Sunday, April 12, 2015

President Thomas Jefferson's Birthday

Few American presidents are as complex as Jefferson nor do they invoke as much debate over their respective places in history. While arguments abound over his morals, particularly in regards to slavery, there is little doubt about his intellectual superiority for the time, and his gift of writing for the ages.

April 13 marks the birthdate of President Jefferson, a date that is encoded in federal law:

36 U.S. Code § 141 - The President shall issue each year a proclamation—
(1) calling on officials of the United States Government to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on April 13; and
(2) inviting the people of the United States to observe April 13 in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies in commemoration of Thomas Jefferson’s birthday.
While best known for drafting the Declaration of Independence, he was a prolific writer on many topics, including education:
Jefferson understood that freedom depends on self-government: the cultivation of self-reliance, courage, responsibility, and moderation. Education contributes to both the knowledge and virtues that form a self-governing citizen. By proposing a bill in Virginia that would have established free schools every five to six square miles, Jefferson sought to teach “all children of the state reading, writing, and common arithmetic.” With these skills, a child would become a citizen able to “calculate for himself,” “express and preserve his ideas, his contracts and accounts,” and “improve, by reading, his morals and faculties.” 
Jefferson viewed this basic education as instrumental to securing “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” for Americans because it helps an individual “understand his duties” and “know his rights.”
In one of his writings, a "Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge," Jefferson noted that education in general is important to guarding against tyranny:
...experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms, those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny; and it is believed that the most effectual means of preventing this would be, to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts, which history exhibiteth, that, possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries, they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeat its purposes ... whence it becomes expedient for promoting the publick happiness that those persons, whom nature hath endowed with genius and virtue, should be rendered by liberal education worthy to receive, and able to guard the sacred deposit of the rights and liberties of their fellow citizens, and that they should be called to that charge without regard to wealth, birth or other accidental condition or circumstance...
At the very least, folks should take time to better understand one of our greatest presidents and a good place to start is right here: After all, debate is only purposeful when it comes from learned minds.