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Published: June 25, 2011

Franklin’s Academy

The academy founded in Philadelphia, in 1751, by Benjamin Franklin and his supporters, who espoused his idea of practical, free, universal public education. Chartered as the Academy and Charitable School in the City of Philadelphia, classes began with about 145 boys. The school was unusual (and was the source of some controversy) because it was the first academy open to boys other than the sons of the elite and because it all but eliminated theology as the central course of the curriculum.
The six-year curriculum was unique for the era, in that had it had three departments: English, Latin and Mathematics. English was initially given equal weight with Latin and Greek, the original scriptural languages and, therefore, central to all studies of the Bible and theology at elitist academies. The curriculum also included vocational courses on gardening, mechanics, commerce and science, and studies of history and government. Although Franklin later called his academy “a failure” because of traditionalist modifications to the curriculum, his innovations formed the basis of the modern, practically oriented liberal arts education that became the heart of curricula at most 19thand 20th-century colleges. Five years after it opened, Franklin’s Academy expanded its curriculum and changed its name to the COLLEGE OF PHILADELPHIA. In 1791, the year after Franklin died, the college assumed its present name, the University of Pennsylvania.