Teaching Youth the Principles of Republican Government
School is out for another year! Hundreds and thousands of high school seniors have graduated and are looking to begin their post high school activities. After a recent presentation on the ideas of the Founders, one high school student approached me and said, "I sure wish I had learned these concepts in my government class. We only talk about what is popular at the time. Nobody really talks principles of good government, just what is the current thinking. Everything seems so negative and hopeless, unless you are one of those political guys."
As a result of the rewriting of American History and Government textbooks since the 1920s, most of the Founding Fathers formula for Constitutional government has been removed from public school curriculia. All that remains is the nuts and bolts of politics such as political parties and the procedure for passing a bill. The real meat and sinew of the Constitution is not taught any more.
It has even been fashionable in recent decades to think that being educated in a foreign land somehow is a mark of higher education.
Washington's Worry over Foreign-Educated and Under-Educated Students
"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." ( The Real George Washington, p. 744)
Washington therefore proposed a national university in the federal city:
"I have heretofore proposed to the consideration of Congress the expediency of establishing a national university....The assembly to which I address myself [Congress] is too enlightened not to be fully sensible how much a flourishing state of the arts and sciences contributes to national prosperity and reputation. True it is that our country, much to its honor, contains many seminaries of learning highly respectable and useful; but the funds upon which they rest are too narrow to command the ablest professors in the different departments of liberal knowledge for the institution contemplated, though they would be excellent auxiliaries. Among the motives to such an institution, the assimilation of the principles, opinions, and manners of our countrymen by the common education of a portion of our youth from every quarter well deserves attention. The more homogeneous our citizens can be made in these particulars, the greater will be our prospect of permanent union; and 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?" (Eighth Annual Address to Congress, 1796.)
Abraham Baldwin, a signer of the Constitution and founder and first president of the University of Georgia expressed the same concerns when he wrote in his Charter of the College of Georgia :
"When the minds of the people in general are viciously disposed and unprincipled, and their conduct disorderly, a free government will be attended with greater confusions and evils more horrid than the wild, uncultivated state of nature.
"It can only be happy when the public principles and opinions are properly directed, and their manners regulated.
"This is an influence beyond the reach of laws and punishments, and can be claimed only by religion and education.
"It should therefore be among the first objects of those who wish well to the national prosperity to encourage and support the principles of religion and morality, and early to place the youth under the forming hand of society, that by instruction they may be molded to the love of virtue and good order.
"Sending them abroad to other countries for their education will not answer these purposes, is too humiliating an acknowledgement of the ignorance or inferiority of our own, and will always be the cause of so great foreign attachments that upon principles of policy it is inadmissible. (Quoted in Federer, America's God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations, pp. 33-34)
Education of Youth More Important than Lawmaking or Preaching
Noah Webster was born in 1758 and served in the Revolutionary War. In 1828 he published his first edition of the American Dictionary of the English Language . This book along with Webster's American Spelling Book became the most popular book in American education to that point. Noah Webster, along with William McGuffey earned the title "Schoolmaster of the Nation" during the 1800s. Webster was so concerned that the future of the United States rests with young people that he spent his whole life packaging instructional materials for schools. Said he:
"The brief exposition of the constitution of the United States, will unfold to young persons the principles of republican government; and it is the sincere desire of the writer that our citizens should early understand that the genuine source of correct republican principles is the Bible, particularly the New Testament or the Christian religion.'
"The religion which has introduced civil liberty is the religion of Christ and His apostles, which enjoins humility, piety, and benevolence which acknowledges in every person a brother, or a sister, and citizen with equal rights. This is genuine Christianity, and to this we owe our free Constitutions of Government.
"The moral principles and precepts contained in the Scriptures; ought to form the basis of all of our civil constitutions and laws .... All the miseries and evils which men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible.
"When you become entitled to exercise the right of voting for public officers, let it be impressed on your mind that God commands you to choose for rulers just men who will rule in the fear of God. The preservation of a republican government depends on the faithful discharge of this duty;
"If the citizens neglect their duty and place unprincipled men in office, the government will soon be corrupted; laws will be made not for the public good so much as for the selfish or local purposes;
"Corrupt or incompetent men will be appointed to execute the laws; the public revenues will be squandered on unworthy men; and the rights of the citizens will be violated or disregarded.
