Sunday, March 4, 2018

Educate for the principles of humanity, general benevolence, industry and frugality, and good humor

From The Jefferson Lecture by David McCullough, delivered in 2003.
Of all the sustaining themes in our story as a nation, as clear as any has been the importance put on education, one generation after another, beginning with the first village academies in New England and the establishment of Harvard and the College of William and Mary. The place of education in the values of the first presidents is unmistakable.

Washington contributed generously, some $20,000 in stock to the founding of what would become Washington and Lee University in Virginia. His gift was the largest donation ever made to any educational institution in the nation until then, and has since grown to a substantial part of the endowment.

Jefferson founded the University of Virginia. But then it may be fairly said that Jefferson was a university unto himself.

The oldest written constitution still in use in the world today is the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, drafted by John Adams in 1778, just two years after the Declaration of Independence and fully a decade before our national Constitution. In many respects it is a rough draft of our national Constitution. But it also contains a paragraph on education that was without precedent. Though Adams worried that it would be rejected as too radical, it was passed unanimously. Listen, please, to what it says:
Wisdom and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties. [Which is to say that there must be wisdom, knowledge, and virtue or all aspirations for the good society will come to nothing.] And as these depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education in various parts of the country, and among the different orders of the people [that is, everyone], it shall be the duty [not something they might consider, but the duty] of legislatures and magistrates in all future periods of this commonwealth to cherish the interests and literature and the sciences, and all seminaries of them ... public schools, and grammar schools in the towns.
And he goes on to define what he means by education. It is literature and the sciences, yes, but much more: agriculture, the arts, commerce, trades, manufacturers, "and a natural history of the country." It shall be the duty, he continues,
to countenance and inculcate the principles of humanity and general benevolence, public and private charity, industry and frugality, honesty [we will teach honesty] ... sincerity, [and, please note] good humor, and all social affections, and generous sentiments among the people.
What a noble statement!

Years before, while still living under his father's roof, Adams had written in his diary, "I must judge for myself, but how can I judge, how can any man judge, unless his mind has been opened and enlarged by reading."

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