Josiah Warren, “On Education and Re-Education” (1865)

Related links:


  • Josiah Warren, “On Education and Re-Education,” Boston Investigator 34 no. 44 (March 8, 1865): 3; 34 no. 45 (March 15, 1865): 3.
  • An Old Mechanic, “Josiah Warren’s Lecture,” Boston Investigator 34 no. 45 (March 15, 1865): 4.

For the Boston Investigator.


A Discourse Delivered before the Parker Fraternity, in Boston.


I have long craved the opportunity, now kindly offered to me, of addressing to this Fraternity the results of long series of investigations and experiments on subjects of great public importance; believing that here, if anywhere, among those who have habitually sat under the ministrations of Mr, Parker, I should find that attention and appreciation which I have sought in vain, in promiscuous audiences.

Opportunities like this are rare; and as this may be my only one, and as events press upon us and afford but little time for words, I beg you to excuse me for coming at once to the substance of what I would say, in language which, while guarding against being unnecessarily offensive, will present our present condition in a light not very flattering.

I make issue with the prevailing systems of what is called Education, on two accounts: First, we Americans are a ruined nation unless we can be saved by Education or Re-Education; and secondly, I do not mean such education as commonly prevails among the masses of men.

The grand secret of Education is to make the learner feel an interest in the thing to be learned. The founders of the prevailing systems not knowing any other way of interesting children in their studies, have sought to create an interest by the hope of factitious rewards and the fear of punishments; the one intending to stimulate a blind self-conceit, and the other destroying all self-respect, both of which may be equally fatal in after life.

I have never been more horrified by the recital of the tortures in the Inquisition than I was at the numerous details of some of our Massachusetts common schools, given me by a young friend about 12 years old, who had witnessed all she related; and she detailed the particulars with a simple, straight-forwardness that defied all doubt as to their truthfulness.

She said, “There was little Johnny N——— the teacher shut him up in the black closet where he was afraid that ghosts and the devil would come, and he screamed and screamed till he could not scream any more; and he was kept in there long after the school was let out, till nearly dark. The teacher then let him out, and he went home, but he never seemed to have his right mind afterwards. His father came to see the teacher about it, but I don’t know what she told him, but Johnny died in about two or three weeks afterwards, and we all thought that he was frightened to death.”

This is only one specimen of the many cases she related to me of equal inhumanity.

She related many instances of children being bastinadoed on the hand with a flat stick, that raised blood blisters every stroke, and if the poor tortured victims withdrew their hands to shun the blow, or involuntarily doubled up their fingers they had to endure two blows instead of one: Little Sarah S———, said she, once said to the mistress, O! O! O! Miss B——— my hand is so sore—it smarts so, I cannot bear another blow—but she was obliged to take it. Poor Sarah, I pitied her so, I could not help crying for her.”

This same young friend who had interested me intensely for hours with such details was so anxious to get what she supposed would be a competent education, that she continued to go to these common schools for about two years and a half more, and though she had always been the very embodiment of health and beautiful life and activity, she was taken suddenly ill, and was obliged to leave school. She ran down very rapidly, and we asked her if she could imagine any cause for so sudden an attack? when she said, she could not say with certainty, but she had never felt well since she had sat opposite a broken square of glass in the school, and though she felt chilled through so that her teeth chattered together, the teacher would never let them put on their shawls, because it was “contrary to discipline.” The children had complained of this open glass, several times, but it was not mended for many days. She said that she had been sitting near the stove which was red hot, and had got over heated, and then took her place outside the circle to give others a chance at the heat,

This beautiful specimen, of life, health, and vigor, sunk rapidly down and died about two years ago, of quick consumption, (as I believe) occasioned by exposure to these great and sudden contrasts of heat and cold in obedience to the discipline of one of the schools in “the Athens of America!” Have these teachers or school committees ever learned that example has any influence on the young?

“And then,” she said, there was little Mary M————, who was struck over the head by the teacher with a stick for unfolding.’

“Unfolding!” said I, “what is that?”

