Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Jefferson on Public Education

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." ~ Thomas Jefferson

This being the 236 anniversary of the founding of our democratic republic, I thought it fitting to revisit the views of the drafter of the Declaration of Independence and third president regarding public education, in his own words.


“The tax which will be paid for the purpose of education is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.” 1786 letter to George Wythe, A Crusade Against Ignorance

"Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves are its only safe depositories. And to render even them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree. . . An amendment to our constitution must here come in aid of the public education. The influence over government must be shared among all people." 1806 State of the Union

"I have indeed two great measures at heart, without which no republic can maintain itself in strength: 1. That of general education, to enable every man to judge for himself what will secure or endanger his freedom. 2. To divide every county into hundreds, of such size that all the children of each will be within reach of a central school in it." 1810 letter to John Tyler, Schools and “Little Republics”

“Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppression of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day. Although I do not, with some enthusiasts, believe that the human condition will ever advance to such a state of perfection as that there shall no longer be pain or vice in the world, yet I believe it susceptible of much improvement, and most of all, in matters of government and religion; and that the diffusion of knowledge among the people is to be the instrument by which it is to be effected.” 1816 letter to P.S. DuPont de Nemours, Constitutionally and Conscientiously Democrats

“If the children are untaught their ignorance and vices will in future life cost us much dearer in their consequences than it would have done in their correction by a good education.” 1818 letter to Joseph C Cabell

“The truth is that the want of common education with us is not from our poverty but from the want of an orderly system. More money is now paid for the education of a part than would be paid for that of the whole if systematically arranged.” Thomas Jefferson, 1820 letter to Joseph C Cabell