Original Document
Original Document
Benjamin Franklin, "Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania," Philadelphia, 1749.

The good education of youth has been esteemed by wise men in all ages, as the surest foundation of the happiness both of private families and, of commonwealths. Almost all governments have therefore made it a principal object of their attention, to establish and endow with proper revenues such seminaries of learning, as might supply the succeeding age with men qualified to serve the public with honor to themselves and to their country.

Many of the first settlers of these provinces were men who had received a good education in Europe; and to their wisdom and good management we owe much of our present prosperity. But their bands were full, and they could not do all things. The present race are not thought to be generally of equal ability; for, though the American youth are allowed not to want capacity, yet the best capacities require cultivation; it being truly with them, as with the best ground, which, unless well tilled and sowed with profitable seed, produces only ranker weeds.

That we may obtain the advantages arising from an increase of knowledge, and prevent, as much as may be, the mischievous consequences that would attend a general ignorance among us, the following hints are offered towards forming a plan for the education of the youth of Pennsylvania, viz.

It is proposed,

That some persons of leisure and public spirit apply for a charter, by which they may be incorporated, with power to erect an Academy for the education of youth, to govern the same, provide masters, make rules, receive donations, purchase lands, and to add to their number, from time to time, such other persons as they shall judge suitable.

That the members of the corporation make it their pleasure, and in some degree their business, to visit the Academy often, encourage and countenance the youth, countenance and assist the masters, and by all means in their power advance the usefulness and reputation of the design; that they look on the Students as in some sort their children, treat them with familiarity and affection, and, when they have behaved well, and gone through their studies, and are to enter the world, zealously unite, and make all the interest that can be made to establish them, whether in business, offices, marriages, or any other thing for their advantage, preferably to all other persons whatsoever, even of equal merit.

And if men may, and frequently do, catch such a taste for cultivating flowers, for planting, grafting, inoculating, and the like, as to despise all other amusements for their sake, why may not we expect they should acquire a relish for that more useful culture of young minds. Thomson says,

"Tis joy to see the human blossoms blow,
When infant reason grows apace, and calls
For the kind hand of an assiduous care.
Delightful task! to rear the tender thought
To teach the young idea how to shoot;
To pour the fresh instruction o'er the mind,
To breathe the enlivening spirit, and to fix
The generous purpose in the glowing breast."

That a house be provided for the Academy, if not in the town, not many miles from it; the situation high and dry, and, if it may be, not far from a river, having a garden, orchard, meadow, and a field or two.

That the house be furnished with a library if in the country, (if in the town, the town libraries may serve), with maps of all countries, globes, some mathematical instruments, an apparatus for experiments in natural philosophy, and for mechanics; prints, of all kinds, prospects, buildings, and machines.

That the Rector be a man of good understanding, good morals, diligent and patient, learned in the languages and sciences, and a correct, pure speaker and writer of the English tongue; to have such tutors under him as shall be necessary.

That the boarding scholars diet together, plainly, temperately, and frugally.

That, to keep them in health, and to strengthen and render active their bodies, they be frequently exercised in running, leaping, wrestling, and swimming.

That they have peculiar habits to distinguish them from other youth, if the Academy be in or near the town; for this, among other reasons, that their behaviour may be the better observed.

As to their studies, it would be well if they could be taught every thing that is useful, and every thing that is ornamental. But art is long, and their time is short. It is therefore proposed, that they learn those things that are likely to be most useful and most ornamental; regard being had to the several professions for which they are intended.

All should be taught to write a fair band, and swift, as that is useful to all. And with it may be learned something of drawing, by imitation of prints, and some of the first principles of perspective.

Arithmetic, accounts, and some of the first principles of geometry and astronomy.

The English language might be taught by grammar; in which some of our best writers, as Tillotson, Addison, Pope, Algernon Sidney, Cato's Letters, andc., should be classics; the styles principally to be cultivated being the clear and the concise. Reading should also be taught, and pronouncing properly, distinctly, emphatically; not with an even tone, which under-does, nor a theatrical, which over-does nature.

To form their style, they should be put on writing letters to each other, making abstracts of what they read, or writing the same things in their own words; telling or writing stories lately read, in their own expressions. All to be revised and corrected by the tutor, who should give his reasons, and explain the force and import of words.

To form their pronunciation, they may be put on making declamations, repeating speeches, and delivering orations; the tutor assisting at the rehearsals, teaching, advising, and correcting their accent.

But if History be made a constant part of their reading, such as the translations of the Greek and Roman historians, and the modern histories of ancient Greece and Rome, may not almost all kinds of useful knowledge be that way introduced to advantage, and with pleasure to the student? As

Geography, by reading with maps, and being required to point out the places where the greatest actions were done, to give their old and new names, with the bounds, situation, and extent of the countries concerned.

Chronology, by the help of Helvicus or some other writer of the kind, who will enable them to tell when those events happened, what princes were contemporaries, and what states or famous men flourished about that time. The several principal epochas to be first well fixed in their memories.

Ancient Customs, religious and civil, being frequently mentioned in history, will give occasion for explaining them; in which the prints of medals, basso-rilievos, and ancient monuments will greatly assist.