“O, you see, we are all made to sit up straight on the benches and fold our arms across each other this way; and when it was so dreadful hot last summer the sweat would run down our chins and tickle us so we could not bear it, and little Mary M———— unfolded to take her handkerchief to wipe off the sweat. The teacher was behind her and struck her over the head with the stick. Poor Mary cried, and I cried with her.”

Another phase of the barbarism of these systems I witnessed myself last summer in the offices of a friend in this city.

A man and two women came to see a lawyer about two of their children who had been taken up by the police as.truants; and almost before the parents learned the fact they were already sentenced to a prison in Boston harbor, and were to be carried there in three hours! To look upon the silent struggle going on in the breasts of these parents and grandmother, was heart rending in the extreme. They asked the lawyer in the steadiest tones they could command, what they could do to prevent their children from being torn from home and treated as criminals? The lawyer said he might get them with a habeas corpus writ. How much then will it cost? Thirty dollars!

Alas! said I to myself, where are these poor afflicted people to get thirty dollars? But they went out and soon returned all breathless and trembling, with thirty dollars; but the lawyer, for some reason, finally concluded not to attempt any thing for them, and they went out of the office the very pictures of despair.

My God! I exclaimed, is it possible that the ignorance and brutality of the Athens of America has reached such a pitch as to ruin the peace of this family and blast the future of these children by treating them as criminals because their educators did not know how to interest them in their school sufficiently to induce their voluntary attendance?

What may be called the American ideas or principles have died out and disappeared with the generation that has just preceded us. We must return to these first principles, to universal justice—to industry—to economy, to sound common sense, if we would save ourselves from destruction as a people: and when, we ask, how can his be done? I answer, only by education and re-education; and this education must include elements not heretofore taught as such, and many elements now only partially taught must be more thoroughly taught, and the discipline must be voluntary.

With regard to imbecility, agriculture, one of great pillars of our civilization, has only just begun to be introduced as an element of education.

The working of iron is itself the very foundation of civilization, yet not more than one in five thousand knows anything about it; but, on the contrary, the young are allowed to grow up with prejudices against blacksmiths as well as most of the other indispensable professions as being of low caste!

What have Americans to do with caste? The working of wood next to the working of iron, furnishing houses, ships, furniture and conveniences innumerable, may be considered the second main pillar of our civilization, yet not one boy in a thousand is taught anything relative to the use of wood-working tools, though if he were taught the use of them he would be not only a little mine of wealth in his parents’ family, but would be provided with a resources for after life that might be the means of preserving life itself. Children generally are allowed to pass over a large portion of the most valuable part of their lives in total uselessness or idleness, or are obliged to give several years of their labor to learn a single art or part of an art that might have been learned at the cost of as many days or weeks, and no provision is made by which in after life they might learn another business when their first one fails to sustain them, and they are driven to float about upon the ocean of accidents or to sink.

It is perfectly practicable for children, beginning in season, to learn ten, fifteen, or twenty different kinds of business in a sufficiently competent manner for all the demands of common sense, before they are twenty years old, besides many more than the ordinary personal accomplishments; and none need to be ruined by the failure of their business nor become either criminals or the dupes and helpless victims of rapacious and unprincipled politicians merely to prolong their existence.

Those who have not had experience would be surprised at the facility with which adults can acquire a new business; and more so, at the mines of wealth which lie hidden and dormant in the little heads and hands of children which only wait the opportunities and encouragement for development.

Opportunities should be immediately provided where any one destitute of a ing, business would learn one, and where children however destitute, can provide themselves with a variety of resources to fortify themselves against the accidents and revolutions of after life.

Geometry, a most beautiful study as well as a great disciplinary agent, indispensable in all or nearly all the useful pursuits and even in conversation, is but very partially taught, and taught to but very few, and those few the very ones who make the least use of it in after life. No child of either sex should lack the opportunity of studying Geometry.

Grammar.—A great deal is said about the study of Grammar, and there is now no school in this country where it is not professedly taught; yet no two citizens can talk together on any important subject for ten minutes without misunderstanding each other; and in these times, particularly, on political themes, scarcely without becoming enemies perhaps for life, mostly from the misunderstanding of each others language! In the face of these results I ask, to what use has all the immense labor on Grammar been bestowed in the schools? Not only has the study of Grammar not produced the desired results aimed at, by the authors of grammatical systems, but these systems have worked most disastrously against the freedom of speech and of the press to an extent that few seem to have realized.

