Before America’s public education system was created around 1840, the vast majority of Americans were illiterate and walked around with dirt on their faces.
At least, that seems to be the impression shared by most people today.
But it turns out that education, like nature, abhors a vacuum. In the decades after the American Revolution—much like the decades before, and most of human history—a number of different educational options existed that did not depend upon a centralized, bureaucratic system.
Before the creation of this system, beginning in Massachusetts, America educated its children through a variety of options: charity schools (run by either churches, town councils, or voluntary benevolent societies), pay schools, infant schools, dame schools (run by women out of their homes), grammar schools, academies, female seminaries, independent day schools, etc.