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Adam Smith On Education -
By David W. Kirkpatrick (January 22, 2010)
Senior Education Fellow
U.S. Freedom Foundation www.freedomfoundation.us
In 1776 The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith was published. Termed "The first truly scientific argument for the principles of political economy," Smith's work also contains original ideas on education, such as the importance of funding students rather than institutions, only now beginning to be adopted.
The following are from Book V, Chapter I, Article 2d, Of the Expence (sic) of the Institutions for the Education of Youth, pp 716-740, Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, NY The Modern Library, 1937
"The institutions for the education of the youth may...furnish a revenue sufficient for defraying their own expence (sic). The fee or honorary which the scholar pays to the master naturally constitutes a revenue of this kind.
"Even where the reward of the master does not arise altogether from this natural revenue, it still is not necessary that it should be derived from that general revenue of the society..." p. 716
"In every profession, the exertion of the greater part of those who exercise it, is always in proportion to the necessity they are under of making that exertion. This necessity is greatest with those to whom the emoluments of their profession are the only source from which they expect their fortune, or even their ordinary revenue and subsistence." p. 717
"The endowments of schools and colleges have necessarily diminished more or less the necessity of application in the teachers. Their subsistence, so far as it arises from their salaries, is evidently derived from a fund altogether independent of their success and reputation in their particular professions." p. 717
"In other universities the teacher is prohibited from receiving any honorary or fee from his pupils, and his salary constitutes the whole of the revenue which he derives from his office. His interest is, in this case, set as directly in opposition to his duty as it is possible to set it. It is in the interest of every man to live as much at his ease as he can; and if his emoluments are to be precisely the same, whether he does or does not perform some very laborious duty, it is certainly his interest. at least as interest is vulgarly understood, either to neglect it altogether, or, if he is subject to some authority which will not suffer him to do this, to perform it in as careless and slovenly a manner as that authority will permit." pp 717-8
(In the following paragraphs, Smith in 1776 described public education in 2010. - DWK)
"If the authority to which he is subject resides in the body corporate, the college, or university, of which he himself is a member, and in which the greater part of the other members are, like himself, persons who either are, or ought to be teachers; they are likely to make a common cause, to be all very indulgent to one another, and every man to consent that his neighbour (sic) may neglect his duty, provided he himself is allowed to neglect his own...
"If the authority to which he is subject resides...in some other extraneous persons... perhaps, in some minister of state; it is not indeed in this case very likely that he will be suffered to neglect his duty altogether. All that such superiors, however, can force him to do, is to attend upon his pupils a certain number of hours, that is, to give a certain number of lectures in the week or in the year. What those lectures shall be, must still depend upon the diligence of the teacher; and that diligence is likely to be proportioned to the motives which he has for exerting it. An extraneous jurisdiction of this kind, besides, is liable to be exercised both ignorantly and capriciously...The person subject to such jurisdiction is necessarily degraded by it and, instead of being one of the most respectable, is rendered one of the meanest and most contemptible persons in the society" pp 718-719
"Whatever forces a certain number of students to any college or university, independent of the merit or reputation of the teachers, tends more or less to diminish the necessity of that merit or reputation." p 719
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