What would John Adams have said about charter schools?
Adams was quite clear, during his lifetime, that a nation should be known by the good people its good schools produce. No, not private schools: Adams insisted the schools must be open to the public, and funded by the people. Public schools, not private contractors brought in at public expense.
Do you think Adams changed his mind after his death?
Here’s the letter Adams sent to a regular correspondent, John Jebb, on September 10, 1785, 230 years ago today. Capitalization, spelling punctuation, insertions and grammar, as in the original; highlighting added:
the social science will never be much improved untill the People unanimously know and Consider themselvs as the fountain of Power and untill they shall know how to manage it Wisely and honestly. reformation must begin with the People which can be done only, to affect, in their Educations. the Whole People must take themselvs the Education of the Whole People and must be willing to bear the expences of it. there should not be a district of one Mile square without a school in it, not founded by a Charitable individual but maintained at the expence of the People themselv[s] they must be taught to reverence themselvs instead of adoreing their servants their Generals Admirals Bishops and Statesmen — Instead of Admiring so extravegantly a Prince of Orange, we Should admire the Botavian Nation which produced him. Instead of Adoring a Washington, Mankind should applaud the Nation which Educated him. If Thebes owes its Liberty and Glory to Epaminandas, She will loose both when he dies, and it would have been as well if she had never enjoyed a taste for either: but if the Knowledge the Principles the Virtues and Capacities of the Theban Nation produced an Epaminandas, her Liberties and Glory will remain when he is no more: and if an analogous system of Education is Established and Enjoyed by the Whole Nation, it will produce a succession of Epaminandas’s, the Human Mind naturally exerts itself to form its Character according to the Ideas of those about it.
♦ Letter from John Adams to John Jebb, September 10, 1785, from Grosvenor Square, London
It’s a warning from the past: Do we like freedom? Then we must educate our children well, in public schools, to understand the public interest and their role in preserving and bettering the state. Can any presidential candidate expound on the issue, let alone the man, with any sing of erudition?
- Who was the John Jebb with whom Adams corresponded? Probably this one, the English former preacher turned medical doctor
- Even with his creative spelling, Adams knew who Epaminondas was, though he’s much forgotten from history courses in the U.S. today; a general of Thebes who reformed the Theban government and threw off the yoke of Sparta, in the 4th century BCE