Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Jefferson on Education

Jefferson believed that public education was essential for a republic to function properly. The following passages are from The Portable Thomas Jefferson,

To George Wythe (Paris, Aug 13, 1786): "...I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that of the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be divised for the preservation of freedom, and happiness."

Report of the Commissioners for the University of Virginia (Aug 4, 1818),

"...The objects of this primary education determine its character and limits. These objects would be,
 To enable him to calculate for himself, and to express and preserve his ideas, his contracts and accounts in writing,
 To improve, by reading, his morals and faculties;
 To understand his duties to his neighbors and country, and to discharge with competence the functions confided to him by either;
 To know his rights; to exercise with order and justice those he retains; to choose with discretion the fiduciary of those he delegates; and to notice their conduct with diligence, with candor, and judgment;
 And in general, to observe with intelligence and faithfulness all the social relations under which he shall be placed."

"...Some good men, and even of respectable information, consider the learned sciences as useless acquirement; some think that they do not better the condition of man; and others that education, like private and individual concerns, should be left to private individual effort; not reflecting that an establishment embracing all the sciences which may be useful and even necessary in the various vocations of life, with the buildings and apparatus belonging to each, are far beyound the reach of individual means, and must either derive existence from public patronage, or not exist at all. This would leave us then without those callings which depend on education, or send us to other countries to seek the instruction they require. But the Commissioners are happy in considering the statute under which they are assembled as proof that the Legislature is far from the abandonment of objects so interesting. They are sensible that the advantages of well-directed education, moral, political and economical, are truly above all estimate. Education generates habits of application, of order, and the love of virtue; and controls, by the force of habit, any innate obliquities in our moral organization. We should be far, too, from the discouraging persuasion that man is fixed, by the law of his nature, at a given point; that his improvement is a chimera, and the hope delusive of rendering ourselves wiser, happier or better than our forefathers were. As well might it be urged that the wild and uncultivated tree, hitherto yielding sour and bitter fruit only, can never be made to yield better; yet we know that the grafting art implants a new tree on the savage stock, producing what is most estimable both in kind and degree. Education, in like manner, engraphs a new man on the native stock, and improves what in his nature was vicious and perverse into qualities of virtue and social worth. And it cannot be but that each generation succeeding to the knowledge acquired by all those who preceeded it, adding to it their own acquisitions and discoveries, and handing the mass down for successive and constant accumulation, must advance the knowledge and well-being of mankind, not infinitely, as some have said, but indefinitely, and to a term which no one can fix and forsee. Indeed, we need look back half a century, to times which many now living remember well, and see the wonderful advances in the sciences and arts which have been made within that period. Some of these have rendered the elements themselves subservient to the purposes of man, have harnessed them to the yoke of his labors, and effected the great blessings of moderating his own, of accomplishing what was beyond his feeble force, and extending the comforts of life to a much enlarged circle, to those who had before known its necessaries only. That these are not the vain dreams of sanguine hope, we have before our eyes real and living examples."

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