I have heard the: very best thoughts expressed in the most forcible and best possible language, and I have said to the speakers “There! set those words down just as you spoke them and publish them,” and they have replied, “O I never could think of writing any thing for publication—I never learned Grammar!”

I will venture to say, that more excellent and necessary results of human experience have been suffered to die with their possessors through fear of grammatical hypercriticism, than have ever been made public from any other sources.

‘A successful public writer once said to me—“I never could say any thing worth hearing till I forgot all my Grammar,” The explanation of it was, as I conceived it, that the mind is so constituted that it can give attention to only one thing at a time, and if when writing or speaking we attempt to give attention to grammatical rules we cannot give attention to our subject.

I know a lady who will jabber off two or three pages of grammatical abstractions as fast as a parrot could do the same, and at the end she has said, “There, that is Grammar. If you understand it, very well, I don’t understand a word of what it means, though I learned it while a girl at school and got the premium for being at the head of the class.”

Some of the grammatical formulas and classifications are useful to a certain extent, but there a way of accomplishing the objects aimed at by grammatical systems without the immense labor generally bestowed upon it, &c., without giving rise to that terror of grammatical hypercriticism which is a greater obstacle to the freedom of speech and of the press than any censorship ever attempted by the most unqualified despotism.

Definitions.—Dictionaries are written and they are studied by the young, who, if they can commit their tasks to memory without a single correct idea, get credit for perfect lessons, and think themselves all right and superior to the dull plodder who goes to sleep over his task because it means nothing to him who wants to understand the use of what he does. He is punished, and the more successful are praised and rewarded; but O! if men, even those highest in authority and power, only understood or could make others understand the legitimate meaning of the words they use, there might be some hope of this world being fit to live in, sooner than it will be.

Arithmetic.—The indispensable study of Arithmetic being conducted solely by the strength of the memory is very liable to die out before it is brought into practical use, to an extent at least, which renders it unreliable for business purposes. There is a mode of teaching it which obviates this objection.

Drawing.—It is almost as natural for children to draw, as it is for them to play; and yet, how few are assisted or encouraged in the exercise of this valuable faculty which would be of constant utility in every position in life! Even in conversation, a few simple lines will frequently illustrate the form of the subject or an unknown road, where words would not only fail, but mislead the understanding. Besides, drawing is part of the preparation for writing as well as for picturing and for almost every useful pursuit, and indispensable to every one who expects to be of any use in the world, yet not one child in perhaps a hundred has the least encouragement or assistance in the exercise of this valuable and beautiful accomplishment.

Dancing.—This beautiful humanizing element of social intercourse is a means of promoting health by cheerfulness and exercise, calling forth the social sympathies and adding’ the charm of symmetrical and graceful movement, and training the body to an easy carriage and self-possession. How cruelly adverse to all these desirable objects are those considerations, which, where they exist, compel some to question the expediency of dancing as a social pastime! How many adults have I heard say, with deep regret, alter having been invited to dance, “I cannot dance, I wish could, but I never learned. My parents went against it.”

There is some force in the objections of parents, such as the tendency to extravagant dresses, and expenditure of means that might be wanted in business, late hours interfering with business—the tendency to induce intemperate habits of various kinds, and one or two other objections; but these are mostly caused by the rarity of the opportunities for dancing. I have, in more than one instance, seen them all overcome by the frequency of the opportunities, In order to have opportunities for the masses sufficiently frequent, they should be inexpensive. Is it replied that cheap balls are not fashionable? Then I need only to say that we have arrived at the root of the evil complained of, and that in this, as in more important matters, as long as the masses attempt to imitate the luxurious few and blindly follow their road there is no hope for them but in being educated up to a little self-respect.

Logic.—Sometimes defined to be “the right use of reason.” Of all the traps ever set by Satan to ensnare mankind, none ever equalled the well-intended meshes of syllogistic Logic. The very first step from a self-evident universal truth may be made to appear true, but yet be entirely false. Thus twice two of anything make four of anything, therefore twice two dates make four bananas or, ten is more than five; therefore, a tenth part of a thing is more than a fifth part!

