Revolutionary War - American Education
The war in which the American colonies declared and won their independence from England. For education, the Revolutionary War—or War of Independence, as it’s called in Britain—was a source not only of immediate disruption but also of pivotal, long-term changes. Colleges were especially disrupted. Indeed, of all the colleges standing in the colonies, only newly chartered Dartmouth, in the forests of faraway New Hampshire, was left unscathed.
Harvard College’s buildings were appropriated, forcing faculty and students to move to Concord. YALE had to move to three inland towns because of food shortages. Although classes resumed in New Haven in 1778, the faculty and students were forced to join in the defense of the city against invading British troops the following year. King’s College (now COLUMBIA) was the target of mob violence in New York and later occupied by British troops. It discreetly changed its name to Columbia after the war. Queen’s College (now Rutgers) in New Jersey was, unfortunately, located in the center of the British stronghold in New Brunswick and was forced to move eight miles west during the war. The College of New Jersey in nearby Princeton was used alternately as barracks for British and Continental troops, and the successive battles to keep or regain control of the town left Nassau Hall in ruins at the end of the war. The College of Philadelphia (later the University of Pennsylvania) experienced similar changes of control and suspended all operations in 1777, as did the College of Rhode Island (Brown University), in Providence. The College of William and Mary suspended operations during the battle of Yorktown, which left the president’s house badly damaged by French troops. Education at the primary and secondary level, whether held in churches or in freestanding schools, also came to a halt wherever troops passed through or were stationed because such structures were the first to be commandeered as barracks. But when education resumed, following a battle or the war itself, it included an entirely new curriculum based on a new American history and ideology of individual liberty and freedom from the tyranny of state and church and the doctrine of predestination. The Revolutionary War, in short, produced a revolution in American education as well as in the political system: It gave rise to notions of REPUBLICAN EDUCATION, based on the belief that, if the people were to govern themselves effectively, they would have to be universally educated— the survival of the republic depended on an educated electorate. Thus, the Revolution promoted the concept of universal public education, a concept that would take nearly a century to implement, but one that nevertheless became an integral part of American life.
The Revolution also opened the door to secular education. No longer was the Bible the sole reason for learning one’s letters; mechanics, agriculture and the practical skills of building a new nation became the highest educational priorities. Divinity, which had been the primary purpose of pre-Revolution colleges, was nowhere mentioned. God and king would not govern the United States; humans would have to do the job. Even the English language was revolutionized, with the postwar publication in 1783 of NOAH WEBSTER’s new American spelling book, which threw off as many orthographical ties to England as possible. When, in 1819, Thomas Jefferson founded the UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA, he purposely omitted all theological courses from the curriculum, which concentrated on architecture, mathematics, engineering, law, the sciences and arts.