Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Education in early Worcester history

I'm doing some research for the final report of the exam/IB school Ad-hoc committee. Today's reading: William Lincoln's 1832 History of Worcester, Chapter XV: Education. It opens as follows:
When the original committee of settlement secured the support of the worship of God, they made provision for the education of youth At their first meeting, in 1669, when the untrodden wilderness spread over the territory of Worcester, it was agreed that a lot of land should be 'appropriated for the maintenance of a school and school master, to remain for that use for ever.' In the contract with Daniel Henchman, in 1684, this determination was affirmed; and it was enjoined, 'that care be taken to provide a school master in due season.' When surveys were made after the permanent settlement, a tract of forty acres was granted for the promotion of this object.
The circumstances of the first planters long prevented the commencement of public instruction. The earliest municipal action on the subject was April 4, 1726.In pursuance of a vote of the town, 'the selectmen agreed with Mr. Jonas Rice*to be schoolmaster, and to teach such children and youth as any of the inhabitants shall send to him, to read and write, as the law directs,' until the 15th of December. On the expiration of this term, it was peremptorily voted 'that the town will not have a school.'
(emphasis mine)
Yes, that means that, after it took them 57 years to start their school, they had a single year of school and CLOSED THE SCHOOL. 
But wait! There's more! In 1728, Worcester has to come up with money "to defray the charges of a prosecution, for want of schools;" the fine is suspended, as the town promises to mend its ways, yet it again faces the grand jury "for neglect of its grammar school" in 1785 and 1788. On this and more, Lincoln opines:
It had been well and wisely ordered by the fathers of New England, that each municipal community of sufficient ability, should afford to youth the means of acquiring the languages. The salutary effect of this regulation was little appreciated, and was even regarded as oppressive, in times less enlightened than the present. In 1766, the representative was instructed to endeavor, 'that the law requiring a Latin Grammar School, be repealed, and that not more than one such school should be kept in a county;' and, in 1767, to use his exertions to relieve the people from the great burden of supporting so many schools of this description, 'whereby they are prevented from attaining such degrees of English learning as is necessary to retain the freedom of any state.'
...because teaching those kids Latin...hmph!
In 1757 and several following years, Worcester's schoolmaster? John Adams. It looks a bit as though putting education and its fiscal stability into the Constitution of the Commonwealth may have been the result of first-hand experience!

*yes, after whom Rice Square is named.That area of Grafton Hill was the Rice family homestead.

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