Colonial Higher Education

Ashford University

EDU 675: History & Philosophy of American Higher Education

Colonial Era higher education was a time of great growth for the learning experience. No longer were students trapped and bound by their education ending too abruptly, instead, they were now allowed to chase their dreams and find their best future. The idea that the ability to further economic opportunities was rooted in education was rather new. The caveat here was that to enter these institutions and benefit from them, an individual needed to be male. Women were, by definition, not part of the Colonial Era higher education populace.

Student diversity is of the utmost importance in the 21st century classroom. Restrictions on gender that were present in the Colonial Era would be highly problematic in present times and would cause a great deal of controversy and legal issues with the modern student and the modern school. However, in the Colonial Era, many people believed that “females were intellectually inferior to males and probably could not – or should not – be educated in the same manner as males.” (Lockridge,1974)

In the Colonial Era, this stance on women in school was not one that was considered shocking at all. Education began in the form of apprenticeships and from there, students received a formal education. Many colleges saw fit to train men to be ministers, lawyers, and/or men of medicine. All these careers were not considered feminine and would not have been available to a woman. Women could learn minimal subjects at a young age such as reading, limited writing, and understanding the Bible. Once they came of age, their education stopped, and they would move on to their next (and frequently, permanent) role of being a mother and caregiver.

With the limited availability for educational opportunity at this time, the focus was placed squarely on men and their futures. While men were able to continue to develop literacy skills, foreign language competencies, and mathematical abilities; women were not, and a significant gap developed. The gap grew and over time, there was no reason to invest in education for females since there was no financial gain to be had. All these ideals reinforced were that women did not need to be educated and their job was to tend to the house. This would not change until the American Revolution.

The Colonial Era lack of gender inclusivity is largely not present in modern era schools. There are some that cling to this antiquated thought process, but by and large; modern colleges are not only inclusive, but desire all students to have an equal experience. There are still areas where male dominance continues, mostly in the area of wages and a continuing, though slightly decreasing gap. In the 21st century, woman are encouraged and frequently expected to go to college and complete a degree program. Women are able to be doctors and lawyers, where that would have been impossible in the past.

In maintaining a certain level of ignorance, Colonial Era men had to answer for little to nothing from their wives. Women were completely dependent on the male figures in their lives and in an attempt to not “rock the boat” would frequently decide to acquiesce to the whims of their husbands and/or fathers. This level of docile servitude backfired and through years of fighting, women can now engage meaningfully with those around them and have found their voices.

There are still some changes that need to be made, especially concerning equality in the workplace. But where higher education is concerned, men and woman know how to work together and compromise for the sake of maintaining their grades.