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Our Nation's Strength is in the Minds and Hearts of its People

Dr. Mike Ewton
July 3, 2024

When the Founding Fathers declared independence from Britain in 1776, they envisioned a new society grounded in democratic principles. As the Constitution was drafted and our democratic republic form of government began to take shape, public education was already an important topic of discussion. World history had previously shown that a republic could be fragile and difficult to maintain. An enlightened and informed citizenry would be required. Central to this vision was the concept of public education. Many Founding Fathers saw public education as essential for fostering informed and engaged citizens capable of sustaining a republic.

Thomas Jefferson fervently advocated for public education. Jefferson believed that an educated populace was vital to the prosperity of our nation. He famously stated, "An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people."

Jefferson proposed a public education system in Virginia in 1779. He introduced the Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge, which called for establishing free schools in every county. Although the bill failed to pass, it laid the groundwork for future educational reforms and highlighted the importance of state-supported education.

John Adams also played a crucial role in advocating for public education. As a principal author of the Massachusetts Constitution in 1780, Adams ensured that the document included provisions for supporting and maintaining public schools. Article III of the Massachusetts Constitution asserted that "wisdom and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people [are] necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties."

Adams’ commitment to education underscored the belief that a democratic society required educated leaders and an educated electorate. His efforts in Massachusetts set a precedent that influenced other states to incorporate educational provisions in their constitutions.

Benjamin Franklin believed a republic could only be as good as its citizens. When asked outside the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia what type of government was being proposed, Franklin is said to have replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Beyond understanding the potential fragility of democracy, Franklin promoted an education combining classical learning with practical subjects such as science and mechanics, reflecting his belief that education should prepare individuals for daily life and civic participation. Franklin’s emphasis on practical and accessible education influenced the development of public schools to serve a broad spectrum of society, equipping students with the knowledge and skills necessary for personal success and public service.

Although not explicitly mentioned in the U.S. Constitution or any of its amendments, public education has long been at the center of constitutional discussions ranging from the separation of church and state to the equal protections (including access to public education) afforded to all citizens under the law. Article VIII of the current Constitution of the State of Georgia asserts, “The provision of an adequate public education for the citizens shall be a primary obligation of the State of Georgia,” making it clear that a free and adequate public education is a well-established right of all citizens. 

Today, more than ever, public education is essential to our nation's continued success. In this age of widespread misinformation and disinformation, our citizenry must understand how to think critically and be well-versed in the Constitution, the government, and the rule of law. Our teachers are passionate about teaching the state social studies standards with fidelity, often extending the learning beyond the classroom. 

Earlier this week, one of our teachers shared photos of our students visiting the nation’s capital, some of the Founding Fathers' homes, and historically significant sites in New York and Philadelphia. Such experiences are inspiring and help take student learning to new levels. They may even help inspire students to become future leaders. 

The vision of our Founding Fathers and the hope of our country’s future generations reminds us that our nation's strength lies in the minds and hearts of its people. It is our responsibility never to forget it.