Editorial: In Praise of Public Education

August 30, 2006 4:26 PM0 comments

This edition of the News-Press is dedicated to “Back to School,” with an array of articles about schools in our greater Falls Church distribution area.

It is the kickoff for a school year that will require many buckets of ink from us, as we routinely dedicate huge portions of our weekly editions to the goings on at as many school locations as we have room for. Sports, drama, art, academics, school budgets, construction projects, honors, scholarships, proms, special events, teachers, principals and graduations are just some of the many things that fill so many of our pages over the course of a school year with energy, vitality and boundless youthful optimism. Summer’s a bore to us; we look forward to things getting started again next week.

Education makes such a difference. In our view, the rise of public education was the single greatest component to secure the fledgling democratic experiment known as the United States of America. The Constitution provided the framework, free elections aroused and activated the public, but without the component of universal public education rooted in reason and core scientific principles, none of it might have lasted more than a few years.

Benjamin Franklin created the infrastructure from which universal public education arose. His autobiography, especially the first half, is one of the greatest chronicles of the method giving rise to a modern democratic state that exists. We never fail to notice the significance he placed in launching and growing his amazing contribution on founding a newspaper. The universal dissemination of news and discourse began for him with that. Among the most significant of his amazing achievements, in addition to his scientific pursuits, was his role in the creation of a postal system, of a library system and of a network for scientific and political discourse rooted in what were called “juntos,” small discussion groups that took up relevant topical discussions every week. That initiative included a method for forming more and more such groups in all corners of the colonies. All of this was aimed at the proliferation of scientifically-based knowledge and freedom of thought among the general public. Without it all, the American Revolution most likely never would have happened.

Until Franklin, the new republic and the rise of universal public education, scientific knowledge and intellectual discourse was the narrow province of the privileged few. For the masses, education was controlled by religious institutions, which then held a stubbornly anti-scientific prejudice in favor of their own theological doctrines that, above all, reinforced their own political preeminence. Many religious doctrines were aimed at undercutting freedom of thought with irrational authority. America’s success would not have been possible had not this been overthrown by the establishment of an institutionalized, rationally and scientifically-grounded universal public education system.

 

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