Our founders knew that for a nation of free people to remain free, they had to be well educated on many levels. John Adams put it plainly when he said, “Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people.” Thomas Jefferson was both merciful and hopeful when he offered his solution to imperiled Liberty, in the event that Americans failed in their duties to educate themselves. “I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion,” he said. Liberty in America was not only reliant on the general dissemination of good information, it is also conducive to it, we realized. Thomas Powell recently commented that “knowledge is one of the few things that can be distributed to people without reducing the amount held by others;” nothing else can be redistributed without expropriation from others. Our founding fathers also thought that information critical to the preservation of freedom should be taught to future generations. John Adams thought “wisdom and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties, and as these depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education in the various parts of the country, and among the different orders of people, it shall be the duty of legislators and magistrates… to cherish the interest of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries of them.” George Washington specifically mentioned political sciences as the tonic to tyranny. He said, “A primary object should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty more pressing… than … communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?” Walter Cronkite more recently stated, “whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.” But Ayn Rand expected more from us when she said, “from the smallest necessity to the highest religious abstraction, from the wheel to the skyscraper, everything we are and everything we have comes from one attribute of man – the function of his reasoning mind.” The foundations of a public education system may have been in fact laid by our founders. And as such, one would expect Liberty to be as vibrant as the day the Bill of Rights left America on a ship bound to England. So what has happened? Perhaps the type of education the founders envisioned did not come to fruition…?
Whatever happened, we are now forced to acknowledge, in the words of Doris Lessing: “Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: ‘You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself — educating your own judgements. Those that stay must remember, always, and all the time, that they are being moulded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society.” More tonic is offered by Mark Twain when he said, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education,” and Isaac Asimov when he added, “self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.” Ayn Rand gave us a way to deal with our cognitive dissonance when she coached us that “contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.” She too seemed to be writing a user’s manual of sorts for the thinking person. She expected these glaring contradictions to occur frequently and she understood the natural emotional response, “if you don’t know, the thing to do is not to get scared, but to learn.” She expected you to think; she thought. She said simply, “I am, therefore I’ll think!” Rand purposefully played on the words of René Descartes to emphasize the active thinker, not the passive entity, when he said, “I think therefore, I am.” Perhaps it was this kind of classical education the founders envisioned for ourselves, because they studied Descartes, Plato and Socrates in their own classical training. They understood the wisdom when Socrates said, “I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think,” and the value of intrinsic learning advocated by Plato, when he suggested, “Truth is its own reward.”
Here is Descartes once again: “If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” This is the critical thinking and rational investigation of ideas that most likely was envisioned by the founders. Socrates was perhaps the best teacher in that he allowed the pupil to work out misconceptions. His Socratic method included, “[putting] walls up not to keep people out, but to see who cares enough to break them down.” “Devotion to the truth is the hallmark of morality; there is no greater, nobler, more heroic form of devotion than the act of a man who assumes the responsibility of thinking,” Ayn Rand wrote. You are not alone if you choose to seek truth, in fact, you are “noble.” And it is never too late to continue your pursuit of the truth. Robert E. Lee advised, “the education of a man is never completed until he dies.” Ayn Rand agreed because she instructed one to “live and act within the limit of your knowledge and keep expanding it to the limit of your life.” Perhaps Lee and Rand understood the corollary that a man has figuratively died if he does not seek truth. Lee invoked the very ideas of good and evil when considering man’s choice whether to pursue truth when he declared, “The devil’s name is dullness.” Robert Frost seemed to follow this spiritual line toward truth when he offered himself as a sort of resurrector: “I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” Where to go from here? We have provided the Liberty Library section of this website to help you begin your self-directed education. The links will direct you to the works indicated in green font. They are free, but subject to change if we can find better-quality representations on the web. Feel free to send us your recommended links in the comments section to add to our list. Remember the soothing advice of Robert E. Lee to “get correct views of life, and learn to see the world in its true light. It will enable you to live pleasantly, to do good, and, when summoned away, to leave without regret.” If, however, if it is already your natural tendency for your suspicions to become aroused, don’t forget that William Burroughs said, “a paranoid is someone who knows a little of what’s going on!”