False and dangerous as syllogistic Logic is liable to be, it is the kind of Logic now in use in all our public discussions and deliberations, and the destinies of the whole people and all their interests are at the mercy of this kind of reasoning!

“A little learning in this branch is a most dangerous thing;
Drink deep or taste not of the Logical spring”

History.—To what purpose have we read history, when that which we have read most, namely, that of the French Revolution and that of England, we have derived no benefit from? but upon the contrary, the wild instinctive passions rage over this land while I speak, with a ferocity equalled only in the reign of terror in France, and in England in the time of James II; and now, instead of following the logic of our political leaders, if anything could benefit us, it might be the public reading the histories of those times, wherein we should see ourselves as in a mirror, and we might in condemning others, see our own deformity.

Our political leaders would, probably, not acknowledge that they had never read these histories; but precisely at the time when the knowledge thus acquired could be of use, no use is made of it. If private interests or passions override all that can be learned from history, then have we something to learn with regard entrusting the whole destinies of the masses of the people in the hands of a few. This leads us to the structure of government; but we will defer this subject for the present moment, and ask in this connection, to what purpose have the Greek and Latin and French languages been studied so far as great interests are concerned? Neither the Greeks nor any other nation known to us have settled or established any successful national polity, and it is presumable that all or most of our public men have studied these languages, and yet it would appear by results that it might have been better for us had the ancient precedents in error been allowed to sleep unexplored, and that we had been thrown upon our own experience rather than study precedents merely to quote and imitate them without discrimination. It seems that the Athenians were notorious for disputation without end, and without any valuable national result ; and Boston has, I think, been very aptly termed the “Athens of America.”

[Remainder next week.]

[Concluded from last week’s paper.]

Our grand and glorious mechanism which almost alone distinguishes our civilization from barbarism, is not derived from the Greeks nor the Latins, and very little of it from any foreign source. It seems to be the natural outgrow: of our own wants judiciously consulted.

Music.—The most humanizing, elevating, and refining element of our civilization, the most passionately beloved and most innocent of all our social resources, and a moral. power of incalculable magnitude, has but just begun to be introduced as a common element of education; but it is unavoidably taught very crudely. The fault is not in the teachers but in the crudity of the musical notation itself. It does not present the elements of expression to the understanding of the performer, but in such an indefinite and vague manner that he may mistake a dirge for a jig, and the choicest productions are constantly spoiled by the random guesses of even experienced performers.

Can it be believed that Handel had written an oratorio for a certain occasion, and that at the first rehearsal of it (the Royal family being present by special invitation) when all was ready, and Handel in high expectation of the grand effects he had contemplated, gave the sign to his leader to commence, the effect was so entirely contrary to what he had intended that in a rage of chagrin and and disappointment he threw a violin at the head of the leader and the performance was broken up in confusion?

Now, what was the explanation of this? It is not to be supposed that Handel did not know how to write his thoughts as far as the notation permitted; nor is it to be supposed that the fault was in one that he would select as leader of his orchestra. It was in the notation itself. There was no means of indicating definitely the emphasis, upon which must as much as on the emphasis in conversation, the whole sense or effect depends. In fact, our music generally may be said to be without expression, or without music. Noise and a display of mechanical dexterity seem to be the common ends and aims of a large portion of our musical performances. It is music addressed, not to the ear or the emotions, nut to the eye and to the organs of marvellousness, as if the design is to astonish rather than to please. Of course, there are a few exceptions. Where an orchestra, as that of Jullien’s, has been a long time drilled under one judicious leader long enough to get his particular expressions, &c., who is wise above what is written, we have then some indications of what music might become, when the notation itself should indicate to every performer exactly the expression required of him. But outside of such drill, musical performances have presented to my mind ground and lofting tumbling—extraordinary feats of agility, musical gymnastics. It is well to learn, on fitting occasions, what an instrument or voice is capable of and what human industry can accomplish with it, but this is mechanism rather than music. We want music for the pleasure it affords to the moral faculties.

