Here is a terrific post by Steven Singer, documenting what the Founding Fathers said about education.

There was no public education when they wrote the Constitution. There was private education, Dame schools, church schools, and large numbers of children who were not educated at all. Some states funded charter schools, which were private academies for wealthy children. In the early nineteenth century, not much had changed. It was a great step forward when real reformers like Horace Mann and Henry Barnard began a national campaign to persuade states to take responsibility for creating public school systems, tax-supported and staffed by qualified teachers.

The curious thing about today’s reformers is they want to return us to the olden days, with the public paying for religious schools and private schools, subsidized by taxpayers.

Singer writes:

“One of the founding principles of the United States is public education.

“We fought a bloody revolution against England for many reasons, but chief among them was to create a society where all people could be educated.

“Certainly we had disagreements about who counted as a person. Women? Probably not. Black people? Doubtful. But the ideal of providing a quality education for all was a central part of our fledgling Democracy regardless of how well we actually lived up to it.

“In fact, without it, our system of self-government just wouldn’t work. A functioning Democracy, it was thought, couldn’t exist in a nation where the common person was ignorant. We needed everyone to be knowledgeable and enlightened.

“That’s why we have public schools – so that an educated citizenry will lead to a good government.

“Our founders didn’t want a system of private schools each teaching students various things about the world coloring their minds with religious dogma. They didn’t want a system of schools run like businesses that were only concerned with pumping out students to be good cogs in the machinery of the marketplace.

“No. They wanted one public system created for the good of all, paid for at public expense, and democratically governed by the taxpayers, themselves.

“Don’t believe me?

“Just look at what the founders, themselves, had to say about it.

“More than any other fathers of the Revolution, Thomas Jefferson preached the Gospel of education and its necessity for free governance.

“As he wrote in a letter to Dr. Price (1789), “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.”

“He expanded on it in a letter to C. Yancy (1816), “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

“James Madison agreed. As the author of the Second Amendment, he is often credited with giving gun rights primary importance. However, he clearly thought education similarly indispensable. In a letter to W. T. Barry (1822), he wrote:

“A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

Here is my favorite quote, which captures precisely what the Founders dreamed:

John Adams wrote:

“The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses 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 public expense of the people themselves.”

Please open the post and read the links.