Colonial Education

The Colonial Era’s (1636-1784) adaptation of higher education as viewed through its instructional purpose and educational missions can help describe and contextualize the essence of its practices. The stark difference into today’s world resembles little about what historians describe during this time. The purpose of this essay is to describe the educational missions of the Colonial Era institutions of higher learning and how they differ in today’s world as a new evolutions of these schools are recreated.

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Thelin (2011) explained that “their space was transformed dramatically to play a role in the American campaign for independence,” when describing the synthesizing of politics, spirit and science into the higher educational institutions such as Harvard, Dartmouth etc.. It appeared that these organizations had a special purpose within the forming of the historic quest for freedom from oppressive monarchies and unfair tax systems, that sometimes reappear in today’s world.

Colonial higher educational institutions had a deep religious and spiritual context contained within their purpose. These places weren’t trying to make men smarter, but better and more complete humans with a soul and spirit. America was based on religious freedom and these ideas were expounded upon within the 9 colleges that were in operation during this time.

The purpose included taking wealthy sons of prominent figures and enrolling them into these institutions as young as possible. These students would be most likely fluent in Latin and math skills. These young men would be taught by all kinds of teachers including recent grads, locals, religious figures. Unlike today, where tenured professors make inordinate amounts of money along with football coaches being paid million dollar sums to represent universities, these colonial institutions were much more pious and conservative when associating profit with education. Morals and values were emphasized in these places of learning and a classical and refined approach resonated in the architecture, approach and curriculum during this colonial era education rebirth.

The colonial era’s version of higher education seemed much more about quality than quantity. The seven liberal arts and sciences were the main subjects presented which allowed the students plenty of room for self-exploration and artistic expression. This behavior is often frowned upon in many modern classrooms today, where conformity and aggressive compliance with rules and regulations can earn a student great accolades in today’s colleges and institutions of higher learning.

The culture in today’s educational system demands that students be understood what to think instead of how to think. The seven liberal arts and sciences presented a purpose to its students that man is more than just a machine capable of regurgitation of facts and trends, rather man’s imagination and his ability to employ that psychic ability into the real world as a creator instead of a reactor. This purpose is highly enlightened where most go to college today simply to get a good job and earn money.

The social control that is a result of today’s educational system seem diametrically opposed to the more liberating concepts our colonial ancestors developed within their higher educational institutions. These differences in mission and purpose perhaps tells us more about our society and culture in general and how we may, as a group, steer our collective in a cooperative manner and direction.


Crowley, B. (2013). The Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences. Staggs Application, 11 Sep 2013.

Peterson, R. (1983). Education in Colonial America. FEE, 1 Sep 1983. Retrieved from

Thelin, J. (2011). A History of American Education. Johns Hopkins publications.