Lancer Letter – Nobles, Peasants and Public Education pt.2

Submitted by Richard Scaletta, GM School District

Last week I took a quick trip through history (apologies to serious historians) to share what I feel is the importance of public education if we are to have a functioning democracy, not a caste system. I referenced the famous speech by Thaddeus Stevens and I feel it is so well done and pertinent to our current times, I wanted to share it.

This speech is a rich text, fully utilizing the beauty and nuance of the English language. My heart breaks to know that this form of communication, once used by serious lawmakers, has been replaced by the thoughtless 140 character “tweet.”

Excerpts from then-state Rep. Thaddeus Stevens’ April 11, 1835, speech in defense of the Free Schools Act of 1834, which the Pennsylvania Senate had voted to repeal earlier that day. Stevens’ speech moved the state House to vote against repeal and the Senate to take another vote in support of free public schools.

It would seem to be humiliating to be under the necessity, in the 19th century, of entering into a formal argument to prove the utility, to free governments, the absolute necessity of education … . Such necessity would be degrading to a Christian age and a free republic. If then, education be of admitted importance to the people under all forms of governments, and of unquestioned necessity when they govern themselves, it follows of course that its cultivation and diffusion is a matter of public concern and a duty which every government owes to its people …

If an elective republic is to endure for any great length of time, every elector must have sufficient information, not only to accumulate wealth and take care of his pecuniary concerns, but to direct wisely the legislatures, the ambassadors, and the executive of the nation — for some part of all these things, some agency in approving or disapproving of them falls to every freeman. If then, the permanency of our government depends upon such knowledge, it is the duty of government to see that the means of information be diffused to every citizen. This is a sufficient answer to those who deem education a private and not a public duty — who argue that they are willing to educate their own children, but not their neighbor’s children. …
Pennsylvania has a half a million children, who either do or ought to go to school six months in the year. … If they do not go when they are able, their parents deserve to be held in disgrace. Where they are unable, if the state does not furnish the means, she is criminally negligent. …

Many complain of the school tax, not so much on account of its amount, as because it is for the benefit of others and not themselves. … Why do they not urge the same objection against all other taxes? The industrious, thrifty, rich farmer pays a heavy county tax to support criminal courts, build jails, and pay the sheriffs and jailkeepers, and yet probably he never has had any direct personal use for either. … He cheerfully pays the tax which is necessary to support and punish convicts, but loudly complains of that which goes to prevent his fellow being from becoming a criminal, and to obviate the necessity of those humiliating institutions. …

I trust that when we come to act on this question, we shall all take the lofty ground — look beyond the narrow space which now circumscribes our vision — beyond the passing, fleeting point of time on which we stand; and so cast our votes that the blessing of education shall be conferred on every son of Pennsylvania, shall be carried home to the poorest child of the poorest inhabitant of your mountains so that even he may be prepared to act well his part in this land of freemen.

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The Lancer Letter is a weekly editorial by Richard Scaletta, Superintendent of Schools, General McLane School District. Opinions expressed are Mr. Scaletta’s views on the issues and subjects of discussion, and not necessarily those of EdinboroOnline.com or our sponsors.

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