Quote of the moment: James Madison, education, or farce and tragedy

James Madison Building, Library of Congress -- the official Madison Memorial

James Madison Building of the Library of Congress, the official James Madison Memorial for the nation

A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it,
is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or perhaps both.
Knowledge will forever govern ignorance.

And a people who mean to be their own governours,
must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

— James Madison in a letter to W. T. Barry, August 4, 1822

This is an encore post, partly.

Photo of inscription to the left (north) of the main entrance on Independence Ave., of the James Madison Building, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Photo of inscription to the left (north) of the main entrance on Independence Ave., of the James Madison Building, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.


4 Responses to Quote of the moment: James Madison, education, or farce and tragedy

  1. […] James Madison and Thomas Jefferson trafficked in democratic institutions at a metaphysical level, understanding men were no angels, as Madison put it, but with a bit of education a people should be able to rule themselves as well as, or better than, a tiny elite, even if that elite were educated.  But they understood at the wholesale political level that a check was necessary on the people; in 1822 Madison defended free public education in a letter: […]


  2. John Mashey says:

    Yes. This was occasioned by some odd connections,knowing of the history.

    1) U VA attacked by Ken Cucinelli to hassle Mike Mann because Cuccinelli doesn’t like the climate hockey stick (well, coal and Koch money might help).

    2) George Mason U has adjunct law prof David Schnare ( who has been handling Mann as well), teach a course in his methods.

    3) Another Madison :-) “Billy Madison” has a scene on YouTube where he is told everyone in the room is now dumber for having heard him.

    4) Some websites are like that. I’ve been plowing through the 1700+ comments in this mess:
    It’s pretty depressing.
    Try WUWT.1 in the table there, for example.

    5) in the Google era, much information can be found quickly… But so can misinformation and disinformation. In the SalbyStorm, most people commented quickly , without bothering to do quick credibility checks, which weren’t that hard. People also rummaged the net to cherry-pick things to support their (anti-science) viewpoints. Information is pervasive, but critical thinking seems not so much.
    At Republic Polytechnic in Singapore, one of their classes first week is about finding info on the net and *assessing its credibility.*

    6) James Madison’s name gets attached to many activities. See:
    The 34-page report linked there includes mention of a James Madison program @ Princeton with some curious connections.


  3. Ed Darrell says:

    Great questions. Madison thought, and wrote frequently, that education and knowledge were the true protectors of our democratic republic and the great experiment in Democracy.

    Madison and Jefferson thought it self-evident that education is a great idea; Jefferson thought the right to a free education should be put into the Constitution; Madison I think tripped up a bit over the mechanics of how that would work.

    But Jefferson and Madison both pushed education at every turn, trying to create institutions so that there would be no stupid people to stop education in the future. They created public schools in Virginia, and Jefferson founded the University of Virginia, which Madison pushed to be on the road to be a great institution after Jefferson’s death.

    I don’t think they anticipated that Americans would ever be stupid enough to fall into the trap of killing free, public education.

    Critical thinking? I don’t think they separated out knowledge and education from critical thinking, assuming they went arm-in-arm.

    Yes, they knew they’d lose votes and elections, if everyone were thinking hard and well. But few, and maybe those votes and elections they lost were because they had erred somewhere . . .


  4. John Mashey says:

    But what happens when it’s to some people’s advantage that people be less well-educated?

    Does everyone *want* students to be trained in good critical thinking from an early age?


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