Monday, August 25, 2008

How we got started

The best way to really understand how we got started is to read the "First Fifteen Years" which is at the bottom of the GWU website. I will just give you a taste of it here with this excerpt from the that history:

Education of the Founding Era

Historically, liberal education was the standard in America from the time Harvard opened its doors in 1636, to the Common Schools advocated by Horace Mann in the 1850’s. For over two hundred years, American education rose from the foundation of religion and liberty. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution (early 1900’s for the U.S.) that the modern conveyor belt education, focused on job and career training, became the norm. This change, however, did not go unnoticed. In 1892, the four-hundredth anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America, many of the teacher unions in America joined together in a great celebration. The result of this coalition was a Book of Remembrance that detailed the legacy of education in America from its inception. It is important to remember that this was also the beginning of a shift in America towards compulsory education, including a move towards more secular curricula. These changes are reflected in a paragraph from their book:

"Whether this was wise or not (shifting to compulsory education) is not our purpose to discuss, further than to remark, that if the study of the Bible is to be excluded from all state schools, if the inculcation of principles of Christianity is to have no place in the daily program, if the worship of God is to form no part of the general exercises of these public elementary schools, then the good of the state would be better served by restoring all schools to church control."

Most of the colleges and universities of the day shared this sentiment. The need to teach young and old alike their duty as citizens was voiced by many American educational leaders. John Witherspoon, the President of Princeton University (at that time the College of New Jersey) stated in a collection of his writings, Works of John Witherspoon, that:

"He is the best friend to American Liberty who is most sincere and active in promoting true and undefiled religion, and who sets himself with the greatest firmness to bear down on profanity and immorality of every kind. Whoever is an avowed enemy to God, I scruple not to call him an enemy to his country."

As with European universities and colleges, the movement to found and support colleges and universities in early America was led by religion. Of the first 126 American institutions of higher learning, 123 were founded on Christianity.

Unlike European universities and colleges, the religious thrust was toward individual “piety, civility and learning”, rather than positioning to have a share in the control of the state. Mary-Elaine Swanson, author of The Education of James Madison, said it well:

"If education has merely imparted certain skills but has not opened up the student's mind to consider the deepest questions of life – Who is God? Who Am I? What is my purpose in life? – then it has failed."

Harvard College, founded in 1636, whose alumni include John Adams, Samuel Adams and John Hancock, required the following of its students: Let every student be plainly instructed and consider well that the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning. Everyone shall so exercise himself in reading the Scriptures twice a day that he shall be ready to account of his proficiency therein.

Yale, founded in 1701, the college attended by William Johnson and William Livingston (both signers of the United States Constitution), solicited itself as “…a college for the liberal and religious education of suitable youth”. Yale required, “…seeing that God is the giver of all wisdom, every scholar, besides private or secret prayer, shall be present morning and evening at public prayer.” Princeton, founded in 1746 and attended by eighty-seven of America’s Founding Fathers, declared: “Cursed be all learning that is contrary to the cross of Christ.”

The education received by Madison, Jefferson, Adams and other Founding Fathers stimulated deep thinking on these questions, gave answers and encouraged – but never demanded – personal commitment of the student to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. This theme of living out one’s life based on personal conviction rather than political expediency was also expressed in strong terms by Montesquieu in, The Spirit of Laws, published in the 1750’s. He explained:

"Most of the ancients lived under governments that had virtue for their principle; and when this was in full vigor they performed actions unusual in our times, and at which our narrow minds are astonished. Another advantage their education possessed over ours was that it never could be effaced by contrary impressions. Epaminondas, the last year of his life, said, heard, beheld, and performed the very same things as at the age in which he received the first principles of his education."

In our days we receive three different or contrary educations, namely, of our parents, of our masters, and of the world. What we learn in the latter effaces all the ideas of former. This, in some measure, arises from the contrast we experience between our religious and worldly engagements, a thing unknown to the ancients. As America began to emerge over the horizon of recognized nations, many visitors from other countries came to see what made America so different from the rest of the world. In 1807, one of these visitors was Edward Kendall from Great Britain. He noted in his three-volume book, Travels Through the Northern Parts of the United States, that there were still laws being passed and enforced that encouraged the literacy of the populace. He pointed out that this was done to ensure that every citizen was able to read and know the law and to encourage high morals by the reading of the Bible.

Nearly all of the men who created the government structure of America—extolled by Sir William Gladstone as “the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man”—had been trained up under this system of education, recognized its virtues and desired to perpetuate it. On August 7, 1789, President George Washington signed into law a bill that had been passed previously by Congress under the Articles of Confederation. Feeling strongly about this law, Congress wanted to ensure that it had the full force of the new Constitution behind it. This new law (the Northwest Ordinance), outlined, in general, the criteria that a territory had to meet to gain entrance into the union. Section three held that the new state was responsible to ensure that the educational system within the state incorporated religion, morality and knowledge as the base for all instruction; it states: “. . . religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education, shall forever be encouraged . . .” It is significant to note that this bill was made law during the same time that the First Amendment was being discussed and adopted, giving context to the definition of “original intent.”

For any territory wishing to become a state, the process was relatively simple. The territory would petition Congress, Congress would issue an Enabling Act, which authorized the territory to assemble and create a state constitution as long as it was not repugnant to the principles of the Northwest Ordinance. In 1802, just three years after Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance, Ohio was admitted to the union. In reference to education, article eight, section three of the Ohio State Constitution states:

“. . . religion, morality and knowledge being essentially necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of instruction shall forever be encouraged by legislative provision.”9 Fifteen years later in 1817, Mississippi also gained entrance to the union. The Mississippi State Constitution declared: “Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the preservation of liberty and happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged in this State.”10 Eighty-six years after the Northwest Ordinance had been issued as the criteria for entrance of a state into the United States of America, Nebraska sought admittance and was accepted into the union with the State Constitution stating: “Religion, morality and knowledge, however, being essential to good government, it shall be the duty of the legislature to pass suitable laws . . . and to encourage schools and the means of instruction.”11 Many other states also understood the intent of the Founders in creating the Northwest Ordinance and incorporated it into their State Constitutions as well.

It is abundantly clear that in the opinion of many of the founders, the foundation of American society and the strength of its future were inseparably connected to the American system of education enjoyed by five generations of New World Englishmen before Jefferson, and five generations of Americans after him.

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