UMD's Public Education in the Early American Republic
COLLEGE PARK, Md., — Historic figures viewed public education as essential in shaping citizenship in early America, a University of Maryland associate professor said Sept. 26 as a part of the campus’ Democracy Then and Now initiative.
Ralph Bauer, Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature talked to approximately 70 students and faculty in Tawes Hall for his Public Education in the Early American Republic lecture.
Bauer focused on Benjamin Franklin’s ideas on education, which Franklin compared to agriculture.
“[Franklin’s] idea here is that we’re like plants and education can provide the kind of cultivation that a farmer exposes upon his plants. Those plants that we don’t tend to degenerate to weeds. Those which we spend our energy and our care get cultivated into useful plants, useful for the public,” said Bauer.
Franklin believed colonial America needed a system of liberal education that was offered to everyone, Bauer said.
Noah Webster realized there was a need for a new form of public education, which educates all citizens, in order to participate in civic duties, Bauer said.
“In several states people already vote, yet they have no education that prepares them for the civic duties,” Bauer said.
As seen as the forefather of education, Thomas Jefferson proposed that “knowledge should be generally infused throughout the population” and “every citizen should have access to public education,” said Bauer.
However, Jefferson’s public education program was not solely focused on bettering democracy.
“The idea behind basic public education was not to prepare all citizens for participatory democracy …but rather to provide them with the facilities for attaining economic independence and for safeguarding the republic from degenerating into tyranny,” Bauer concluded.
Attendee James Groff, a Ph.D. student in education, said his biggest takeaway was “thinking about the extent to which early theorists of education were interested in some form of indoctrination, whether it’s of religion or in some cases indoctrination about what it means to be a citizen in a democracy.”