Education in Early America

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Benjamin Rush was an ardent supporter of education in America. In a letter on May 25, 1786, to Richard Price, a Welsh-born philosopher, Rush advocated a greater emphasis on science and useful arts, rather than the traditional forms of instructions. After advocating for a federal tax-supported university, he continued:

Let the law of nature and nations, the common law of our country, the different systems of government, history, and everything else connected with the advancement of republican knowledge and principles, be taught by able professors in this university.

But in the same letter, he acknowledged certain political constraints:

The wisest plan of education that could be offered would be unpopular among ninety-nine out of a hundred of the citizens of America if it opposed in any degree the doctrine of the Trinity.

so it should be surprising that when he proposed a plan for general education in Pennsylvania that year, he began:

I. It is friendly to religion, inasmuch as it assists in removing prejudice, superstition, and enthusiasm, in promoting just notions of the Deity, and in enlarging our knowledge of his works.

In his Thoughts on Female Education, Rush also expressed an attitude towards dancing that was much at odds with his Puritan predecessors:

VI. Dancing is by no means an improper branch of education for an American lady. It promotes health and renders the figure and motions of the body easy and agreeable. I anticipate the time when the resources of conversation shall be so far multiplied that the amusement of dancing shall be wholly confined to children. But in our present state of society and knowledge, I conceive it to be an agreeable substitute for the ignoble pleasures of drinking and gaming in our assemblies of grown people.

Thomas Jefferson had his own views on what constituted appropriate reading materials. "A great obstacle to good education is the inordinate passion prevalent for novels and the time lost in that reading which should be instructively employed. When this poison infects the mind, it destroys its tone and revolts it against wholesome reading," he wrote in 1818.

---- Selected Quotes ----

Quotes regarding Education in Early America.

By Jefferson
Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppression of both mind and body will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.
Written in 1816

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