Book Reviews -- the Learning of Liberty: The Educational Ideas of the American Founders (American Political Thought Series) by Lorraine Smith Pangle and Thomas L. Pangle

By Leibiger, Stuart | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, January 1994 | Go to article overview
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Book Reviews -- the Learning of Liberty: The Educational Ideas of the American Founders (American Political Thought Series) by Lorraine Smith Pangle and Thomas L. Pangle


Leibiger, Stuart, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


The Learning of Liberty: The Educational Ideas of the American Founders. By LORRAINE SMITH PANGLE and THOMAS L. PANGLE. American Political Thought Series. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1993. ix, 350 pp. $35.00.

THE Founding Fathers thought deeply about education because they saw an informed citizenry as vital to the survival of republicanism. In The Learning of Liberty, Lorraine Smith Pangle and Thomas L. Pangle attempt to reconstruct and evaluate the educational ideas of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and other early American statesmen. They also endeavor to "reanimate" the Founders' thinking--that is, to open a dialogue with the past in hopes of refining today's teaching goals.

According to the Pangles, the Founders hewed a "distinctively American path in education" (p. 75) by combining classical republican and Lockean learning concepts. Borrowing from Locke, the Founders reduced in their curriculums the role of religion and the Greek and Latin languages in favor of more utilitarian disciplines, especially mathematics, the sciences, and English. Classical republicanism supplied the inspiration for educating youths in peer groups at public expense and the rationale for emphasizing history, government, rhetoric, and civics. This mix of classical republican and Lockean ideas produced a new conception of virtue that thrived on self-interest instead of self-sacrifice.

This book stresses the Founders' limited success in putting their ideas into practice. Most of Franklin's proposed reforms for the Pennsylvania Academy (later the College of Philadelphia and then the University of Pennsylvania) were blocked by more conservative administrators. Similarly, Washington's hopes for a national university never came to fruition. Finally, only the apex of Jefferson's multitiered program of public instruction, the University of Virginia, ever won funding from the Old Dominion's legislature. But even this achievement failed to initiate a wave of nonsectarian state universities. Instead, small denominational colleges inspired by the Second Great Awakening dominated higher education in the nineteenth century.

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