Early Literature for Children
The early Americans valued education immensely; thus, they were very particular in how they provided it to children. Education built the character, taught the young ones their history, developed the virtues as well as taught them a trade or two with which they could provide for themselves in the future. They lived at a time when education was evolving into a formal procedure. The need for survival in an increasingly capitalistic nation bent them to give the youth a means to outlive the harsh conditions. Furthermore, religion was of great significance to the society, and, thus, adults had to instill it in children as early as possible. The nation that the European settlers came into had its own religion. This made them have an education system that would make the younger generation embrace their cultures. In this light, the following essay reviews various features of the education of children in America during the early periods in history.
At that time, childhood was portrayed as the period to nurture industry and virtues in a kid. The young people had a responsibility to heed to their elders in order to obtain an education that would prepare them for posterity. Native Americans taught through symbolic stories that the little ones could relate to everyday life. These invoked their ability to reason and apply the lessons they had learnt from the seniors. The Puritan settlement came with a new mode of formal learning that required children to bear skills that would help them to adapt in the capitalistic environment that was being cultured in the society. Childhood was a significant part of engraining the virtues of the religion, and, thus, involved a lot of religious lessons. Young people were taught on various courses based on gender; as a result, they grew up with sexist perceptions, that is, boys would go to school to learn various disciplines while girls studied household maintenance only.
The analyzed texts show that children were supposed to grow up in a way that turned them into respectable people. Furthermore, they were required to use their wit to overcome every challenge they faced. The Native American stories such asThe Trickster Tricked show how brains outwit brawn (Schlosser). The rabbit gives the terrapin a challenge that he cannot possibly outdo him in without using his wit to stand a chance. This story teaches the children to do the same when presented with similar situations. Furthermore, it shows the significance of family as the terrapin was helped by his relatives to protect their pride. Thus, such stories demonstrate that the children of that era were supposed to stand up for their family in every situation that it went through.
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The New England Primer also shows that children were meant to respect their parents as it was highlighted in the verse ‘Whales in the Sea Gods Voice Obey’ (Watts 63). The whale symbolizes greatness, and given that it obeys God, shows the importance of humility and respect for those that created and took care of you. It is partly relevant to the respect a child must have for his/her parents considering the fact that the latter raised them all through the early years. In addition, the poem ‘Ellen’ (Sproat 17-18) in the Ditties for Children reiterated the issue of respecting parents. It elucidates the numerous sacrifices that parents make for children and implies that the appreciation of this is mandatory.
According to these texts, young people were meant to value education and avert from laziness as it was explained vividly in the Ditties for Children (Sproat). The poem ‘Lazy Jane’ describes the dire consequences of hating education. Jane is now a beggar because of the fact that “At school she would not mind her book / To learn to read and spell” (Sproat 13). The poems further illustrate that the children were supposed to be mindful of those that are underprivileged within the society as shown in the poem ‘The Beggar’ (Sproat 8-9). The young girl gives her money to the beggar even though it was a present to her. This gives the perception of empathy that was expected of children living in that era. These texts instilled numerous virtues in the young people of that time making them reliable, trustworthy and responsible adults in the future. The stories were written in a bid to raise a fruitful generation for a nation at its foundations.
These texts are extremely careful in the preservation of what is true and what is not. The naivety of children and anyone else who was supposed to subscribe to the information in this literature had to be guided. Wrong translations of texts were a considerable worry among the Puritans as they were careful not to have ambiguous or incorrect translations of the Bible. The Bay Psalm Book portrays this issue sufficiently (The Bay Psalm Book; ch. VI). The piety of the people who were involved in the translation played a significant role in the acceptance of their work as only ministers had their translations approved. Scholarly people had their works thwarted despite their quality due to their non-commitment to the course of the Puritans.The Old Deluder Satan Law (1647) expressed the fears of being misguided as “the original might be clouded by false glosses of saint-seeming deceivers; and that learning may not be buried in the graves of our fore-fathers in church and commonwealth.” This shows that the concern to keep education relevant and truthful was a worry that was shared by the people of the time.
