A few weeks ago in Part 1, I finished by discussing how Thomas Jefferson distinguished the U.S. from other countries in asking, "What but education has advanced us beyond the condition of our indigenous neighbors?"
But is today's public education system what he and other Founding Fathers were imagining it could be back then?
The answer is: Yes and no.
Yes, Jefferson foresaw that public education would teach a broad range of basics. But no, he didn't imagine that academia would be run by the federal government or that it would turn into limited indoctrination camps for political correctness and secular progressivism.
There was nothing more important for Jefferson than the education of the public. For him, the preservation of our very republic was dependent upon it.
As far back as 1787, he wrote to James Madison: "Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to; convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty."
And in 1810, after two terms as president, he penned, "No one more sincerely wishes the spread of information among mankind than I do, and none has greater confidence in its effect towards supporting free & good government."
In 1816, he further noted: "Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day. ... I believe (the human condition) susceptible of much improvement, and most of all, in matters of government and religion; and that the diffusion of knowledge among the people is to be the instrument by which it is effected."
And in 1822, only four years before his death, Jefferson said, "I look to the diffusion of light and education as the resource to be relied on for ameliorating the condition, promoting the virtue, and advancing the happiness of man."
Jefferson believed that the cost of ignorance for our communities and our country would be much more than the costs to educate the people. Again, he wrote, "Now let us see what the present primary schools cost us, on the supposition that all the children of 10, 11, & 12 years old are, as they ought to be, at school: and, if they are not, so much the work is the system; for they will be untaught, and their ignorance & vices will, in future life cost us much dearer in their consequences, than it would have done, in their correction, by a good education."