July 4th, Independence Day, the birthday of our nation. We celebrate it with flags and balloons, hot dogs and apple pie. We recall the Founding Fathers, applaud courageous colonists who stood for rights, and we regale those wonderfully cardinal tenets of our nation’s beginning: the self-evident truths; all [people] are created equal; the inalienable rights; and of course, most famously, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
In this regard, no man is thought of, talked about, and appreciated more than Thomas Jefferson, our third president; but more importantly, the principal writer of our Declaration of Independence, a core architect of the Bill of Rights. And he deserves all of our praise and veneration.
However, we too often neglect that Jefferson had dual definitions for “independence;” Independence from England, and independence of the American mind.
We forget that Jefferson held closely the ideal of education for all as one of those primary inalienable rights. In 1786, just ten short years after the birth of our nation, Jefferson wrote, “I think by far the most important bill in our whole code, is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people… no other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness.”
He wanted a solid, rigorous and comprehensive public education for all American. He had the foresight to see, and connect, education to happiness and freedom. Jefferson believed an educated populace was the keystone to the survival of a vibrant democracy. Without an educated, and therefore informed citizenry, the growing pool of ignoramuses will allow the rich upper class to rule, essentially recreating the aristocracy of Dickensian England, which the colonists had just fought a war to throw off.
Additionally, for Jefferson, no one was more valuable in this populace than the least fortunate among us. In 1821, he wrote in his autobiography that with a proper education, “the less wealthy people…would be qualified to understand their rights, to maintain them, and to exercise with intelligence their parts in self-government.”
With an extensive education that teaches our children to think for themselves rather than to parrot factoids, Jefferson wished for all Americans the ultimate form of freedom…
…what he deemed “the illimitable freedom of the human mind.”
We would do well to praise and ovate Jefferson, the first (and original) “Education President.” And remember, July 4th: American [Education] Day!