The Fourth of July annually brings the citizens and communities of our country together to celebrate our independence and democracy. Picnics, parades, concerts, and firework displays are all an important part of our celebrations in symbolizing our passion of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness! There is also an underlying, often unspoken, celebration in our hearts for those who have gone before us to build the foundation of our country.
One of our founding fathers who I find myself celebrating is Thomas Jefferson. I greatly appreciate his vision, intellect, faith, leadership and commitment to establishing a democracy “of” and “for” the people. Jefferson truly understood the power and potential within every individual. He understood the importance of developing future citizens through education and had confidence in making this happen.
In 1782 in his notes on the State of Virginia Jefferson expressed this importance: “Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories. And to render them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree.” Jefferson was expressing the need to provide advancement of all minds to protect our democracy. I believe Jefferson was calling for a covenant for democracy through education as a cornerstone!
In 1818 Jefferson provided insight into exactly what this covenant should look like: “The objects of this primary education determine its character and limits. These objects are to give every citizen the information he needs for the transaction of his own business; to enable him to calculate for himself, and to express and preserve his ideas, his contracts and accounts, in writing; to improve by reading, his morals and faculties; to understand his duties to his neighbors and country, and to discharge with competence the functions confided to him by either; to know his rights; to exercise with order and justice those he retains; to choose with discretion the fiduciary of those he delegates; and to notice their conduct with diligence, with candor and judgment; and, in general, to observe with intelligence and faithfulness all the social relations under which he share be placed. To instruct the mass of our citizens in these, their rights, interests and duties, as men and citizens, being then the objects of education in the primary schools, whether private or public, in them should be taught reading, writing and numerical arithmetic, the elements of measurement, and the outlines of geography and history.”
Jefferson’s vision and direction of education provides clear expectation for what needs to happen to educate all! I would suggest his guiding words are better than anything I have seen in my twenty-nine years as an educator! He provides a challenge for all of us to accept the confidence and trust he places in us to be informed citizens in order to protect our liberties!
It has often been said that education is the great equalizer which I agree with wholeheartedly. But education is also the great protector of the core of our democracy. Our founding fathers, including Jefferson, believed education was an insurance against the loss of liberty. Jefferson shared with James Madison: “Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to; convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty.” Education develops our citizens. Education provides a checks and balance to protect the greater good.
Why do I find Jefferson’s vision so important? I believe he stressed the importance of education in the very foundation of our democracy! He understood that only with an educated citizenry our democracy would be able to flourish and survive. When talking with Richard Price in 1789 Jefferson shared: “Wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government.”
Jefferson extends a trust to all of us in accepting the responsibility that goes hand-in-hand with our rights! The challenge of understanding that we ourselves are the “safe depositories” of our independence and freedom! A challenge to carryout the covenant for democracy through education! He shared to Peter Carr, “An honest heart being the first blessing, a knowing head is the second!” Education isn’t just for a few but for all! Education isn’t just a right but a responsibility to help in the preservation of what we celebrate on the Fourth of July!
Rick Hanes is the superintendent of the Piqua City School District. Rick continues to ensure that the Piqua City Schools show residents the “Good Schools, Good Value” that they are each day. You can follow him directly on Twitter @raheducator.