Teach PA History
Two Men Named Ben: Historic Roots of Education in Pennsylvania
What to Know
Teaching Time
One 50-minute session
Grade Level
High School
  • Civics and Government
  • Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening
  • History
Historical Period
  • Colonization and Settlement - 1601-1760
  • New Nation - 1761-1800
  • Contemporary Pennsylvania - 1975 to Present
Education. We pin our hopes to it. We look to it as a nation for a brighter future. But education was not always available to the general public. In colonial days, only the elite had the benefit of education, and private religious schools often profited only the next religious leaders. During the Enlightenment in the 18th century, thoughts about the role of education (and specifically what to teach and to whom) were changing. Remarkably two Pennsylvanians from Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin and Dr. Benjamin Rush, were leading the way with these new thoughts on education. No longer was education to be just for the elite. In Benjamin Franklin's "Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania" Franklin lays out his ideas of education which become the founding ideas of the University of Pennsylvania. And Dr. Benjamin Rush radically advocates publicly supported liberal arts colleges throughout the Commonwealth and the education of women. In 1776 the Pennsylvania constitution did in fact call for county-based "schools for the convenient instruction of youth" and "one or more Universities." Rush articulates some of his educational ideas in "Thoughts Upon the Mode of Education Proper in a Republic," and through his influence, Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania is established. In their documents, Rush and Franklin discuss topics of diet and exercise, language of learning, curriculum at school, role of religion, proper form of discipline, purpose and importance of education, and whom to educate. Students will examine the educational views of these two men and discuss what historical events may have influenced their origin. Significant events should certainly include the American Revolution, the founding of a new nation with its cornerstone of democracy and freedom, and the Enlightenment movement and its concepts of the power of reason and rational thought in discovering the natural world. Students will then be asked to think about what shapes our educational policies as a nation today. In a culminating activity, students are to focus on one of the topics above and write an essay comparing Rush's and Franklin's views and adding their own perspective. They should then explain the similarity or difference in their opinion by taking into consideration the similarity or difference of historical conditions between today and the era of Franklin and Rush.


Students will be able to: 1. Summarize the vision Dr. Benjamin Rush had for education in Pennsylvania. 2. Summarize the vision Benjamin Franklin had for education in Pennsylvania. 3. Compare and contrast Rush's vision to that of Franklin's. 4. Identify the historical events that inspired the two men's visions. 5. Determine if today's historical events call for the same type of education Rush and Franklin envisioned.

Standards Alignment

  • Civics and Government

    5.1.9. H. Explain and interpret the roles of framers of basic documents of government from a national and Pennsylvanian perspective.
    5.2.12. G. Evaluate what makes a competent and responsible citizen.

  • History

    8.1.9. B. Analyze and interpret historical sources.
    8.1.12. B. Synthesize and evaluate historical sources.
    8.2.9. A. Analyze the political and cultural contributions of individuals and groups to Pennsylvania history from 1787 to 1914.
    8.2.9. B. Identify and analyze primary documents, material artifacts and historic sites important in Pennsylvania history from 1787 to 1914.
    8.2.9. C. Identify and analyze how continuity and change have influenced Pennsylvania history.

  • Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening

    1.1.11 G. Demonstrate after reading understanding and interpretation of both fiction and nonfiction text, including public documents.
    1.2.11. A. Read and understand essential content of informational texts and documents in all academic areas.
    1.4.11. B. Write complex informational pieces.

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