2021 Lecture #4

Topic:
Enlightenment ideals of the Founding Fathers and the impact on education in America

Guest Speaker:
Professor Brian Dotts
University of Georgia



ABSTRACT

Those who participated in the American Revolution interpreted its meaning differently. Federalists disagreed with Anti-Federalists. Federalists disagreed with Democratic Republicans, and aristocrats disagreed with many commoners over the purposes of the revolution. This disagreement is reflected in several ideas and documents of the period including those related to educating members of the new nation. Thomas Jefferson’s ideas on education in the State of Virginia will be highlighted as well as opposition to his proposals. Jefferson’s ideas were informed by the Enlightenment, English Dissenters, and Whig historians.

However, while Jefferson’s ideas are well known, other key and lesser-known founders also wrote about educating children in the new republic. This lecture will include a very brief overview of Noah Webster, Benjamin Rush, and Robert Coram’s education proposals. Coram’s ideas were the most radical of Eighteenth Century theorists. Coram wrote a treatise in 1791 titled Political inquiries: to which is added, a plan for the general establishment of schools throughout the United States. As someone who interpreted the American Revolution democratically, Coram went beyond Jefferson’s ideas by proposing tax-funded universal public schooling, agrarian reforms, and public libraries. A veteran of the South Carolina Navy and the American Revolution, Coram used his home as a schoolhouse and library for local townspeople. Like Jefferson, Coram’s modest library was stocked with books by authors who eventually fed the revolutionary fervor. Unlike Jefferson, Coram interpreted the American Revolution to be a democratic (as opposed to a republican) apotheosis.

BIOGRAPHY

Brian Dotts is a Professor of Educational Foundations at the University of Georgia. He has published peer-reviewed papers in the history of American education, specifically focusing on education and political theories during the American Revolution and Early National Period, common school politics during the Antebellum Era, Social Reconstructionism during the early Twentieth Century, and the school privatization movement. Dotts is author of Educational Foundations: Philosophical and Historical Perspectives (Cambridge University Press); The Political Education of Democratus: Negotiating Civic Virtue during the Early Republic (Lexington Books, 2012); and co-editor of The Elusive Thomas Jefferson: The Man Behind the Myths (McFarland Publishing).


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