Massachusetts Laws of 1642 and 1647 - American Education
The first educational legislation enacted in the Americas. Enacted by the Massachusetts General Court, or legislature of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the 1642 law was the first compulsory education law in the Americas. It required officials of each town to inspect schools and homes to ensure that children were being taught “to read and understand the principles of religion and the capital laws of the country.” Officials who failed to comply with the law were subject to fines.
The more far-reaching and more famous law of 1647—often called “The Old Deluder Satan Act”—was the first to require universal public education. The law required every town of 50 or more families to hire a teacher of reading and writing. Towns of 100 families or more were required to establish grammar schools and hire a Latin master to prepare boys for college.
Here is the wording of the first school law in North America:
It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures, as in former times, by keeping them in an unknown tongue, so in these latter times by persuading them from the use of tongues, that so at least the true sense and meaning of the original might be clouded by false glosses of saint-seeming deceivers, that learning may not be buried in the grave of our fathers in the church and commonwealth, the Lord assisting our endeavors.
It is therefore ordered, that every township in this jurisdiction, after the Lord hath increased them to the number of fifty householders, shall forthwith appoint one within their town to teach all such children as shall resort to him to write and read, whose wages shall be paid either by the parents or masters of such children, or by the inhabitants in general, by way of supply, as the major part of those that order the prudentials of the town shall appoint; provided, those that send their children be not oppressed by paying much more than they can have them taught for in other towns; and it is further ordered, that where any town shall increase to the number of one hundred families or householders, they shall set up a grammar school, the master thereof being able to instruct youth so far as they may be fitted for the university, provided, that if any town neglect the performance hereof above one year, that every such town shall pay five pounds to the next school till they shall perform this order.