The Founding Fathers and Education

The Founding Fathers agreed that education was the most important way to teach virtue, shape character, and mold citizens. The “best means of forming manly, virtuous, happy people, will be found in the right education of youth.” And as George Washington wrote: “Without this foundation, every other means, in my opinion must fail.”

Moral education should begin when the first habits and manners were established. That’s why they supported public education. “Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom. The education here intended is not merely that of the children of the rich and noble, but of every rank and class of people, down to the lowest and poorest. It is not too much to say that schools for the education of all should be placed at convenient distances, and maintained at the public expense.” (John Adams, “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America”, a two volume work which was next to the Bible the most often quoted work at the Constitutional Convention.)

And James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, explained: that a key object of teaching reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, and history is “to instruct the mass of our citizens in these, their rights, interests and duties, as men and citizens, to develop the reasoning facuties of our youth, enlarge their minds, cultivate their morals, and instill in them the precepts of virtue and order . . . (on which) the public prosperity and individual happiness are so much to depend.” (as quoted in “We Still Hold These Truths”, by Matthew Spalding, 2009, pages 147-148).

Where have we gone wrong? We have removed virtue, character, and citizen responsibility from our teaching. God is no longer a part of the pubic square. We’d better think this through again. If you need some more proof of this, just look at the activities around the University of California system. You cannot teach, or even talk about God, virtue, character, or proper citizenship.

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