Influence of 1636 -1789 History

Influence of 1636 -1789 on Present Day Higher Education

Shaping of American Higher Education -history of
A phenomenal resource for the history of higher education and its impact on today’s campuses.

Curriculum is “a set of courses or the totality of experiences that the college designs for its students, it is always rationalized as being practical” (Cohen & Kisker, 2010, p 32). It possesses essential components including “the standard subjects (including the three R’s, rhetoric, geography, history, humanities and science) within the context of real-life situations that the students can clearly identify with” (Cybercollege Internet Campus, 2006, p 1).


In the early development of American higher education, the main purpose of curriculum was “directed toward the acculturating of young people -their character formation, preparation for careers, access to society, language and manners” (Cohen & Kisker, 2010, p 32). In modern day, the purpose of curriculum has altered. Today, “curriculum enables people to make sense of their lives and the world around them. Individuals use curriculum with varying degrees of intentionality to interpret events, to deepen their understanding of what they learn and who they are as learners, and to create a shared experience for teaching and learning” (Huggett, Smith & Conrad, 2010, p 1).

Thus, curriculum has altered from the “preserving of what was already known” to the “advancing of knowledge” (Cohen & Kisker, 2010, p 32). Curriculum of the 1636 to 1789 era was directed toward the preservation of knowledge. Based on this foundation, the nine colleges in operation in the colonies at this time offered few courses. This outlook changed to today’s coursework offered. The main motive of education today is to the purpose of advancing knowledge and not to simply “pass on knowledge and information” (Cybercollege Internet Campus, 2006, p 1).

Job Training

“The earliest job training programs prepared people for law, medicine and the ministry. As the universities developed, they added journalism, business, architecture, education, social work, dentistry, public administration and engineering” (Cohen & Kisker, 2010, p 510). These new career choices required students to move from an educational base which taught them what to think to a point where they were taught how to think. Citizens in this era are expected to contribute to the well-being of society and its members. Curriculum has altered through the ages to reflect this objective.

Contributing to the Well-being of SocietyCollege Campus

To meet the needs of a 21st century society, each citizen needs to be prepared to contribute. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1966) states “technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit…. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms” (p 1). This purpose has changed substantially from the origins of American higher education when only “few young people in American colonies went to college” (Cohen & Kisker, 2010, p 26) due to the families inability to financially support these endeavors.

Eric Hoffer (2010) stated “The central task of education is to implant a will and facility for learning; it should produce not learned but learning people. The truly human society is a learning society” (Teacher’s Mind Resources, 2010, p 1). Cohen & Kisker (2010) substantiate this view when discussing the changing curriculum “The social sciences turned toward attempts to solve social problems” (p 511). In order to address the needs of society and the solutions to the social problems of the era, curriculum needed to evolve. Today’s curriculum required a movement from the religious atmosphere and fervor present in higher education’s foundation to one of scientific study which would attempt to solve society’s problems.

Jefferson foresaw much of this inevitable needed change as he attempted to facilitate the answers to the problems of a emerging nation. He “tried to reorganize The College of William and Mary by abolishing the professorships in divinity and adding medicine, natural history and modern languages to the curriculum. His plan even included the introduction of electives” (p 38). At this time, his efforts were cast aside but a door was opened to the breaking away from the influence of religions and church.

Separation of Church and State

Benjamin Franklin also contributed to this need for separation of religion and education as he prepared his proposal in “Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pensilvania”. His outlooks later became the foundational theories of the University of Pennsylvania. Students were instructed to become contributors to society and to the “betterment of the community without reference to church doctrine” (Cohen & Kisker, 2010, p 25). This purpose prevails today in our educational system which is to create lifelong learners which contribute to society (Smith, 2001).


During the 18th century, division of subjects and topics were created and assigned to specific professors. This division laid the “foundation for academic specializations” (Cohen & Kisker, 2010, p 39). This division continued through the era to present day which now boosts of a record number of vocational schools and extensive course catalogues.

The evolution of a society mandates a continual change in its educational system. Higher education must “continually revise methodology and topics of study” (p 510). Although the core curriculum has remained steady through the last several decades, society must steadily address its needs and the relevance of the offered higher educational curriculum to meet those needs.


Cohen, A. & Kisker, C. (2010). The shaping of American higher education: Emergence and growth of the contemporary system. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Cybercollege Internet Campus. (2006). Essential curriculum: Recipe for revolution. Retrieved from

Huggett, K., Smith, N., & Conrad, C. (2010). Higher Education Curriculum: Traditional and Contemporary Perspectives. Retrieved from

Smith, M. (2001). Lifelong learning. Retrieved from

Teacher’s Mind Resources. (2010). The meaning of education. Retrieved from   

Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (1966). Governments’ Obligations to Ensuring the Human Right to Education. Retrieved from education.html



Tracy Harrington-Atkinson

Tracy Harrington-Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the mid-west with her husband. She loved storytelling and sharing her stories with her children. As they grew, she started writing her stories down for them. She is a teacher, having taught from elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education, masters in higher education and continued on to a PhD in curriculum design. Her husband, Kerry and Tracy breed miniature dachshunds and love to spend time with their growing family. She has published several books including Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Rachel's 8 and Securing Your Tent.

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