The education that was provided in the colonial America had significance in the society. It was vital in the organization of the government that was under construction. Order within the society was enforced by the knowledge that the Puritans had brought into the country. However, there were some challenges of the acceptance of it expressed as the Native Americans were having a hard time adopting the new culture that was considerably tied to religion. Red Jacket’s speech presents this concern that turned out to be a challenge to education in that period (“Red Jacket on the Religion”). He shows the comfort people had following their religion and culture. The orator also expresses his concern over the legitimacy of the colonizers’ claims that their ways are the right ones and the only ones that should be followed in an ideal society. The Natives had a right to complain as the settlers had found them there, and thus, they had a right to do whatever they deemed to suit their lives.
“Granville Perkins and Theodore Tilton” (1867) and “Cotton Mather” (1862) published works that had a considerable impact on the society. Their works complemented each other on the controversial topic of the existence of ghosts and witches. This, in effect, led to the conviction and gruesome execution of witches in Salem. This goes to show how literature had the power to control the society to the extent of people losing lives. The use of office as a clergyman provoked such a considerable boost of the belief in Mather’s work and, as a result, in the existence of such witches and ghosts that the legislature incorporated them into laws. Children grew up in the fear of such creatures, and, thus, piety was instilled in them. This was done in a bid to enforce the rules of the religion into the society. This was successfully achieved by these texts as the children as well as the adults found themselves in liaison with the claims of these works.
In conclusion, literature played a significant role in the lives of people in the early America. It provides illustration of life during the periods of early settlement and Native American occupation. The stories portray children who were reliant on education to learn various issues that would help them in the future. Virtues of honesty, patience, love and respect echo throughout all these texts be they Puritan or Native American. Given the times, a significant portion of the community was uneducated. Therefore, the application of the form of education the settlers brought to the society was highly under scrutiny to ensure the people were not misled. They took much care in making sure that people received the right messages without deception due to their vulnerability and naivety. This education was significant to the Puritans because its spread across the country would lead to the locals’ assimilation with their cultures. However, the natives such as Red Jacket expressed distaste in the ways of the settlers posing a challenge to them. Nevertheless, the literature had a profound impact on the people. This is evident in the time of the Salem Witch Trials, when the society believed in the existence of witches and ghosts due to the works of Mather and Granville and Tilton. Their ideas invoked fear among children and adults that led to the killing of people suspected to be witches. Therefore, literature played a significant role in the lives of people in the early America.
- Mather, Cotton. The Wonders of the Invisible World: Being an Account of the Tryals of Several Witches Lately Executed in New-England. London: John Russel Smith, 1862. Print.
- “Old Deluder Satan Law (1647).” www.americareclaimed.org. America Reclaimed Ministers, n.d. Web. 6 Apr. 2014. <http://www.americareclaimed.org/elements/docs/documents/Old%20Deluder%20Satan%20Law(1647)p.pdf>.
- Perkins, Granville, and Theodore Tilton. The True Church. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1867. Print.
- “Red Jacket on the Religion of the White Man and the Red.” The World’s Famous Orations. America: I. (1761-1837). Bartleby.com, n.d. Web. 6 Apr. 2014. <http://www.bartleby.com/268/8/3.html#txt1>.
- Schlosser, S. E. “The Trickster Tricked.”American Folklore. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Apr. 2014. <http://americanfolklore.net/folklore/2010/07/the_trickster_tricked.html>.
- Sproat, Nancy.“Ditties for Children.”Merrycoz.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Apr. 2014. <http://www.merrycoz.org/books/ditties/DITTIES.HTM>.
- The Bay Psalm Book: A Facsimile Reprint of the First Edition of 1640. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956. Print.
- Watts, Isaac. The New-England Primer; Much Improved. Containing, a Variety of Easy Lessons, for Attaining the True Reading of English. Philadelphia: The Stone House, 1797. Print.