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David Kirkpatrick


School Choice History Part # 4

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

This is the fourth and final essay drawing upon pp 716-740, "Of the Expense of the Institutions for the Education of Youth, in Adam Smith's, The Wealth of Nations,," NY: The Modern Library, 1937 (1776), the original source for today's educational debate over direct funding of students rather than of the institutions they attend, especially when such attendance is mandatory.

As noted earlier, because Smith's views are so provocative, go well beyond student funding and choice to address the effects of different funding options, and, at 25 pages too long to cite in full, the following excerpts are Smith's own words. Where he refers to college or university, the word "school" could often apply as well.
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"There are no public institutions for the education of women, and there is accordingly nothing useless, absurd, or fantastical in the common course of their education. They are taught what their parents or guardians judge it necessary or useful for them to learn, and they are taught nothing else. Every part of their education tends evidently to some useful purpose."

"In every part of her life a woman feels some conveniency or advantage from every part of her education. It seldom happens that a man, in any part of his life, derives any conveniency of advantage from some of the most laborious and troublesome part of his education."

"The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations...has no occasion to exert his understanding...He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become...Of the great and extensive interests of his country he is altogether incapable of judging...in every improved and civilized society this is the state into which the labouring poor, that is, the great body of the people, must necessarily fall, unless government takes some pains to prevent it."

"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...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..."

"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."

"The public can encourage the acquisition of those most essential parts of education by giving small premiums, and little badges of distinction, to the children of the common people who excel in them.

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 in any corporation, or be allowed to set up any trade either in a village or town corporate.

"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 t hey should not be altogether uninstructed...The more they are instructed, the less liable they are too 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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