Morality, by descanting and making continual observations on the causes of the rise or fall of any man's character, fortune, and power, mentioned in history; the advantages of temperance, order, frugality, industry, and perseverance. Indeed, the general natural tendency of reading good history must be, to fix in the minds of youth deep impressions of the beauty and usefulness of virtue of all kinds, public spirit, and fortitude.

History will show the wonderful effects of oratory, in governing, turning, and leading great bodies of mankind, armies, cities, nations. When the minds of youth are struck with admiration at this, then is the time to give them the principles of that art, which they will study with taste and application. Then they may be made Acquainted with the best models among the ancients, their beauties being particularly pointed out to them. Modern political oratory being chiefly performed by the pen and press, its advantages over the ancient in some respects are to be shown; as that its effects are more extensive, and more lasting.

History will also afford frequent, opportunities of showing the necessity of a public religion, from its usefulness to the public; the advantage of a religious character among private persons; the mischiefs of superstition, and the excellency of the Christian religion above all others, ancient or modern.

History will also give occasion to expatiate on the advantage of civil orders and constitutions; how men and their properties are protected by joining in societies and establishing government; their industry encouraged and rewarded, arts invented, and life made more comfortable; the advantages of liberty, mischiefs of licentiousness, benefits arising from good laws and a due execution of justice. Thus may the first principles of sound politics be fixed in the minds of youth.

On historical occasions, questions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, will naturally arise, and may be put to youth, which they may debate in conversation and in writing. When they ardently desire victory, for the sake of the praise attending it, they will begin to feel the want, and be sensible of the use, of logic, or the art of reasoning to discover truth, and of arguing to defend it, and convince adversaries. This would he the time to acquaint them with the principles of that art. Grotius, Puffendorff, and some other writers of the same kind, may be used on these occasions to decide their disputes. Public disputes warm the imagination, whet the industry, and strengthen the natural abilities.

When youth are told, that the great men, whose lives and actions they read in history, spoke two of the best languages that ever were, the most expressive, copious, beautiful; and that the finest writings, the most correct compositions, the most perfect productions of human wit and wisdom, are in those languages, which have endured for ages, and will endure while there ire men; that no translation can do them justice, or give the pleasure found in reading the originals; that those languages contain all science; that one of them is become almost universal, being the language of learned men in all countries; and that to understand them is a distinguishing ornament; they may be thereby made desirous of learning those languages, and their industry sharpened in the acquisition of them. All intended for divinity, should be taught the Latin and Greek ; for physic, the Latin, Greek, and French; for law, the Latin and French; merchants, the French, German, and Spanish; and, though all should not be compelled to learn Latin, Greek, or the modern foreign languages, yet none that have an ardent desire to learn them should be refused; their English, arithmetic, and other studies absolutely necessary, being at the same time not neglected.

If the new Universal History were also read, it would give a connected idea of human affairs, so far as it goes, which should be followed by the best modern histories, particularly of our mother country; then of these colonies; which should be accompanied with observations on their rise, increase, use to Great Britain, encouragements and discouragements, the means to make them flourish, and secure their liberties.

With the history of men, times, and nations, should be read at proper hours or days, some of the best histories of nature, which would not only be delightful to youth, and furnish them with matter for their letters, as well as other history, but would afterwards be of great use to them, whether they are merchants, handicrafts, or divines; enabling the first the better to understand many commodities and drugs, the second to improve his trade or handicraft by new mixtures and materials, and the last to adorn his discourses by beautiful comparisons, and strengthen them by new proofs of divine providence. The conversation of all will be improved by it, as occasions frequently occur of making, natural observations, which are instructive, agreeable, and entertaining in almost all companies. Natural history will also afford opportunities of introducing many observations, relating to the preservation-of health, which may be afterwards of great use. Arbuthnot on Air and Aliment, Sanctorius on Perspiration, Lemery on Foods, and some others, may now be read, and a very little explanation will make them sufficiently intelligible to youth.

While they are reading natural history, might not a little gardening, planting, grafting, and inoculating, be taught and practiced; and now and then excursions made to the neighbouring plantations of the best farmers, their methods observed and reasoned upon for the information of youth? The improvement of agriculture being useful to all, and skill in it no disparagement to any.

The history of commerce, of the invention of arts, rise of manufactures, progress of trade, change of its seats, with the reasons and causes, may also be made entertaining to youth, and will he useful to all. And this, with the accounts in other history of the prodigious force and effect of engines and machines used in war, will naturally introduce a desire to be instructed in mechanics, and to be informed of the principles of that art by which weak men perform such wonders, labor is saved, and manufactures expedited. This will be the time to show them prints of ancient and modern machines; to explain them, to let them be copied, and to give lectures in mechanical philosophy.

With the whole should be constantly inculcated and cultivated that benignity of mind, which shows itself in searching, for and seizing every opportunity to serve and to oblige; and is the foundation of what is called good breeding, highly useful to the possessor, and most agreeable to all.,

The idea of what is true merit should also be often presented to youth, explained and impressed on their minds, as consisting in an inclination, joined with an ability, to serve mankind, one's country, friends, and family; which ability is, with the blessing of God, to be acquired or greatly increased by true learning; and should, indeed, be the great aim and end of all learning.

Credit: University of Pennsylvania Archives
Back to Top