It is stated of Haydn, the reputed father of instrumental music, that when he sat down to compose some of his delightful symphonies, he would imagine some little story or romance to guide his imagination: for instance, his departure from home on a journey, the taking leave of his friends, the calm on the sea succeeded by a storm, and the safe and joyous arrival in port, and the greeting of his friends again and their congratulations for his safety.

When I have listened. to some of the musical performances of late years, especially in the streets, I have imagined that the composer had before his mind a tin pedlar’s wagon moving slowly towards a house where it is stopped; the pedlar exchanges a few indistinct words with the housekeeper, when the horse takes fright and runs off with the wagon, and I could count each jolt and rattle of the load as the wheels struck the stones until the whole is brought up suddenly against a stone post, and a, general smash up and splurge of the tin ware over the pavements constitute the “final cadence,”

Now it is very practicable to write and teach music in such a manner that instead of its excellence of expression of the soul of music being confined to a few who devote their whole lives to it, that excellence may be reached or approached by almost any child of either sex by the time he or she is twelve or fourteen years old without neglecting any other useful pursuit or study, and in the meantime they can be enabled to understand all that there is and is not in the common musical notation, and be better qualified to perform from it than they could have been with much more labor bestowed on that alone. A musical work supplying the demand here indicated, was undertaken in the year ’26, and was under study and experiment till ’43. ‘The results were shown to an excellent musician who was a music publisher, and a very good and kind friend of the author, and he was afterwards asked, by another friend, what he thought of it? His very frank reply was, “we who have so much invested in the common music, the less we say about it the better.”

Here, money-making stood, as usual, right across the path of civilizing progress,

The work was published in Boston in 1860, but the people of Boston, nor scarcely any other people know any thing of its existence. A copy was left on the counters of two different music dealers and publishers by the author, inviting criticism—several months after, calling to learn the result, he found the books put out of sight and elicited not a single word of remark at either establishment; but the work will find its way into our new civilization, and once having attracted public notice will perhaps perform the mission intended by its author.

Oratory.—Thus also in Oratory, the great object seems to be to produce an excitement by noise and personal display, rather than to instruct the understanding; and in times like these, where oratory is most needed, it is most dangerous when employed to get up an excitement rather than to regulate and guide the unavoidable excitements of the hour. A very neat comment was made a few days ago by an editor of a paper on a public discourse to which he had listened the evening before, He said, “We were quite refreshed by listening to a man speaking instead of a man making a speech.” We have had too much of the latter long ago.

Political Economy and Ethics, or Moral Philosophy, are so intimately blended I shall treat of them under the one head; that of political economy embracing the philosophy of governments, statute laws, of legislatures, of courts, juries, and police and military force; of money—of commerce—of liberty and its necessary limits and qualifications, the great problem of the reward of labor.

Of course, on this occasion, I can offer but very few words on each of these great subjects; either one of which would afford ample matter for a whole discourse or a volume.

With regard to governments, the world was never so unsettled with regard to the true or best form of government as it is at this day. We in this country had totally rejected all despotic or monarchical and every other form before we adopted our own; and now I hear every week, more frequently than the week before, from the very best and most thoughtful citizens—“Well, I give up all hope; what will come, I know not, and will not try to anticipate; we are now evidently in chaos, and God may, in his own good time, bring us out—I know not how, I must leave it with Him.” Certainly the Political Economy taught in our colleges has failed to produce a government that has attained the great object professedly aimed at by all governments, which is the security of persons and property from encroachments or aggression.

There is a germ of a government in existence, which, to my mind, affords ground for hope; I wish I could. present it here, but time would not permit.

With regard to statute laws, their inherent defectiveness and perversion to merely selfish ends are bringing them more and more into contempt; and a Mr. Grayson of Louisville, himself a lawyer, published a book thirty years ago entitled “Vice Unmasked,” and in it he traced almost all public vices and calamities to statute laws.”

Not three months ago a prominent lawyer in Boston said to me in conversation, “Law is anything whatever that is asserted with boldness and maintained with sufficient plausibility.”

It seems, then, that there is but a poor prospect of having human affairs regulated or harmonized by statute or man made laws.

