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America’s First Mandatory Education Law Was Inspired by Satan

On a typical weekday in the U.S., about 50 million kids are in public school all around the country. You can thank mandatory education laws and a robust public school system for that. But how did the United States achieve compulsory education for all, anyway? The roots of the practice might be older than you think—and the laws that got the country on the road to mandatory education have a weird connection to Satan. Yes, Satan.

It all started in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, a settlement of Puritans who emigrated from England. The settlers were part of a “great migration” of Puritans—about 20,000 total—who flocked to New England between 1629 and 1640, driven by a desire to lead pious lives and worship freely. Their religious practices were stern and fervent; as one historian writes, “Puritans lived in a constant state of spiritual anxiety, searching for signs of God's favor or anger.”

One particular worry was Satan—the dark lord capable of leading humanity astray through distractions, deceptions, and any number of temptations. “Satan hath his Mysteries to bring us to Eternal Ruine,” wrote Puritan minister John Hale in a typical anti-Satan screed. “Mysteries not easily understood, whereby the depths of Satan are managed in hidden wayes.”

Every aspect of life in the new colony reflected the Puritan’s preoccupation with the devil’s doings. Massachusetts Puritans enacted strict laws based on their values, and focused on community members’ shared responsibilities to their faith and to each other. Special attention was paid to the moral and educational development of children, who were expected to be obedient and submissive to their elders.

Back in England, the educational system had been haphazard: Rich children were educated by tutors or members of the clergy, while poor ones were left to fend for themselves. The Puritans decided to try another method. In 1642, they passed a law that required every household head to be responsible for the education of all of their children and dependents (servants). The law required that everyone be taught to read, and if a parent failed, their child could be removed from their home.

But by 1647, the Puritan General Court decided that parents in the colony were falling short of their duty. And so the Old Deluder Satan Act was born [PDF]. The law’s name came from its first line, which reminded parents that “one chief project of that old deluder, Satan” was to keep men from reading the Bible. It was thought that Satan would have less power over children who understood “the true sense and meaning” of the Bible, something that could only be guaranteed if the child could read it themselves, without needing to rely on the “false glosses of Saint-seeming-deceivers” for interpretation of scripture.

Instead of relying on parents to educate their kids, the law put the responsibility on towns. Townships with 50 households or more had to fork out money and hire a schoolmaster to teach children to write and read at a “petty” or elementary school. If towns had 100 households or more, they had to set up a petty school as well as a full grammar school—one whose masters were “able to instruct youth so far as they may be fitted for the Universitie.”

Today, the Old Deluder Satan Act is thought of as the nation’s first compulsory education law. It remained on the books until 1789, a year after Massachusetts became a state, when it was incorporated into the Massachusetts Education Act. By then, however, mention of Satan was nowhere to be found.

It took more than a century for the American public school system as we know it to really take hold; before the latter half of the 19th century, not all states had compulsory education laws, and high schools were not yet common [PDF]. That changed during the Progressive Era, when reformers set to work establishing free schools and mandatory education for everyone—and it all started with a group of people convinced that Satan was at work in their community.

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entertainment
Pablo, a Groundbreaking New BBC Series, Teaches Kids About Autism
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BBC

Autism spectrum disorder affects one in 68 kids in the U.S., but there’s still a lot of confusion surrounding the nature of the condition and what it feels like to have it. As BuzzFeed reports, a new British children’s program aims to teach viewers about autism while showing kids on the spectrum characters and stories to which they can relate.

Pablo, which premiered on the BBC’s kids’ network CBeebies earlier this month, follows a 5-year-old boy as he navigates life with autism. The show uses two mediums: At the start of an episode, Pablo is played by a live actor and faces everyday scenarios, like feeling overstimulated by a noisy birthday party. When he’s working out the conflict in his head, Pablo is depicted as an animated doodle accompanied by animal friends like Noa the dinosaur and Llama the llama.

Each character illustrates a different facet of autism spectrum disorder: Noa loves problem-solving but has trouble reading facial expression, while Llama notices small details and likes repeating words she hears. On top of demonstrating the diversity of autism onscreen, the show depends on individuals with autism behind the scenes as well. Writers with autism contribute to the scripts and all of the characters are voiced by people with autism.

“It’s more than television,” the show’s creator Gráinne McGuinness said in a short documentary about the series. “It’s a movement that seeks to build awareness internationally about what it might be like to see the world from the perspective of someone with autism.”

Pablo can be watched in the UK on CBeebies or globally on the network's website.

[h/t BuzzFeed]

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Animals
These Mobile Libraries Roaming Zimbabwe Are Pulled By Donkeys
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The people behind the Rural Libraries and Resources Development Program (RLRDP) believe you shouldn’t have to travel far to access good reading material. That’s why they have donkeys do a lot of the traveling for the people they help. According to inhabitat, RLRDP manages 15 donkey-powered library carts that deliver books to communities without libraries of their own.

The organization was founded in 1990 with the mission of bringing libraries to rural parts of Zimbabwe. Five years later, they started hitching up donkeys to carts packed with books. Each mobile library can hold about 1200 titles, and 12 of the 15 carts are filled exclusively with books for kids. The donkeys can transport more than just paperbacks: Each two-wheeled cart has space for a few riders, and three of them are outfitted with solar panels that power onboard computers. While browsing the internet or printing documents, visitors to the library can use the solar energy to charge their phones.

Donkeys pulling a cart

Carts usually spend a day in the villages they serve, and that short amount of time is enough to make a lasting impact. RLRDP founder Dr. Obadiah Moyo wrote in a blog post, “The children explore the books, sharing what they’ve read, and local storytellers from the community come to bring stories to life. It really is a day to spread the concept of reading and to develop the reading culture we are all working towards.”

Kids getting books from a cart.

About 1600 individuals benefit from each cart, and Moyo says schools in the areas they visit see improvement in students. The donkey-pulled libraries are only part of what RLRDP does: The organization also trains rural librarians, installs computers in places without them, and delivers books around Zimbabwe via bicycle—but the pack animals are hard to top. Moyo writes, “When the cart is approaching a school, the excitement from the children is wonderful to see as they rush out to greet it.”

[h/t inhabitat]

All images courtesy of Rural Libraries and Resources Development Program

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