On March 4, 1825, the Board of Visitors of the newly opened University of Virginia passed the following resolution:
“Whereas, it is the duty of this Board to the government under which it lives, and especially to that of which this University is the immediate creation, to pay especial attention to the principles of government which shall be inculcated therein, and to provide that none shall be inculcated which are incompatible with those on which the Constitutions of this State, and of the United States were genuinely based, in the common opinion; and for this purpose it may be necessary to point out specially where these principles are to be found legitimately developed: Resolved, that it is the opinion of this Board that as to the general principles of liberty and the rights of man, in nature and in society, the doctrines of Locke, in his ‘Essay concerning the true original extent and end of civil government,’ and of Sidney in his ‘Discourses on government,’ may be considered as those generally approved by our fellow citizens of this, and the United States, and that on the distinctive principles of the government of our State, and of that of the United States, the best guides are to be found in…The Declaration of Independence,…The Federalist,…Resolutions of the General Assembly of Virginia in 1799 on the subject of the alien and sedition laws,… and [George Washington’s Farewell Address].”
Notice that the resolution listed what was to be taught (“the general principles of liberty and the rights of man,” “the distinctive principles of the government …”) as well as what would not be taught (i.e., principles “which are incompatible with those on which the Constitutions of this State, and of the United States were genuinely based”). I wonder what Messrs. Jefferson and Madison would think were they to return to the UVA campus and examine today’s course offerings. And there is certainly nothing unique about UVA; they would have the same experience visiting any major university in the country. They would be alarmed to find the principles of Socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Humanism, New Age, etc, taught, not only as viable alternatives to Democratic Capitalism, but even as preferred over the “antiquated” principles of liberty and freedom known to the Founders. And we wonder why our government today gives lip-service to the constraints of the Constitution. We’ve graduated whole generations of students who haven’t the foggiest idea what the Constitution means, or even says.
Of course, you could argue that today’s college students should be intellectually mature enough to rationally and clinically compare various economic and governmental systems without inculcating any of them uncritically; and if you were thinking of the college student of two hundred and fifty years ago you might be right — but not today’s collegian.
In 1773, the entrance requirement for King’s College (now Columbia University) was to “have a mastery of Greek and Latin grammar, to be able to read three orations from Cicero and Virgil’s Aeneid in the original Latin, and be able to translate the first ten chapters of the Gospel of John from Greek into Latin.” The College of New Jersey (now Princeton) required freshmen to “write Latin prose, translate Virgil, Cicero, and the Greek gospels and have a commensurate knowledge of Latin and Greek grammar.” The sole academic requirements for admission to Harvard University in the 1640s were as follows: “When any scholar is able to read Tully [Cicero] or such like classical Latin author ex tempore and make and speak true Latin in verse and … decline perfectly the paradigms of nouns and verbs in the Greek tongue, then may he be admitted into the college, nor shall any claim admission before such qualification.” Minds that have been trained to these standards are trainable indeed.
Many of today’s colleges require little more than a pulse and a checkbook for admittance. Proof? I’m currently taking an online course from a local institution, which shall remain nameless for obvious reasons. The students post answers to textbook questions and short essays on an online depository, where they are critiqued by the instructor (not often) and the rest of the class (required). I can attest to the fact that there are sophomores who cannot construct a grammatically correct, coherent declarative sentence void of misspelled words. Given today’s ready access to grammar and spell-checking software, this seems strange. If the clarity of writing of these students reflects their clarity of mind, we’re in trouble.
Of course, study after study shows, in increasingly painful terms, just how much the quality of American public education has declined in the last century despite throwing more money at it than any other country on earth. Yet, if students don’t know how to perform trigonometry, how to dissect a frog or how to speak a foreign language, we might still survive as a nation. But if students are not taught the source of their rights or the proper role of government in securing those rights, then totalitarianism is an eventual surety.
Abraham Lincoln famously said: “The philosophy of the schoolroom in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.” You parents with school-age children, do you know what philosophy your children’s schoolbooks reflect? Perhaps it’s time you found out.