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The Europeanization of American education

By Steve Farrell
web posted November 10, 2003

Thomas Jefferson once wrote, "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free … it expects what never was and never will be." (1)

In short, self-government requires smarts.

And, what of these smarts? A learned man ought to have a thorough acquaintance with American government, law, history and culture—and just as importantly, schooling in morality. This done, America would be filled with men of private and public virtue; and all else will fall into place. Without these, our experiment in self-government would surely fail.

That is why Jefferson zealously opposed sending America's best to Europe to be educated. The European outlook on government was false and their morals were sunk.

He warned:

"If he [meaning the American student] goes to England, he learns drinking, horse racing, and boxing. These are the peculiarities of English education."

While common to England and the rest of Europe were these evils:

"He acquires a fondness for European luxury and dissipation, and a contempt for the simplicity of his own country; he is fascinated with the privileges of the European aristocrats, and sees, with abhorrence , the lovely equality which the poor enjoy with the rich, in his own country; he contracts a partiality for aristocracy or monarchy; he forms foreign friendships which will never be useful to him, and loses the seasons of life for forming, in his own country, those friendships which, of all others, are the most faithful and permanent; he is led, by the strongest of all the human passions, into a spirit for female intrigue, destructive of his own and others' happiness, or a passion for whores, destructive of his health, and, in both cases, learns to consider fidelity to the marriage bed as an ungentlemanly practice, and inconsistent with happiness[.]

"[H]e recollects the voluptuary dress and arts of the European women, and pities and despises the chaste affections and simplicity of those of his own country; he retains, through life, a fond recollection , and a hankering after those places, which were the scenes of his first pleasures and of his first connections; he returns to his own country, a foreigner, unacquainted with the practices of domestic economy, necessary to preserve him from ruin, speaking and writing his native tongue as a foreigner, and therefore unqualified to obtain those distinctions, which eloquence of the pen and tongue ensures in a free country".

"It appears to me, then, that an American, coming to Europe for education, loses in his knowledge, in his morals, in his health, in his habits, and in his happiness. I had entertained only doubts on this head before I came to Europe: what I see and hear, since I came here, proves more than I had even suspected."

By way of contrast, he notes:

"Cast your eye over America: who are the men of most learning, of most eloquence, most beloved by their countrymen and most trusted and promoted by them? They are those who have been educated among them, and whose manners, morals, and habits, are perfectly homogeneous with those of the country.

He concludes: "The consequences of foreign education are alarming to me, as an American." (2)

That any American would consider, thus educating their children, always brought a zealous response, Jefferson says, from his quarter.

How alarmed, then, would he be if he were to view American education today?

Have not men been feminized, drink, sports and sex worshipped, immodesty and infidelity popularized, money idolized (and yet, the rich demonized), tyranny adored (after the communist model), a knowledge of American history and government debunked, internationalism enthroned, and illiteracy standardized—and this in our schools?

America fled Europe in search of religious liberty, and defeated Europe in order to secure that liberty. But in her prosperity, she looked back to Europe to educate her children. Europe answered and Europe conquered.

Isn't it about time we turned back the clock?

Enter Stage Right senior writer Steve Farrell is associate professor of political economy at George Wythe College, a pundit at America's News Page, NewsMax.com, and the author of the inspirational novel "Dark Rose," "a book which will touch the heart and bring hope to all who read it." Contact Steve at stevenmfarrell@cox.net.


1. Padover, Saul K. (1939). "Thomas Jefferson on Democracy." New York: Appleton-Century Company, Inc., p. 89.
2. Bergh, Albert Ellery, Edit. "The Writings of Thomas Jefferson," Volume V, pgs. 186-188

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