This Is How to Grasp What Education in America Is Really About

Torah Bontrager
5 min readFeb 8, 2021

The very first law about education in what is now the United States was all about making people literate enough to read the Christian Bible.


In order to understand what education in the United States is really about, take a close look at the history, philosophy, and sociology of American education. In this post, I’ll discuss how three (3) social and political forces — religion, economics, and democracy — have shaped the educational system from the Puritans to now. My hope is that with some historical context, you’ll see how those forces relate to or might affect Amish education, or how Wisconsin v. Yoder fits into all this.

Note: The final post in this series lists the references mentioned.


Religion was the primary force that influenced the educational system of what is now the United States. Religion was also the primary force that shaped the governing laws of the earliest colonies, such as Massachusetts, with the Puritans at the helm. In this example, religion served as both a social and a political force that shaped the educational system of the time. According to Carleton (2009), the first law created to require public education was the Old Deluder Satan Act, passed in Massachusetts in 1647, and the focus of that law was to ensure that children attained enough literacy to read the Christian Bible. Gray (2008) states that “beginning in 1690, children in Massachusetts and adjacent colonies learned to read from the New England Primer”, which was known colloquially as “The Little Bible of New England” (Gutek, 1991, as cited in Gray, 2008).

The 1647 law followed the earlier Massachusetts Act of 1642, which “stated that parents and masters of those children who had been apprenticed to them were responsible for their basic education and literacy” (Matzat, n.d.). The focus of the 1642 law was to ensure that citizens would . . .

. . . understand the governing laws, including civil and religious, of the colonies at the time; if parents or masters of children didn’t meet the…



Torah Bontrager

Amish escapee & Columbia University alumna. For the right of Amish kids to go to school. Get chapters of my book Amish Girl in Manhattan @