By Idaho Senator Mike Crapo
Remember that our nation's first great leaders were also our first great scholars.
-John F. Kennedy
And great scholars they were: Arguably the most educated of the Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson was studying Latin at age ten. In his middle teens, Jefferson also studied Greek language and the classics. He was involved in sports and music, learning to play the violin and becoming an accomplished equestrian before age 20. At 16, Jefferson enrolled in college and studied mathematics, natural history, metaphysics, moral philosophy and classics. At 19, he entered law school. Jefferson could read Greek, Latin, French, Spanish and Italian and speak Italian, French and Latin. His library contained vocabularies, grammars and dictionaries in Arabic, Gaelic and Welsh--it's assumed that he likely studied these as well.
When James Madison, the "Father of the Constitution," enrolled in the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) as a teenager, he had already mastered Greek and Latin. While there, he learned Hebrew and studied philosophy.
John Adams , our second president, also learned Latin at a young age. Like many of his contemporary revolutionaries, Adams finished undergraduate work around age 20 and completed law school soon after. John Jay, first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, wrote in 1785: "I consider knowledge to be the soul of a Republic…nothing should be left undone to afford all ranks of people the means to obtaining a proper degree of it at a cheap and easy rate."
In George Washington's 1796 farewell address to Congress, he discusses an educated citizenry: " Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened."
Universal education is a hallmark of the American character. Its importance to our history and future cannot be understated. Job opportunities for those with a strong education, especially in math and science, will continue to expand in our global economy, and the next generation of Americans must be equipped to compete for advanced positions in science, engineering and technology. For this reason, I have consistently supported legislation and programs to improve our education system, especially in math, science and civics.
The pursuit of a comprehensive education calls us to cultivate our knowledge of U.S. history and the principles and ideals upon which our nation was founded. Thomas Jefferson and others not only studied mathematics and science, they studied history, philosophy, religion and law. Responsible citizenship demands accountability to the requirements of liberty, freedom and respect and adherence to the rule of law. Our country has survived these past centuries by understanding and applying these ideals. The resulting unity of purpose in their execution will perpetuate our society for years to come. In another part of George Washington's farewell address, he states: " The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations…You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts of common dangers, sufferings, and successes." "Local discriminations" can come in many forms-religious, race, gender, even professional or business affiliation. We must be cautious and, through education, not allow these differences to divide us.
As students of all ages begin another September of class work, homework, tests, clubs and sports, it's important to remember the scholarship and accomplishments of our nation's forefathers. This is our proud American legacy to faithfully uphold.