A Free Society Cannot Survive As A Republic Without a Broad Program of General Education
Proverbs 4:10-13 “Listen, my son, accept what I say and the years of your life will be many. I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble. Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life.”
Perhaps one of the most outstanding things that the colonists did in America that no other nation had tried to undertake was to educate the whole people. When you read the writings and gather the thoughts of the early colonists, you realize that they had a sense “of manifest destiny.” In other words, they believed that America played an important role in the unfolding of modern world history. Because of that, education was an important ingredient in this preparation.
Education started early in 1647 in Massachusetts when they passed a law requiring a community of 50 families or householders to set up a free grammar school to teach the Bible and the basics: reading, writing, arithmetic, ciphering, history, geography.
Also the law stated that every Township that contained 100 families was to set up a secondary school to prepare young people for attendance at Harvard. John Adams said that the purpose of this program was to have “knowledge diffuse generally through the whole body of the people.” John Adams went on to say that this was so important that any Township that did not have a grammar school, or even a schoolmaster for a few months, would be subject to a heavy penalty. We see that they took education of the ‘whole people’ seriously. It is amazing to see today how in our educational system there has been a “dumbing down syndrome.” From our public schools we are graduating kids who can hardly read or write let alone have any understanding of history or even geography.
In the early days of our country it was rare to find a person who could not read or write. John Adams and the other Founding Fathers knew that without education liberty cannot be preserved.
The early colonists knew that local school boards were of utmost importance. Historian John Fisk made the comment that “the school committees were bodies of ‘great importance.’”
We must remember that all this was at the time when illiteracy was the common lot for most people in Europe. John Adams who lived in France said that out of the 24 million inhabitants of Europe only 500,000 could read and write.
In the early days of our Republic the intention was to have all children being able to read, write and do arithmetic not only so that they can be informed citizens, but able to continue on in their own diligent self-study. The Founding Fathers realized that by having the basics or the fundamentals one was able to continue their own study in many different areas of their choice, but without these fundamentals they would be handicapped.
When visiting America in 1831 Tocqueville “found that the American people will appear to be the most enlightened the world.” It is interesting that Tocqueville noted that the children were taught the doctrines and evidence of religion (this would be the Christian religion), the history of his country as well as the leading features of its Constitution. He went on to say that it would be almost impossible to find a person who would be ignorant of these things. If we look at the 300 million in the United States today – how many today can really read, write and even do simple mathematics; how many know our Constitution and the true history of our country? In the early days of the Republic it was unusual to find a person not familiar with these things, but today it would be rare to find someone who is acquainted with these things.
Tocqueville did say that as the settlers pushed West education did diminish, but he went on to say, “he wears the dress and speaks the language of cities; he is acquainted with the past, curious about the future, and ready for argument about the present; he is, in short, highly civilized being, who consents for a time to inhabit the backwoods, and who penetrates into the wilds of the New World with the Bible, and axe, and some newspapers.”
Arthur J. Stansberry published in 1828 what was known as “Catechism on the Constitution” that contains questions and answers regarding the Constitution and its principles taught to the children.
Daniel Webster said: “Whatever may be said to the contrary, a correct use of the English language is, at this day (1843) more general throughout the United States than it is throughout England herself.” In other words, what he was saying was that in the frontier as well as on the East Coast people spoke well. Many of these people attributed the eloquence to an extensive reading of the Bible. This was the case of Abraham Lincoln as seen in the Gettysburg address.
We cannot underestimate the cultural influence of the Bible in the early days of our founding. It provided strength to their moral standards as well as behavior, and wherever the Americans went the Bible came with them. The American Express ad that we so often see is, “Never leave home without it.” In the early days of our founding the settlers never left home without the Bible.
What do we have in our public schools today? Our schools have become so secularized that it is now forbidden to read the Bible. Our Founding Fathers would have looked upon this as a very serious mistake.