August 19, 1892
Chautauqua, New York
CHAUTAQUA GRANGE DAY
My information and training do not warrant me to read lectures to farmers on topics belonging to their special vocation. I am encouraged however by a shrewd saying of Mr. E.P. Roue, the novelist, to venture a few suggestions on a familiar topic of vital interest to all sorts and conditions of men who dwell under free institutions We hear a great deal about the abundant and precious crops with which our country rewards the skill and industry of the farmer. Hay, corn, wheat, cotton and other crops are often mentioned in a boastful and sometimes in a grateful spirit. But the most important crop ever produced in the world is America’s girls and boys. How to make the most and best out of this crop is the highest and hardest question in our catechism. If other crops fail the home and hearthstone remain. If the children turn out badly sorrow and grief and shame are around us.
Education begins at the cradle and continues while life lasts. It is the chief interest and the most indispensable duty of the parent during the first score years of his child’s life, and until the age of maturity. What shall be its scope – its aim – its purpose? Plainly it concerns the mind, the heart, the eyes, the hands, the health – before and above all the character. The child must be fitted for the place he is to fill in life. Here is the rub. What place in life shall the girl or boy fill? In the old world society and individuals are governed in large measure by caste. Under this blind rule, an inexorable fate fixes for life the places of all born into this world. Children follow in the footsteps of their parents. They are in the professions, they are idlers, they are farmers or mechanics, or laborers, according to the pursuits of their progenetors for generations before them. The old world law of caste has one seeming advantage. It simplifies the parental duty of education. The blacksmith must send his boy only to such schools as are needed in that handicraft, and so of other occupations. But the new world gospel of education inculcates other principles. Here the place in life which the young are to hold is not fixed by the ancestral tree. In America the sons of mechanics, laborers and farmers become scholars, philosophers, generals and the leaders and rulers of states and peoples. They fill the highest places for which their native talents and their training and characters fit them. American education, therefore, should give to all the young of America an equal opportunity for the improvement of their natural faculties, and endowments. America can’t afford to chain her children to the past. If upon the whole it is best for the son to adopt the calling of his father let it be so, but in the scheme of public education-of education for all, let diversity of taste, of intellect, and of gifts be amply provided for. A good friend said to me, “I want to send my son to a school that will prepare him for the farm – why bother him with the dead languages?” My reply was: “that depends – the dead languages are no fetich of mine – but suppose your boy is as awkward with a scythe as Daniel Webster is reported to have been – and suppose he gives signs of possessing the massive understanding and the mighty power of speech which made Webster the great statesman and orator of his time, wouldn’t you give him a chance for the career for which his gifts have fitted him?” Rather let our education be so broad and liberal that it will furnish to all the sons and daughters in America the highest and best scholarship their talents enable them to receive. Scholarship develops and trains the power of expression. Mr. Emerson says; “All the human race have agreed to value a man according to his power of expression. Let this rare and select power be within the in reach of every son and daughter of our land qualified by natural gifts to possess it. It is a reproach to any agricultural or mechanical college if it does not teach all of mechanics and of farming that can be best taught in a college. We know that a large part of practical skill in farming can be taught at home or on the farm. It is no just ground of reproach to the agricultural or mechanical college, but rather an added advantage, if while it holds practical farming, and practical industry in the shop in due honor, and of unquestioned worth, it also in the wise words of Ezra Cornell, is “an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.”
My earnest suggestion to this body of intelligent and practical men is: let there be no opposition to any scheme of education merely because it furnishes a more liberal scholarship than you fancy you need for your children. No parent is so wise and far seeing as infallibly to know the powers, the possibilities, the destiny of his child. If education is weak where it ought to be strongest- if in this common sense age it makes no adequate provision for the wholesome avocations of every day life if it turns the young out into the world unable to make a living by the skilled labor of our own hands – helpless victims of idleness and vice, reform it – reform it – reform it altogether/ But remember, I beg you, it is no remedy for the evil you dread to separate your students from the scholars with whom they are to associate, and to compete, for the prizes of life. Caste will remain perhaps for ages in the old world. There are those who would give it a foothold on this side of the Atlantic. But it has no rightful place in a republic. Education should be fitted to the child – not governed by the calling of the parent. Labor is the corner stone of all civilized society. Put labor therefore into the education of all our children. It should be taught at some period between childhood and maturity. No education is complete and in the true sense liberal which does not prepare the young to earn a livelihood, if need be, by the skillful labor of their own hands. Can it be done? The wise man has said: “Nothing is impracticable to this nation which it shall set itself to do.”
I would not say a word to strengthen the tendency, already too strong, which sends the young from the country to the city, But we cannot over look it. It is a salient fact which confronts all parents who dwell in villages or in the country. “The city is recruited from the country.” All our education must have this tendency in view. Gen. Grant was born on a farm and his childhood education was in a tannery Before he had gone beyond the maturity of manhood he made a progress around the globe, meeting the titled and the powerful of all the nations, but he looked in the face of no man whom he did not himself outrank. The aim of our American education should be not merely to train preachers, lawyers, farmers, mechanics, and scholars, but let its purpose be to rear our whole people up to the full stature of the best American manhood. Education and labor are the vital interests of our time. Let them be joined together. Let no man them asunder. On these two hooks hangs the prosperity of free institutions.