where we begin to look at what democracy means. Earlier, I presented the definition of democracy as a principle of social equality. We know that both plans offer some sense of democracy, but one plan seems to offer more democratic standards than the other one. Personally, I felt that Coram offered more democratic ideals, which is surely debatable. As you look at Jefferson’s plan, it only offers three years of paid general education. Under his plan, further educational opportunities are available only for those who can afford it. This is not the case, however, in Coram’s policy. Coram felt that six years of a somewhat advanced education should be given to everyone, not just those who were of the smartest caliber or of wealth. I do not think that Jefferson’s plan is non-democratic, but only that Coram’s plan offers education with more social equality.

Thomas Jefferson was very popular during this time period. Jefferson was recognized as a national leader who had written one of our country’s most prized documents, The Declaration of Independence. Robert Coram, however, was just an editor for a small Republican newspaper in Delaware. Due to these factors, Jefferson’s plan was more widely accepted than Coram’s plan. I still feel that Coram’s plan was more democratic and I would have rather seen his plan carried out. As I said earlier, I am sure that my view is debatable because it depends on how one view’s the word democracy. I went by the dictionary to be as impartial as possible while viewing both sets of ideas which, I feel, enabled me to offer a stronger comparison. Coram offered a better approach to promote education in a socially equal manor. Jefferson had a good plan, but it lacked the democratic ideals that Coram’s plan clearly displayed.

Bibliography:Jefferson, Thomas, Notes on Virginia, 1785, 174.

Coram, Robert, Political EnquiriesWith a Plan for Schools, 1792, 180.

Grimsted, David. “History 156”. Syllabus Fall 1998: 6.

Grimsted, David. “History 156”. Syllabus Fall 1998: 6.

“Democracy”. American Heritage Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1985.

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