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David Kirkpatrick


Adam Smith on Education - Part III

by David W. Kirkpatrick,
Senior Education Fellow, US Freedom Foundation
 

This commentary concludes a summary of the education ideas of Adam Smith in Book V, Chapter I, Article 2d, Of the Expence (sic) of the Institutions for the Education of Youth, Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776

"The education of the common people requires, perhaps, in a civilized and commercial society, the attention of the public more than that of people of some rank and fortune...the common people...have little time to spare for education. Their parents can scarce afford to maintain them even in infancy. As soon as they are able to work, they must apply to some trade by which they can earn their subsistence. That trade too is generally so simple and uniform as to give little exercise to the understanding; while, at the same time, their labour (sic) is both so constant and so severe, that it leaves them little leisure and less inclination to apply to, or even too think of any thing else" p. 736

"But though the common people cannot, in any civilized society be so well instructed as people of some rank and fortune, the most essential parts of education, however, to read, write, and account, can be acquired at so early a period of life, that the greater part even of those who are to be bred to the lowest occupations, have time to acquire them before they can be employed in those occupations. For a very small expence (sic) the public can facilitate, can encourage, and can even impose upon almost the whole body of the people, the necessity of acquiring those most essential arts of education.

"The public can facilitate this acquisition by establishing in every parish or district a little school, where children may be taught for a reward so moderate, that even a common labourer may afford it; the master being partly, but not wholly paid by the public; because if he was wholly, or even principally paid by it, he would soon learn to neglect his business." p. 737

"The public can impose upon almost the whole body of the people the necessity of acquiring those most essential parts of education, by obliging every man to undergo an examination or probation in them before he can obtain the freedom n any corporation, or be allowed to set up any trade either in a village or town corporate." p. 738.

"A man without the proper use of the intellectual faculties of a man, is, if possible, more contemptible than even a coward, and seems to be mutilated and deformed in a still more essential part of the character of human nature. Though the state was to derive no advantage from the instruction of the inferior ranks of people, it would still deserve its attention that they should not be altogether uninstructed. The state, however, derives no inconsiderable advantage from their instruction. The more they are instructed, the less liable they are to the delusions of enthusiasm and superstition, which, among ignorant nations, frequently occasion the most dreadful disorders. An instructed and intelligent people besides, are always more decent and orderly than an ignorant and stupid one....In free countries, where the safety of government depends very much upon the favorable judgment which the people may form of its conduct, it must surely be of the highest importance that they should not be disposed to judge rashly or capriciously concerning it."


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