Farmers, Harvard, and Ye Old Deluder

» Posted by on Oct 10, 2012 in Blog, Education History, Mission-Type Stuff | Comments Off on Farmers, Harvard, and Ye Old Deluder

Farmers, Harvard, and Ye Old Deluder

Harvard College was started and maintained in good part by a collection of farmers and sailors. They paid their teachers and supported their students with crops after wasting no time establishing the first higher education in America:

After God had carried us [Puritans] safe to New England, and we had builded our houses, provided necessaries for our livelihood, reared convenient places for God’s worship, and settled the civil government, one of the next things we longed for and looked after was to advance learning and perpetuate it to prosperity. (from New England’s First Fruits, 1643)

A trademark of these American Puritans was the setting up of schools. One preacher at a huge gathering of churches in Boston prayed, “Lord, for schools everywhere among us! Oh, that our schools may flourish! That every member of this assembly may go home and procure a good school to be encouraged in the town where he lives.”

What would these lower schools and a new Harvard College be about? Knowledge of the Scriptures, in short, and so to educate people to read and study at the highest level possible. In this way they would foil the “chief project of ye old deluder, Satan”, who feeds on the ignorance of men (the educational fervor even took shape in the courts with the well-known “Ye Old Deluder Act”). At Harvard, an early rule read this way:

Let every student be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed to consider well the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life, John 17:3, and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning. (New England’s First Fruits)

But as Cotton Mather put it, true religion is “a friend unto good literature,” and so the content of the Christian learning in these Puritan schools was the liberal arts and sciences. These were not seminaries or Bible colleges, despite a stated purpose being to avoid leaving “an illiterate ministry to the churches.” In the Reformed tradition of Luther and Calvin, they wanted children to grow up “fit for everything,” and for those capable, knowing languages, history, music, mathematics, physics, poetry, and so on, all in addition to theology, or Bible knowledge.

Was not a struggle for wilderness survival enough to occupy them? Was not fresh opportunity, abundant land, and a small church for one’s family enough to content them? Why all the hassle and sacrifice from regular working folks to start schools? It was in order to strengthen churches, primarily.¬†English Puritan John Milton put it another way, explaining that it was in order to equip people “to perform justly, skilfully, and magnanimously, all the offices, both private and public, of peace and war.”

(references and research from Ryken, Worldly Saints, 157-169)