What Curriculum did Benjamin Franklin use for his
Academy and College of Philadelphia?

Benjamin Franklin’s Sketch of an English School: For the Consideration of The Trustees of the Philadelphia Academy,” reads as follows:

“…The 4th Class
To be taught composition. Writing one’s own language well, is the next necessary accomplishment after good speaking…
Dr. Johnson’s* Ethices Elementa, or First Principles of Morality, may now be read to the scholars, and explained by the master, to lay a solid foundation of virtue and piety in their minds. And as this class continues the reading of history, let them now, at proper hours, receive some further instruction in chronology, and in that part of geography (from the mathematical master) which is necessary to understand the maps and globes. They should also be acquainted with the modern names of the places they find mentioned in ancient writers. The exercise of good reading, and proper speaking, still continued at suitable times…
In this class, besides continuing the studies of the preceding in history, rhetoric, logic, moral and natural philosophy, the best English authors may be read and explained; as Tillotson, Milton, Locke, Addison, Pope and Swift, the best translations of Homer, Virgil and Horace, Travels of Cyrus, etc.
Once a year let there be public exercises in the hall; the trustees and citizens present. Then let fine gilt books be given as prizes to such boys as distinguish themselves, and excel the others in any branch of learning, making three degrees of comparison: giving the best prize to him that performs best; a less valuable one to him that comes up next to the best; and another to the third. Commendations, encouragement, and advice to the rest; keeping up the hopes, that, by industry, they may excel another time…
Thus instructed, youth will come out of this school fitted for learning any business, calling or profession, except such wherein languages are required; and though unacquainted with any ancient or foreign tongue, they will be masters of their own, which is of more immediate and general use; and withal will have attained many other valuable accomplishments: the time usually spent in acquiring those languages, often without success, being here employed in laying such a foundation of knowledge and ability, as, properly improved, may qualify them to pass through and execute the several offices of civil life, with advantage and reputation to themselves and country. BENJAMIN FRANKLIN” 1

The specific Curriculum of the Philosophy Schools of the College of Philadelphia included the following:

“Holy Bible, to be read daily from the
beginning, and now to supply the
deficiencies of the whole;
Isaac Watt’s Logic;
Locke on Humane Understanding;
Watt’s Ontology and Essays;
Johnson’s Elementary Philosophy;
Sir Isaac Newton’s Philosophy;
Locke on government;
The Religious Philosopher….” 2

Thus we understand, from Benjamin Franklin’s curriculum of studies for students at his College of Philadelphia, that his purpose was “to instruct youth in the above-cited authors, in order to lay a foundation to prepare them for any business, calling or profession, except such wherein languages are required.”

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Franklin, Benjamin. Works of the Late Benjamin Franklin: Consisting of His Life, written by himself, together with Essays, Humorous, Moral and Literary, Chiefly in the Manner of the Spectator. (In Two Volumes). Vol. II. Sketch of an English School: For the Consideration of the Trustees of the Philadelphia Academy. London: Printed for G.G.J. and J. Robinson, Pater-noster Row, 1793. Library of Congress, Rare Book Collection.


Smith, Horace Wemyss. Life and Correspondence of the Rev. William Smith, D.D. Vol. I., p. 59.

* Rev. Dr. Samuel Johnson, father and first President of Kings College (now Columbia), to whom Dr. Franklin had offered the presidency of his College of Philadelphia.

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