With regard to our military discipline and the rules which govern its movements, they are mostly mere copies of the crudest barbarian precedents, and yet we are, every day, approaching nearer and nearer a military government with all its crudity and barbarism unabated. Yet there is a military drill and discipline that would render that great final arbiter not only harmless but conservative of all that is humane, civilizing, and refining. This, I must also defer entering upon now. This and a true form of government would constitute vital features in the new Political Economy as an element in the education contemplated.

With regard to the philosophy of money, it was stated in a newspaper, not long ago, that the world had never produced a man who understood or could explain the philosophy of money; and, judging by what we have seen, we can scarcely deny that assertion. What has been called education has certainly scarcely ever touched upon the subject, although there is not in the whole range of civilized life an element of more practical importance to us. The circulating medium has been aptly called the life-blood of society; but those who control it, seem to be as ignorant of its true function as the doctors were of the circulation of the blood before the time of Harvey. Yet the true function and, form of circulating medium or money, is so fully susceptible of explanation that any child ten or twelve years old cannot only comprehend it, but. its extreme simplicity demands their simplicity for that purpose, while adults have generally so much to unlearn, their re-education will be far behind the knowledge of children when this subject is presented to both classes alike.

Commerce, or Buying and Selling.—We now approach a subject of deeper interest than even war itself; for while wars are limited in duration, commerce is continuous, constantly active, affecting every person and purse every day and will perhaps do so to the end of the race.

How can you receive the statement that through. all the ages that commerce has existed between men, there has been no principle known for the regulation of prices?

But the idea which has been too readily adopted as a principle is the root of more human calamities than I dare now to state; because, until your own reflections should be brought to bear upon it, my conclusions must appear to you like the wildest vagaries.

The idea which stands in the place of a principle is, that “the price of a thing should be what it will bring,” or that “the price of a thing should be governed and limited by the demand for it,” (or, the necessity for it.)

John M, Cearing, being called as a witness before a Congressional Committee to investigate a charge of extortion against the Government, has stated this idea in so simple and practical a form that I will give his own words. He said, “If I thought the Government wanted the property, and must have it, and could not possibly do without, if I had given only fifteen dollars for it, I would ask two hundred and fifty thousand for it, or as much more as I could get. I would take advantage of the necessities of the Government just as I would of the necessities of a private individual in any business transaction.”

This statement is very simple and plain; it is the necessities of the receiver, not the the seller, that according to this idea limits and measures prices. All the speculators in wood, coal, provisions, groceries, lands, everything, are made upon this basis, If coal dealers can so manage as to cut of all supplies of coal from this city and then charge the freezing inhabitants the last dollar they have to give rather than freeze, the transaction would be strictly in accordance with this so-called principle of trade.

This is precisely what is said to be going on in Richmond. They call it famine. It may be so called, but it is produced by the speculators, and neither they nor the sufferers know the root of the evils. Having no knowledge of any principle for the regulation of prices, they fear, that in striking at the rapacity of trade, they would strike at the rights of property, and the evil, more terrible than war itself, remains without remedy. My hopes of human nature would sink low indeed if I thought that speculators are really conscious of the atrocity of the rule upon which their fortunes, as they call them, are made; for he is the most successful speculator who can create the most necessity and distress, and extort the most from it.

Suppose the postage on letters were not set till the Post-master could ascertain the necessities or anxieties or distress of the receivers of letters, and charged the rich man a thousand dollars for a letter from his sick daughter, and the poor widow her last cent for a letter from her absent wounded son! This would be exactly in accordance with the rule that the price of a thing should be what it will bring. Suppose that passengers in the cars and over bridges were interrogated as to how much they would pay rather than not be allowed to pass! Why is this not done? Are these properly exceptions to the rule? of course, then the rule is false as a principle, for a principle, to be reliable, must have no exceptions.

