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  • Frank Clark

Essential Subjects

Updated: Feb 15

In the first post of this series we looked at the issue of the right and duty of parents to educate their children as interpreted by the 1925 Supreme Court decision. In the last post we looked at what the court meant by “good moral authority”. The second issue that the Court enunciated was the issue of “essential subjects.” The court decisions said that the state had the authority to ensure that “essential subjects” were taught. Let us look at what the members of the Court understood that to mean.


Very early in American history, folks put great importance on teaching children how to read. It was felt that reading opened the door to all kinds of knowledge possibilities. During those early days, the Founding Fathers felt that the most important book to be able to read is the Bible. This is because it contains history, moral guidance and the way to have relationship with God through Jesus Christ. While some do not believe the part about relationship with God, even many public schools today allow the Bible to be studied because of its historical value. The first elementary reader that was introduced in 1690, New England Primer, was full of Bible verses used to demonstrate letters of the alphabet, as well as moral principles.


The Blue Backed Speller produced by Noah Webster was the most common text book from the 1790’s until 1836. It was more secular and became the blueprint for American textbooks for many years after that. It put forth a unified American national language, spelling, moral culture and included some American history in it. Webster believed that students learned more easily when complex problems were broken down into smaller parts. In 1836, the McGuffey’s Readers became popular. They were a series that covered grades 1 through 6. They also promoted morality and emphasized civic duty to students. As a side note, the idea of establishing student promotion by grade level became popular during that time. This was different from the concept promoted by Noah Webster who did not adhere to the grade level by age concept.


Foreign languages, usually Greek and Latin, were often taught. This assisted the student with the ability to easily learn other European languages which are based on these two. This is something I understood after taking four years of Latin in high school and Koine Greek later in life. Kione Greek was introduced by Alexander the Great and was commonly used until the 4th century AD. The New Testament of the Bible was written in that language. The parsing of words in English became much easier since about 70% of the English language uses Latin based words and phonics rules. The Greek phonic rules are nearly the same, but with a different alphabet.


Mathematics and history were also taught to students after they learned to read. The result was that the student over time accumulated a sufficient knowledge bank with which to make informed decisions in life. It is interesting to study many of the Founding Fathers because of their very outstanding writings and other accomplishments in their day. One outstanding person was Thomas Jefferson who was a successful ambassador from America to France at age 41. Benjamin Franklin was proficient in several areas of study, including science and medicine. He even joined with several others to start the University of Pennsylvania, which included the first medical school in America. The result of all these educational constructs was that the majority of the citizens of the nation at that time were wonderful moral agents who used their knowledge, coupled with acquired wisdom, to influence their families, communities and the nation for the beneficial good of everyone. Some were wealthy and some were not, but all were needed contributors to the great growth of this nation.


The methods of educating children changed over the years, and some argued that the changes are not for the better. However, as research in this area has improved in recent years, many of the concepts once held in great esteem are beginning to come to the fore again. The establishment of a school like Parallel Hope Schools, Inc. is one result of these newly discovered old concepts. In the former years, students were taught with the idea of assisting them to become knowledgeable moral thinkers who were able to succeed in life, even at a young age. The type of student who is a clear moral thinker with practical ideas to solve problems is needed more than ever today.


One other central theme that was present in the early days of the nation was the concept that the father and mother of their children took the educating and training of their children very seriously. Teaching was often done at home in outlying areas of population expansion, since schools were not immediately available. Yet, children were still taught well by most of those parents. Today, the important role of parents is again beginning to be recognized. This is especially true in schools like Parallel Hope Schools, Inc. The school policy fully acknowledges the important role of parents and will work with them in training up their child according to the natural bent and giftings that he or she possesses.

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