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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XXIII. Education

§ 14. Franklin on Education

Each institution developed a mass of literature, in some cases controversial, but for the most part merely descriptive or apologetic. With the middle of the eighteenth century there appeared an educational literature revolutionary in character. Benjamin Franklin was the protagonist of these writers, and in truth colonial America’s greatest educational leader. No one more clearly protrayed or did more to formulate the practical temper of American education for the half century succeeding the achievement of political maturity as well as for the halfcentury preceding. Through the pages of Poor Richard’s Almanac and by his own philanthropic activities he instilled the practical wisdom of economy, industry, thrift, virtue, into the receptive minds of his fellow colonists. He set up models of self-education in his plan of Daily Examinations in Moral Virtues and in Father Abraham’s Speech, which was a condensation of the wisdom of Poor Richard. His educational ideals, realized only fragmentarily in his own lifetime but more fully in succeeding generations, he formulated in his Proposals Relating to the Education of the Youth of Pennsylvania and in his Sketch of an English School. The former led ultimately to the establishment of the University of Pennsylvania.

The scheme for an English classical school or academy was the first effective revolt against the traditional education. While this portion of the school thrived not at all and persisted only under great difficulties, yet the idea survived and effected reform in the college from time to time. The same practical ideas appear in the announcement of King’s College in 1754. The first president outlined his curriculum as follows:

  • And lastly, a serious, virtuous, and industrious course of life being first provided for, it is further the design of this college to instruct and perfect the youth in the learned languages, and in the arts of reasoning exactly, of writing correctly, and speaking eloquently; and in the arts of numbering and measuring, of surveying and navigation, of geography and history, of husbandry, commerce, and government, and in the knowledge of all nature in the heavens above us, and in the air, water, and earth around us, and the various kinds of meteors, stones, mines and minerals, plants and animals, and of everything useful for the comfort, the convenience, and elegance of life; in the chief manufactures relating to any of these things, and finally to lead them from the study of nature to the knowledge of themselves and of the God of nature, their duty to Him, themselves and one another and everything that can constitute to their true happiness, both here and hereafter.