main of families, as well as local and stategovernments. Federal involvement is a rela-tively new phenomenon. To understand how American education has traditionally beendelivered, and to put the federal govern-ment’s recent educational foray into context,a short history is in order. American public education began well overa hundred years before the federal govern-ment—and the nation itself—came into exis-tence; it dates back at least as far asMassachusetts’s 1647 Old Deluder Satan Act,which established the first compulsory andpartially public education in what would even-tually become the United States.
The act—which required all settlements with at least 50families to employ a teacher of reading andwriting and settlements of 100 or more fami-lies to establish a grammar school—wasintended to ensure that all members of thecolony were sufficiently literate to read theBible, enabling them to fend off the induce-ments of Satan.
Money to pay for teachersand schools was raised through tuition fromthose who could afford it, and public fundswere provided for those who could not.
By present-day standards, colonial Massa-chusetts’s educational system was very decen-tralized. Outside New England educationwas even more decentralized. In the South itwas almost entirely a family affair; childrenwere taught in their homes because south-erners believed that government should haveno role in education. In the ethnically andreligiously diverse middle colonies, a wide variety of schools popped up, free of govern-ment interference, to serve the needs of the various religious denominations.
The systems remained largely unchangedfor nearly two centuries after passage of theOld Deluder Satan Act, despite the fact thatin the intervening period the United Statesdeclared independence, established and dis-solved a national government under the Articles of Confederation, and, in 1789,established an entirely new form of govern-ment under the Constitution.
For modern Americans, the last is themost important of the aforementionedevents, as the Constitution is the primary federal law under which we live. It is what theConstitution does
do regarding educa-tion, though, that is most important: itgrants no authority to the federal govern-ment to control education. The federal gov-ernment has only those powers enumeratedin the Constitution, and, as the Tenth Amendment reminds us, all other powers arereserved to the people or the states. AsMadison wrote in
no. 45:The powers delegated by the proposedConstitution to the federal govern-ment are few and defined. Those whichare to remain in the State governmentsare numerous and indefinite. The for-mer will be exercised principally onexternal objects, as war, peace, negotia-tion, and foreign commerce. . . . Thepowers reserved to the several Stateswill extend to all the objects, which, inthe ordinary course of affairs, concernthe lives, liberties and properties of thepeople, and the internal order,improvement, and prosperity of theState.
Education in this system clearly is not a fed-eral responsibility, its administration beingneither an enumerated federal power nor oneimplied under the federal government’sauthority over “external objects.”With that as the prevailing wisdom, formore than a century after 1789 Americaneducation evolved almost entirely withinstate boundaries. Much of that evolution,though, involved increasing centralization of both the administration and the funding of schools. By the early 1800s the most well-known stage of that evolution, the commonschool movement spearheaded by HoraceMann, began to emerge. Spurred in large partby massive immigration, Mann and othersargued that a system requiring mandatory attendance at free, government-run schoolsshould be used to integrate America’sincreasingly heterogeneous peoples. As edu-cation professor Christopher J. Lucas writes:
It is what theConstitutiondoes
doregardingeducation that ismost important:it grants noauthority tothe federalgovernment tocontroleducation.