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According to Alexander and Alexander (2005), public education is shaped by the political philosophy of some particular governments as well as the social and cultural traditions of the country in which those governments are located and found. There is unavoidable reciprocity that transpires by which the educated people sustain and transform the government.
As observed by some scholars, one of the important reasons for believing in the value of education is that it can be the foundation of freedom for all. As John Adams observed, nothing is more effective in countering political oppression than the general diffusion of knowledge (Alexander & Alexander, 2005). Adams argued that when people are endowed with knowledge and good sense, the level of oppression is always lessened or eliminated altogether. Americans tended to agree with Jefferson that for people to govern themselves effectively, they must be educated. More than anything else, Jefferson’s words brought back the public or common school philosophy that formed a foundation for generations to come.
Education and Natural Law
Public schools led by Horace Mann preached an educational awakening that was served to ultimately form the basis for state systems of public education. Mann’s idea of free, public, and common universal education was based on the natural law or the external principles of natural ethics, which require that obligation of the predecessors and the right of the successors extend to and embrace the means of such an amount of education that will prepare each individual to perform all the duties that devolve upon them as men or women as well as citizens (Alexander and Alexander, 2005). Mann saw education as an absolute right or natural right and pointed out that we can cite no attributes or purpose of divine nature for giving birth to any human being and then inflicting upon that human the curse of ignorance and poverty.
Thus, natural ethics calls for the creation and maintenance of common public schools in fulfillment of the state’s obligation to pass on to the succeeding generation all the knowledge of the preceding generation. According to the paramount law of nature, all children should come into possession of all knowledge of the earlier generation. Apparently, this is a view that has been shared by many other scholars. Public schools, therefore, provide a means through which the state can ensure the efficient and transfer of knowledge to its citizens.
Therefore, according to Mann, the state has an obligation to every child to enact a code of laws establishing free public schools. The laws of the public common school system are based on three propositions. The first one is that the successive generations of men taken collectively constitute great Commonwealth. Secondly, the resultant wealth should be used for the common good of all citizens. By benefiting from the knowledge passed down to them, individuals will be well prepared to face the future and to escape poverty and wrongdoing. The third proposition is that those who are in possession of the said wealth would be responsible for faithful executing for the interest of the state (Alexander & Alexander, 2005).
As noted by Alexander and Alexander (2005), any government depends upon the virtue and wisdom of its people to advance. To be virtuous, however, people must be wise. To ensure that the people are wise, it is necessary to employ the appropriate means that will equip them. Apparently, the most effective means of helping people to exhibit these two important qualities is education. Common public education is thus a major ingredient in building an effective population and strengthening democracy in the land.
Alexander, K. M., & Alexander, D. (2005). American Public School Law. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.