We conservatives love to tout our admiration of the American Founders, their ideas, and their spirit…and deservedly so. However, it’s short sighted to celebrate their focus on Natural Rights, freedom, small government, republican government, etc. and then distance ourselves from some of their other views that underlie the ones mentioned above.
In particular I’m speaking of education.
When Jefferson wrote a letter to explain where he got his ideas for the Declaration of Independence, he quoted thinkers such as Sydney, Locke, and Aristotle. These men should be read, he wrote, as to be thought of as “elementary.” The Declaration itself points to education as a Natural Right when it states that “among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” The term “among” hints that there are more rights out there to be argued for. In order to recognize or at least establish arguments for these other rights, one must be able to put together a logical sequence of claims and reinforcing evidences. These “self evident” truths and Rights are more easily recognized by well honed minds.
Further, the Northwest Ordinance mentions in Article III that “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” A well structured and, one can assume, funded education system leads to the happiness of all people and as a check against the overreaching arm of government. Education is a counter balance to government as well as an important component in the “Pursuit of Happiness” that is mentioned in the Declaration of Independence.
Liberty, rights, and good republican government rely on well educated people. The American Founders thought highly of learning and “the means of education” and the funding thereof. Any who claim them as their political antecedents should as well.