One of my on-going challenges is to compose a monthly message worthy of your time to read and ponder. In considering each month's letter, my attention is usually drawn to one of my favorite pastimes - that of reading and pondering the writings of others from ages past. They seem to be so profound, so wise, so scholarly, and so applicable to today's situations. It is easy to lose one's self in the marvelous wisdom of others. I have often thought that some of us could spend our whole time in teaching from the wisdom of others and be completely satisfied. So many excellent messages have been so expertly packaged that it seems to be the lot of the rest of us to be purveyors of these messages. To me that seems to be what is needed today more than anything-the ability to truly motivate others to listen and consider the wisdom and counsel of those who have already gone before. In my more reflective moments, I have personally felt so inadequate to try to write original messages or to perform the intense research which some have so professionally done in the past. In a sense, there really are no new messages or ideas - just different ways of presenting them to try to reach others. It is the challenge of a teacher. It is the challenge with which I feel most comfortable.
May I, then, take a few minutes of your time and share with you the wisdom of others on one of my favorite subjects - the education of our youth. As I said, I could spend all my study time enjoying the combined wisdom of the past. Then without trying to rephrase their words, let me reproduce here the writings of some incredible people of the past with which I have spent many hours. I might add that these writings are all taken from the new American Freedom Library CD, an incredible collection of original documents and material from throughout history. Every serious student should have access to this treasure from NCCS.
On the Founding of Harvard College
"After God had carried us safe to New England, and we had built our houses, provided necessaries for our livelihood, reared convenient places for God's worship, and settled the Civil Government: One of the next things we longed for, and looked after was to advance learning, and perpetuate it to posterity, dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches, when our present ministers shall lie in the dust. And as we were thinking and consulting how to effect this great work, it pleased God to stir up the heart of one Mr. Harvard (a godly gentleman and a lover of learning, there living among us) to give the one half of his estate ...; towards the erecting of a college,...; and is called (according to the name of the first founder) Harvard College."
"Rules that are observed in the college.
"1. [Admission standards] When any scholar is able to understand Tully, or such like classical Latin author extempore, and make and speak true Latin in verse and prose, And decline perfectly the paradigms of nouns and verbs in the Greek tongue: Let him then and not before be capable of admission into the college.
"2. [Purpose of college] Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life, John 17:3, and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning. And seeing the Lord only giveth wisdom, let every one seriously set himself by prayer in secret to seek it of him, Prov. 2, 3.
"3. [Scripture reading required] Every one shall so exercise himself in reading the Scriptures twice a day, that he shall be ready to give such an account of his proficiency therein, both in theoretical observations of the language, and logic, and in practical and spiritual truths, as his tutor shall require, according to his ability; seeing the entrance of the word giveth light, it giveth understanding to the simple, Psalm. 119,130.
"4. [Strict behavior code] That they eschewing all profanation of God's name, attributes, word, ordinance, and times of worship, do study with good conscience, carefully to retain God, and the love of his truth in their minds else let them know, that (notwithstanding their learning) God may give them up to strong delusions, and in the end to a reprobate mind, 2 Thes. 2. 11, 12. Rom. 1. 28.
"[Graduation requirements.] The students of the first class that have been these four years trained up in university learning (for their ripening in the knowledge of the tongues and arts) and are approved for their manners as they have kept their public acts in former years, ourselves being present, at them; so have they lately kept two solemn acts for their commencement, when the Governor, magistrates, and the ministers from all parts, with all sorts of scholars, and others in great numbers were present, and did hear their exercises; which were Latin and Greek orations, and declamations and Hebrew analysis grammatical, logical and rhetorical of the Psalms: And their answers and disputations in logical, ethical, physical and metaphysical questions; and so were found worthy of the first degree, (commonly called bachelor)...;."
On the Training of Youth
"But of all the things which I have mentioned that which most contributes to the permanence of constitutions is the adaptation of education to the form of government, and yet in our own day this principle is universally neglected. The best laws, though sanctioned by every citizen of the state, will be of no avail unless the young are trained by habit and education in the spirit of the constitution...;." Aristole, Politics, Book V:IX
On the Necessity to Better Educate On Moral and Constitutional Principles
Adoption of the Federal Constitution, 1788.
"The world of mankind have always, in general, been enslaved and miserable, and always will be, until there is a greater prevalence of Christian moral principles; nor have I any expectation of this, in any great degree, unless some superior mode of education shall be adopted. It is education which almost entirely forms the character, the freedom or slavery, the happiness or misery, of the world. And if this Constitution shall be adopted, I hope the Continental legislature will have the singular honor, the indelible glory, of making it one of their first acts, in their first session, most earnestly to recommend to the several states in the Union the institution of such means of education as shall be adequate to the divine, patriotic purpose of training up the children and youth at large in that solid learning, and in those pious and moral principles, which are the support, the life and soul, of republican government and liberty, of which a free constitution is the body; for, as the body, without the spirit, is dead, so a free form of government, without the animating principles of piety and virtue, is dead also, being alone."
On Educating Our Youth in the U. S. Rather Than Abroad
"It has always been a source of serious reflection and sincere regret with me that the youth of the United States should be sent to foreign countries for the purpose of education. Although there are doubtless many under these circumstances who escape the danger of contracting principles unfriendly to republican government, yet we ought to deprecate the hazard attending ardent and susceptible minds from being too strongly and too early prepossessed in favor of other political systems, before they are capable of appreciating their own."
On Educating Young People About Government
"...;a primary object of such a national institution should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? and what duty more pressing on its legislature than to patronize a plan for communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?"
On the Importance of Patriotism In Our Schools
by President Benjamin Harrison
"Columbus stood in his age as the pioneer of progress and enlightenment. The system of universal education is in our age the most prominent and salutary feature of the spirit of enlightenment, and it is peculiarly appropriate that the schools be made by the people the center of the day's demonstration. Let the national flag float over every schoolhouse in the country and the exercises be such as shall impress upon our youth the patriotic duties of American citizenship."
On Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story's Attempt to
Develop a Way To Teach Constitutional Government
"Early attempts to teach American youth about the Constitution were only mildly successful. The American Philosophical Society sponsored an essay contest in 1797 on the question of what system of education the new republic should encourage, and the two prize winners-Samuel Harrison Smith and Samuel Knox-both emphasized the need for constitutional study. But only a handful of textbooks were written in the years that followed. They were less than satisfactory, and there was no solid effort to establish the study of civil government in the early republic.
"He believed that an understanding of the Constitution must begin with an inquiry into the origin, purpose, and function of the basic principles of the document, a task, he urged, that 'may be brought within the comprehension of the most common minds.' The text of the Constitution is sufficiently brief and intelligible that any youth 'of ordinary capacity may be made fully to understand it between his fourteenth and sixteenth year, if he has an instructor of reasonable ability and qualifications.'"
Don't you thrill with the wisdom of great patriots gone before. Can we not hear them plead with us to teach the precious truths, which they spilt their blood to give us, to our children. Is it not for us now to pick up their torch. They are not pleading for rash action. They are not asking us to run faster than we have strength. But they are asking us to each do more than we have been doing.
Justice Story lamented in the above quote that there was really not a very good curriculum to teach young people the Founders' message. Last month we announced the publication of a curriculum which would do exactly what Justice Story wished they had. It is amazing how many teachers out there who, just on hearing about it, are interested. Reports we have received have been encouraging. We ask all who read this letter to think of someone who teaches and let them know you have something that might help.
May God bless you in your efforts.
Earl Taylor, Jr.