Time will not allow me to give the multitude illustrations that crowd upon me, and it may be sufficient to state that contrary to thee teachings of the political economists and contrary to the whole spirit of speculation, I challenge this idea of setting the price of a thing according to the demand for it. I assert it to be not only false in principle, but I charge it with being the root of the general confusion of society—the origin of rich and poor—the cause of the degradation of labor, and the consequent shunning of the useful pursuits by all who have the power to shift their burthens upon the weak and defenceless and which itself gives rise to all systems of slavery under the sun. That so far as slavery is a cause of this frightful war of ours, that rule and the abettors of it are responsible for it and for all other wars, such as our last war with Great Britain, the Mexican war, England’s late war with China and with India, and every other war that has arisen on account of trade or of the attempt of some to live on the labor of others without giving compensation. I can do no justice to the immense magnitude of this subject here to-night, nor scarcely in a whole evening. A volume is published, entitled “True Civilization,” to which would refer those who are willing to examine a subject of greater magnitude than any words of mine can now portray.

I will only add now, that the political economies read in our colleges, not only do not give the ethics of trade or exchange, but they furnish a formula that more than all other causes put together deranges the affairs of mankind, and makes a mere chaos of suffering and’ strife of what would otherwise be society.

There is a principle in Nature which is applicable every where, in all cases, which can successfully confront this most disastrous error, and in time bring order and peace and plenty out of the pandemonium now called civilization: as this principle is understood, it will constitute a new element in public education or re-education.

Moral Philosophy, or that department of political economy which should have been explored and understood prior to the enactment of any laws or rules, seems never to have been explored at all to any purpose. It seems not to be practically admitted by any one of our public functionaries that opinions and preferences are as involuntarily formed in us, as the blood that circulates in our veins? and that if wrong, we are entitled to all practicable forbearance; but instead of this, there seems generally not to be the least toleration for any difference of political opinion or preferences, and a ferocious spirit of intolerance seems to say to all, “Whoever is of our party let him live, but whoever dares to pursue happiness in any other path than in that which we point out, let him be hung or shot,”

The American Declaration’ of Independence has been read at least once a year to all the people of America for 87 years to but very little purpose. What is the explanation of this?

I think it is explained by our superficiality. We may fairly be characterized as a superficial people—with plenty of fine houses, fine clothes, and clean faces, but nothing to boast of within. We do not penetrate the external to the spirit of words or of things. That all men are born free and equal has not meant anything in particular to scarcely any men from whom we should look for the soundest conclusions; and that all men are endowed with certain inalienable rights has resulted in an announcement by the highest tribunal in the land to mean that “colored ones have no rights that white ones are bound to respect,” and this is the progress that has been made in 87 years in the interpretation of the great chart of American institutions; the next version might be expected to be—All men are born free and equal; therefore black ones are born slaves!

There is no shorter road to ruin for any people than to deny to any portion of mankind the rights which that people claim for themselves.

We are a superficial people—the present and immediate interests catch only the externals of the words and things that surround us, and we do not wait nor labor to penetrate them and reach their spirit, and eighteen hundred years of preaching has not yet taught even Christendom that “the letter killeth but the spirit maketh alive.”

We require more leisure than the ferocious competitions of business allow to us, before we can enter into the srot of any thing but that of money making. Children and those out of employment may find the leisure required. An enterprise is on foot for the resuscitation of what may be termed the American ideas or principles; and for so fixing them in the minds and habits of the young, that they shall become as they were originally intended to be, a permanent legacy to mankind: and for so educating and training the young that they shall in after life be qualified by habit to sustain and preserve themselves in any situation without disturbing or doing violence to other people, which is conceived to be the great end and aim of all legitimate education. Tools, implements and teachers are, to a large extent, ready for the work, and with a little assistance, say two thousand dollars, we could be able, in four or five weeks, to teach the forging, filing and turning of iron, the use of carpenters’ and cabinet makers’ tools, brick laying, stone laying, lathing and plastering, cistern building, brick making, shoe and. boot making, painting and glazing, house and boat building, printing typesetting, stereotyping, proof reading, penmanship, grammar, dancing, vocal music, the violin, violincello, clarionette, flute, saxe horns, trombones, bassoon, French horn, drums, guitar, piano forte, extempore accompaniment and musical composition.

Geometry, arithmetic, elementary drawing, public speaking, and how to get up and conduct public meetings with true order or without confusion.

