Colonists were educated through different methods between the upper and lower classes, with upper-class children receiving education in literacy, mathematics and prayer, and lower-class children ending up in apprenticeships. These apprenticeships lasted for up to 10 years at a time and were a way for the impoverished colonists to learn how to survive a colony's harsh everyday life. Lower-class children did not receive much literary or religious education as a result of this disparity.
Religion played a central role in how Western education developed in the early years of the United States. The Puritans, a fundamentalist Protestant sect, used education to allow followers to reach proper salvation, and religion was not a separate component in schools as a result. While teachers were not typically part of the clergy and were therefore considered secondary, they fell under a great deal of scrutiny in terms of their moral character and responsibilities to the Church.
In 1647, a law was passed that required all towns of 50 households or more to establish a school and pay the teacher through public or private currency. Once the town reached twice that size, it was required to create a secondary school to prepare students for Harvard.