"If a republican government fails to secure public prosperity and happiness, it must be because the citizens neglect the divine commands, and elect bad men to make and administer the laws.
Webster later stated:
"For this reason society requires that the education of youth should be watched with the most scrupulous attention. Education, in a great measure, forms the moral characters of men, and morals are the basis of government.
"Education should therefore be the first care of a legislature; not merely the institution of schools, but the furnishing of them with the best men for teachers. A good system of education should be the first article in the code of political regulations; for it is much easier to introduce and establish an effectual system for preserving morals, than to correct by penal statutes the ill effects of a bad system.
"The goodness of a heart is of infinitely more consequence to society than an elegance of manners; nor will any superficial accomplishments repair the want of principle in the mind. It is always better to be vulgarly right than politely wrong....
"The education of youth [is] an employment of more consequence than making laws and preaching the gospel, because it lays the foundation on which both law and gospel rest for success.
"Republican government loses half of its value, where the moral and social duties are... negligently practiced. To exterminate our popular vices is a work of far more importance to the character and happiness of our citizens, than any other improvements in our system of education." (Federer, pp. 678-680)
Alexis de Tocqueville Declared Proper Politics to Result from Proper Education
In the 1830s, de Tocqueville observed the close relationship between the program of universal education and the preservation of freedom:
"It cannot be doubted that in the United States the instruction of the people powerfully contributes to the support of the democratic republic; and such must always be the case, I believe, where the instruction which enlightens the understanding is not separated from the moral education.... An American should never be led to speak of Europe, for he will then probably display much presumption and very foolish pride.... But if you question him respecting his own country, the cloud that dimmed his intelligence will immediately disperse; his language will become as clear and precise as his thoughts. He will inform you what his rights are and by what means he exercises them; he will be able to point out the customs which obtain in the political world. You will find that he is well acquainted with the rules of the administration, and that he is familiar with the mechanism of the laws.... The American learns to know the laws by participating in the act of legislation; and he takes a lesson in the forms of government from governing. The great work of society is ever going on before his eyes and, as it were, under his hands.
"In the United States, politics are the end and aim of education.
Benjamin Franklin Felt Good Teaching Received a Heavenly Endorsement
Benjamin Franklin stressed the same point and added how precious good teachers are:
"I think with you, that nothing is of more importance for the public weal, than to form and train up youth in wisdom and virtue. Wise and good men are in my opinion, the strength of the state; more so than riches or arms....
"I think also, that general virtue is more probably to be expected and obtained from the education of youth, than from the exhortations of adult persons; bad habits and vices of the mind being, like diseases of the body, more easily prevented [in youth] than cured [in adults]. I think, moreover, that talents for the education of youth are the gift of God; and that he on whom they are bestowed, whenever a way is opened for the use of them, is as strongly called as if he heard a voice from heaven...." (Quoted in Skousen, The Five Thousand Year Leap, p. 55)
A Plea to Parents
It is a self-evident truth that the Creator holds parents responsible for the instruction of their children. Such vital training cannot be left to schools or to churches. In so many cases, our children are either receiving points of views not in harmony with republicanism or not receiving training at all. Parents must take an active role in making sure that their children have been properly educated.
There are great resources available from NCCS to do this. Please visit our website and refer to many offerings of books, tapes, study classes, etc., which we highlight each month in our mailings.
The Founders are counting on us!
Earl Taylor, Jr.
PS - We have been receiving some magnificent reports on our program to commit citizens to read the Constitution and to discuss it with relatives, friends, and neighbors. Orders for multiple copies, usually 50-100, of the NCCS special edition of the pocket size Constitution have been coming in increasing numbers. Public and private schools are now ordering them in quantity. Nothing we have done in recent years has generated so much excitement as this project and we have already reprinted the booklet. Please share with us your experiences as your teach and challenge others to read our Charter of Freedom. Our intent is to share these experiences in an upcoming newsletter. Hundreds are learning that each person can really do something!