September 10, 2011


Thomas Mackay, ed., A Plea for Liberty: An Argument Against Socialism and Socialistic Legislation: Consisting of an Introduction by Herbert Spencer and Essays by Various Writers (1891) (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981) (From M. D. O'Brien, "Free Libraries": "But, we are told, the educational value of Free Libraries is so great as to outweigh all other considerations. Some estimate will shortly be given of this value, but just now it is not out of place to inquire what is meant by this misleading term, education. What is it to be educated. I am a farmer, let us say, and my fathers have been farmers for generations back. Heredity has done something to fit me for a farm life, as it has fitted the Red Indian for his hunting grounds. But I have a son whose tastes are similar to my own. I was bred up on the farm, and accustomed to rural work fro infancy. I have thus acquired a practical knowledge which life-long experience alone can give. Naturally I decide to give my son the same education. No, no, says the State, you must send your children to this school for five or six of the best hours of every day; we cannot allow you to bring them up in ignorance. Now what does this mean? It means that just at the time when a child is beginning to form his tastes, just at the period when the daily habituation to the simple duties of farm life would lay the foundation, both of sound health and practical knowledge, he is taken out of the parent's control, and subjected to a mind-destroying, cramming process, which excludes practical knowledge and creates a dislike for all serious study--for force is always the negation of love. And this, forsooth is education! This is fitting men and women for the practical duties of a world in which the largest portion of the work requires no book learning to do it! The pulpit and the press, the guides of popular opinion, have put it about that there is nothing like books, the shoemaker has been heard to make the same remark about leather, and our School Board mill does it best to turn out the article 'clerk' for a uniform pattern, When shall we learn that the only useful education for nineteen out of every twenty is one which develops a quick ear, a sharp eye, a strong well-knit and muscular frame, and that it is not be be got by repeating lessons, but by continual contact with the facts of everyday life; for thus only can children acquire a practical knowledge of the world in which their future life has got b=to be lived." Id. at 415, 419-421. I hope we never "learn that the only useful education for nineteen out of every twenty is one which develops a quick ear, a sharp eye, a strong well-knot and muscular frame." Knowledge is a form of power. Why should that power be limited to one out of every twenty?).