The History of Education: The American Educational System, Early National Period (Benjamin Franklin)

[Editor’s Note: This is the 22nd in a series of blogs that examine how education developed throughout history until the present. Links to previous blogs are included at the bottom of the post.]

Benjamin Franklin, born on January 17, 1706, in Boston, was an American printer, author, diplomat, philosopher, and scientist. He made many contributions to the American Revolution and the new federal government, becoming one the greatest statesmen in the colonies and in the United States of America that followed.

Franklin attended grammar school from ages 8-10, and he received some private writing and arithmetic lessons. But at age 13, he was apprenticed to his older brother James, a printer. Franklin learned the printing trade, but he devoted his spare time to advancing his self-education.

In October 1727, Franklin and some of his acquaintances organized a discussion group called the Junto, which examined and debated current scientific and political ideas; it later became known as the American Philosophical Society. Because he appreciated such debate, and because he believed in the importance of self-education, Franklin founded the first public library in North America in 1731 and chartered it in 1742 as the Philadelphia Library.

Franklin also first published Poor Richard’s Almanac in 1732, using the name Richard Saunders. The volume gained a wide audience, and its maxims of practical wisdom exerted a pervasive influence upon the character of the colonies and their people.

But Franklin’s impact on education didn’t end there. He fervently believed that you obtained knowledge from the senses, observation, and experimentation, and that such knowledge should be applied to all human affairs. He also believed science could solve the problems of human life. Though self-educated, he did value formal education, and he therefore established a plan for an English-language grammar school in Philadelphia in 1749. The proposal’s importance can’t be overstated, as it exposed the stimulus for a new type of education to accompany the new republic.

The school would teach English instead of Latin, and its curriculum would highlight scientific and practical skills. It would provide knowledge that would prepare its students to make contributions to society, politics, government, as well as the various professions. He insisted the school be equipped with laboratories and workshops containing books, maps, globes, and the like, so students would understand the relationship between learning and the environment around them. And the teachers were to emphasize both practical and ethical elements of the skills and subjects they taught.

The English school wasn’t a success, as the headmaster didn’t want to implement the innovations Franklin proposed. But those proposals illustrated the trends of the revolutionary and early national periods and anticipated the path American education would take. The scientific and utilitarian subjects and curricular methods were a sharp split from the classical tradition, and teaching English showed it would become the language of educated persons working to build a new nation. Schooling became a more comprehensive process, one that offered students a varied curriculum that met the needs of an emerging and developing nation.


Next week: Early National Period, Benjamin Rush


To read part 1: Introduction, click here.

To read part 2: Purpose of education, click here.

To read part 3: Prehistory to pre-industrial, click here.

To read part 4: Mesopotamia and the Sumerians, click here.

To read part 5: Ancient Egypt, click here.

To read part 6: Ancient Greece and Rome, click here.

To read part 7: The Greek philosophers, click here.

To read part 8: China, click here.

To read part 9: The Olmecs and the Maya, click here.

To read part 10: The Islamic World: Basics, click here.

To read part 11: The Islamic World: The Golden Age, click here.

To read part 12: The Renaissance, click here.

To read part 13: American Educational System Overview, click here.

To read part 14: European Influences, Jon Amos Comenius, click here.

To read part 15, European Influences,  Froebel, click here.

To read part 16, European Influences, Herbart, click here.

To read part 17, European Influences, Herbert Spencer, click here.

To read part 18, Colonial Period, Puritans, click here.

To read part 19, Colonial Period, New England Books, click here.

To read part 20, Colonial Period, Massachusetts Education Laws, click here.

To read part 21, Colonial Period, Harvard College, click here.



[1] Meiss, Christina. (June 15, 2004). “Benjamin Franklin.” History of Education Web Project. Retrieved from


Author: AceReader Blogger

The AceReader blogging team is made up of specialists in a number of different areas: literacy, general education, content development, and educational software. For questions about posts, please submit them in the form below. For suggestions about blog topics, please email them to

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