Early School Textbooks

By Phineas Upham

So much of early ideals in education had to do with creating a social fabric. In its earliest days, children sought apprenticeships through various people in town with knowledge on how to do something. Schools eventually formed, giving children a space to socialize. These schools taught heavily from religious texts, so it’s no surprise that the modern textbook can trace its roots back to theology.

Throughout the 17th century, England was a fairly dominant force throughout the world. Even those who immigrated to America found it difficult to completely break free of English influence. One excellent example would be the early textbooks based on the English Protestant Tutor. The manual stressed memorization and religious values, but it created a framework for children to begin thinking about their lives with respect to devotion to parents and God.

Noah Webster published a textbook in the 1790s that put an emphasis on civic duty and morality, which sold tremendously. The quality that best defined Webster’s book was also the greatest influence on modern education: organization. The textbook was broken down in such a way as to present complex problems through miniscule detail. He also created educational guidelines, such as not forcing a child to read at three when he should be ready to do so closer to five.

Webster’s “Blue Back Speller” was a secular text as well, which was a significant departure from early textbooks. Webster wanted to parallel the English Protestant Tutor with examples in the real world, not contradict its values and ideals. Thus, education became more about learning to become a productive member of society.

Phineas Upham is an investor from NYC and SF. You may contact Phin on his Phineas Upham website or LinkedIn page.