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Classroom Guides

Lesson Two: Emblems of Education—Nineteenth Century Education and Moral Instruction

To the trustees of the African Free School, education involved more than simply teaching students reading, writing, and arithmetic. Equally important, if not more so, was the moral instruction of their students, as can be seen in the curriculum and in the messages sent to parents by school officials. This lesson will focus on the moral instruction received by students at the African Free School.

Grade Level

Time Allotment
Approximately six class sessions

Subject Matter
American History, English Literature, African American History, History of Education

Learning Objectives
Students will be able to:

  • Read, ask questions of, and draw conclusions from, primary documents
  • Compare and contrast historic and contemporary educational systems
  • Better understand life for African American children in early-nineteenth-century New York City

The teacher will need to do the following before beginning this lesson:

  • Thoroughly review the Examination Days Web site, with special attention paid to the essay regarding the African Free School and its curriculum
  • Review the online materials from the Web links provided below
  • Print out and make copies of the online material for your students

Primary Documents

Documents available on the Examination Days Web site
Pages from the African Free School Collection, New-York Historical Society, v. 4.

"Emblem of Education"
"Of Necessary Confidence Hope is the First Great Blessing"
"Unhappy Close of Life"
"Oh Liberty Thou Pow'r Supremely Bright"
"Of Applause"

Documents available in the Primary Documents PDF
Transcript, Henry Hill's Performance, "Emblem of Education," African Free School Collection, New-York Historical Society, v. 4, p.1.

An Address to the Parents and Guardians of the Children Belonging to the New-York African Free School, by the Trustees of the Institution (New York: Samuel Wood, 1818), 3–13.

Wynne, John Huddlestone. Choice Emblems, Natural, Historical, Fabulous, Moral and Divine for the Improvement and Pastime of Youth. Displaying the Beauties and Morals of the Ancient Fabulists . . .. (New York: James Oram, 1814), 63–64.

Learning Activities

Activity One: "See in What Evil Plight Yon Vine Appears"
(two days)

Activity Two: "A Message to Parents"
(two days)

Culminating Activities
(two days)