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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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Why Reading Aloud Helps You Remember More Information
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If you're trying to commit something to memory, you shouldn't just read the same flashcard over and over. You should read it aloud, according to a new study from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.

The research, published in the journal Memory, finds that the act of reading and speaking text aloud is a more effective way to remember information than reading it silently or just hearing it read aloud. The dual effect of both speaking and hearing helps encode the memory more strongly, the study reports. The new research builds on previous work on the so-called production effect by Waterloo psychologist Colin MacLeod, who is also one of the current paper's authors.  

The current study tested 95 college students over the course of two semesters, asking them to remember as many words as possible from a list of 160 nouns. At one session, they read a list of words into a microphone, then returned two weeks later for a follow-up. In some situations, the participants read the words presented to them aloud, while in others, they either heard their own recorded voice played back to them, heard recordings of others reading the words, or read the words silently to themselves. Afterward, they were tested to see how much they remembered from the list.

The participants remembered more words if they had read them aloud compared to all other conditions, even the one where people heard their own voices reading the words. However, hearing your own voice on its own does seem to have some effect: it was a better memory tool for participants than hearing someone else speak, perhaps because people are good at remembering things that involve them. (Or maybe, the researchers suggest, it's just because people find it so bizarre to hear their own recorded voice that it becomes a salient memory.)

The findings "suggest that production is memorable in part because it includes a distinctive, self-referential component," the researchers write. "This may well underlie why rehearsal is so valuable in learning and remembering: We do it ourselves, and we do it in our own voice. When it comes time to recover the information, we can use this distinctive component to help us to remember."

The message is loud and clear: If you want to remember, you should both read it and speak it aloud.

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The Brooklyn Public Library is Now Home to a Tiny Mollusk Museum
Courtesy of MICRO
Courtesy of MICRO

The Brooklyn Public Library is one of America’s largest public libraries—and now, its lobby is home to what’s being billed as the world’s smallest mollusk museum (and its first, no less). The vending machine-sized installation contains 15 different educational “displays,” all of which highlight fun facts about bivalves, snails, octopuses, and other soft-bodied creatures, according to The Washington Post.

Installed on November 10, the mollusk museum is the brainchild of Amanda Schochet, a computational ecologist, and media producer Charles Philipp. In 2016 they co-founded MICRO, a nonprofit organization that makes and distributes compact science museums.

MICRO's Smallest Mollusk Museum at the Brooklyn Public Library
Courtesy of MICRO

“Science museums are amazing,” the duo said in a video about their company, which is supported by Science Sandbox, an initiative of the Simons Foundation. “There’s just not enough of them. They’re all in wealthier neighborhoods. It’s fundamentally important for everyone to have access. So we decided to reinvent the museum, taking everything that we love about museums and putting it inside a box that can go anywhere.”

The factory-made museums are designed in collaboration with scientists, and created using 3D printing techniques. They’re easily reproduced, and can be set up anywhere, including libraries, airports, or even the DMV.

MICRO's Smallest Mollusk Museum at the Brooklyn Public Library
Courtesy of MICRO

The BPL’s Smallest Mollusk Museum is MICRO’s first public project. Why mollusks, you might ask? For one thing, they survive in every habitat on Earth, and have evolved over hundreds of millions of years. Plus, a mollusk museum of any type—large or small—didn’t exist yet, as Schochet learned after she once misheard Philipp say he was going to the world’s “mollusk museum.” (He was instead going to the “smallest” one, located inside a Manhattan elevator shaft.)

MICRO's Smallest Mollusk Museum at the Brooklyn Public Library
Courtesy of MICRO

The Smallest Mollusk Museum is “packed with exhibits including miniature movie theaters, 3D-printed sculptures of octopus brains and leopard slug hugs, optical illusions showing visitors what it’s like to experience the world as mollusks, and a holographic mollusk aquarium,” Schochet tells Mental Floss. “We've identified nearly 100,000 species of mollusks, but there could be as many as 200,000—they’re all around us, all the time. Every one of them is a lens onto a bigger universe.”

Librarians have also joined in on the mollusk mania, prepping an accompanying series of books for kids and adults about the many creatures featured in the museum's exhibits.

MICRO's Smallest Mollusk Museum at the Brooklyn Public Library
Courtesy of MICRO

MICRO's Smallest Mollusk Museum at the Brooklyn Public Library
Courtesy of MICRO

MICRO's Smallest Mollusk Museum at the Brooklyn Public Library
Courtesy of MICRO

The Smallest Mollusk Museum will gradually circulate through several of the library system’s branches. Meanwhile, MICRO’s next public offering will be a second mollusk museum, which will open in the Ronald McDonald House in New York City in December 2017. Additional locations and projects—including a small physics museum called the Perpetual Motion Museum—will be announced soon.

[h/t The Washington Post]

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