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What Freedom Demands: Education

February 23, 2015

The topic of education in America is constantly a hot topic.  What forms must it take?   And what must be taught?  Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, two ideological polar opposites of their day, left us with some advice of immeasurable value.  Adams wrote, “The science of government is my duty to study, more than all other sciences; . . . I must study politics and war, that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.  My sons ought to study  mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”  Jefferson complimented Adams, “We owe every other sacrifice to ourselves, [and all others], to pursue . . . the great experiment which shall prove that man is capable of living in society, governing itself by laws self-imposed, and securing to its members the enjoyment of life . . .; and further to show, that even when the government of its choice shall manifest a tendency to degeneracy, . . . that the will and the watchfulness of its sounder parts will reform it aberrations, . . [to]  within the rightful limits of self-government.”

They understood the imperative to include a clear understanding of the gifts of knowledge and truth they left behind -- to be advanced not ridiculed because of short-comings.  Interestingly, Jefferson continued, suggesting we contemplate the beneficial results of good national leadership instead of teaching a philosophy that calls for governance by the rod (e.g., freedom instead of force).

A critical piece of the freedom that both Jefferson and Adams proposed was to protect the rules of governance so that truths might be openly discovered and considered.  They were passionate about the importance of perpetuating the “experiment” they started and that the result would open doors to incredible truths and insights.  We have been receivers of the outcome foretold.

The story leading up to the “miracle” is one they also understood.  By the middle 1750’s, literacy rates as defined for their day were high, some estimating as high as 90%.  Much of this was encouraged through need.  Understanding and living by the principles of self-reliance and integrity would lead them, almost forcing them toward education.  Most were small business farmers.  Survival demanded these business owners be able to read, to write (cipher) and to perform adequate math.   By the time of the revolution’s beginning, Colonists could, and did, immerse themselves into the political debate.  Thomas Paine’s famous treatise “Common Sense” would become as well read and understood as the Bible.  Being informed (educated) and with firsthand knowledge of, and experience with, totalitarian governmental rule; they chose to travel another path – the “American experiment.” 

Remembering this story, these events and their outcomes will help us avoid the move toward tyranny.  Without understanding; we cannot continue to improve. Instead we risk becoming cynical, even critical.  We are all imperfect but the truths Adams and Jefferson left us are not.  The key to our nation being a bastion of freedom rests within our children.  Never condone efforts to rewrite the stories and principles of freedom learned from our history.  Although “dumbing down” curriculum may seem wise, maintaining high standards is far more effective.  Students should learn what’s in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. And parroting leaves students unprepared, whereas learning problem solving prepares.  Fight for the minds of our children, for they are truly the future of our nation!

Mark Mansius, Bill Sargent, and John Gay