Domestic economy and the ownership and management of property. Contracts—how to make them, and how to compensate for their non-fulfillment. The nature and infinite importance of individual responsibility as a regulator and conservator of society.

To these Polytechnic Practical Colleges, young and old will be invited to come and make known whatever they may want; whether it be a new business, a particular item of information or a personal accomplishment; and the endeavor will be to adapt the supply to the demand,

Political Economy, or the philosophy of governments, of laws, of legislatures, of courts, of police and military force and its true function; of money and its true form, function, and legitimate use: of regulated commerce, of Liberty and its necessary and legitimate limits, that indispensable justice, in a constant and sacred regard to the rights of all persons, and all property, regardless of complexion, race or nation, and without which, society will continue to be convulsed and desolated by alternate anarchy and despotism to the end of time.

The enterprise will be commenced whether any aid is obtained or not; but it may be obliged to proceed in silence and obscurity, in struggle and privation that may ultimately discourage and defeat it; but with a little aid from those who have an abundance to spare, it could very soon become an immense public benefit in all directions.

The first object will be to enable the students to sustain themselves by their own labor and manage their own business; but this is impracticable while their products are sold in the common market in competition with larger producers; but it is practicable to the extent that they can supply each other’s wants and exchange products or services with each other. This will introduce the principle for the equitable adjustment of prices just alluded to, (the principle of equivalents,) and which, together with the great principle embodied in the Declaration of Independence, will inaugurate a justice so sublime and beautiful—so full of grand solutions of the work’s greatest problems, that if it does not suddenly captivate mankind, no eye can witness its workings with indifference, nor openly, wish it anything but unobstructed prosperity.

N. B.—Communications on this subject may be addressed to Josiah Warren, Polytechnic Colleges, No. 8 Tremont Row, Boston, Mass.

Josiah Warren’s Lecture.

Mr. Editor:—The views of Mr. Warren on the great subject of Education, as given in your last paper, are in the main very correct, I think, or at least they agree with ‘my own opinions. I believe, as he does, that corporal punishment inflicted on boys and girls in our schools is a species of barbarism, and that the teacher who cannot manage his scholars without beating or mutilating them, is entirely unfit for his business. Mr. Warren’s views also in regard to the nature of the studies pursued in our schools are just and proper; though I should have liked them better, if, while speaking of unnecessary exercises, he had exposed the absurdity of having religious performances comprise a part of school.

But there is one doctrine proclaimed by Mr. Warren that I do not like, for I consider it absurd and visionary, contrary to fact and therefore injurious in practice. The doctrine I refer to, is thus expressed by him:—“It is perfectly practicable for children, beginning in season, to learn ten, fifteen, or twenty different kinds of business in a sufficiently competent manner for all the demands of common sense, before they are twenty years old.” Now to say nothing of cramming children in this way with so much “business,” I maintain the assertion is not true that they can properly learn so many “different kinds.” And further, it is this stuffing process, or rather this superficial manner of doing things, that is filling up the community with incompetent persons in all the avocations of I have known men to be engaged in a dozen different pursuits, one after another, and failed in all of them. The reason was, they only got a smattering of the various forms of business, and being ignorant of the necessary details, they succeeded in nothing they attempted. So, too, we have seen boys, who stay at their trades a year or thereabout, get up as journeymen mechanics. This is a common case in all trades, and the consequence is, that a good workman in any of them is getting to be quite uncommon. Mr. Warren, I take it, is not a practical man himself, or he never would have hazarded the absurd remark, that a child can learn twenty different kinds of business before he is twenty years of age. “A Jack at all trades is master of none,” says the proverb, and this agrees with my own experience. The poor workman at any occupation is he who thinks he has acquired all its branches when in fact he has only made a beginning; and therefore it is, that English mechanics are always superior workmen. They remain at their trades seven years, and they learn them thoroughly; but with us, the custom seems to be, for apprentices to stay with their employers the shortest possible time, (apparently on the Warren system,) and consequently the trades are overrun with incompetent journeymen. I prefer the English system as it prevailed here fifty years ago; and I doubt whether we shall ever have superior artizans, as a class, until we return to it.

An Old Mechanic.

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.