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A rush to educate
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“But further, we err, not only in religion but in philosophy likewise, because we do not know or believe ‘the scriptures.’ The sciences have been compared to a circle of which religion composes a part. To understand any one of them perfectly it is necessary to have some knowledge of them all. Bacon, Boyle and Newton included the scriptures in the inquiries to which their universal geniuses disposed them, and their philosophy was aided by their knowledge in them.”
Benjamin Rush, a physician and signer of the Declaration of Independence wrote these words. Dr. Rush’s work is very relevant in today’s politics. Rush’s work allows us to see how many polarizing attacks have nothing to do with the Founding Fathers. Rather, they are an attempt to manipulate voters to anger or resentment against the opposing party.
On one hand, I consider Dr. Rush like most of us. He held some views that may be considered conservative and some views that may be considered liberal.
On the other hand, I consider Dr. Rush a paradox because of today’s politics. Both sides would have us believe that liberal thought and conservative thought cannot exist in the same legislative body – let alone in the same mind. Dr. Rush would not be acceptable to the far side of either party; therefore, he would not be allowed to exist or banished into the political netherworld.
Benjamin Rush’s essays are collected and published in, “Essays, Literary, Moral and Philosophical.” His book was printed by Thomas and William Bradford in 1806.
Rush wanted the Bible taught in schools and saw no problem with using New Testament Christianity to educate and shape the moral character of youths. He wrote that education in a “republic is to be laid in Religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.” Rush wrote that education was key to everything from maintaining liberty to “perfections” in manufacturing.
He believed that education should be offered in free public schools and that taxes should support them because, in turn, education would keep taxes down. “Let there be free schools established in every township, or districts consisting of one hundred families.”
“But how will we bear the expense of these literary institutions?— I answer – These institutions will lessen our taxes. They will enlighten us in the great business of finance ...
“But I will go further, and add, it will be true economy in individuals to support public schools.” Yet, he also believed that parents could remove their children from the public schools to pay for their education in a college.
Rush believed children should be taught to speak English well. But he also believed children should learn German and supported teaching French. He was sensitive to the Germans’ needs in Lancaster, Pa., and supported putting a college there.
Rush believed that education was as much about national achievement and national identity as it was personal.
He writes of youths developing personal wealth in this manner: “He must be taught to amass personal wealth, but it must be only to encrease his power of contributing to the wants and demands of the state.” He goes on to say, “Above all he must love life, and endeavor to acquire as many conveniencies as possible by industry and economy, but he must be taught that his life ‘is not his own’ when the safety of his country requires it.
“He must be taught that there can be no durable liberty but in a republic, and that government, like all other sciences, is of a progressive nature.”
As far as extracurricular activities, Rush basically states there is nothing better and more fun than learning a trade. Future Farmers of America, Dr. Rush would mostly likely support. Football? Let’s just say he probably wouldn’t be elected as president of any sports booster club. Rush wrote, “I have only to add under this head, that the common amusement of Children have no connection with their future occupations. Many of them injure cloaths, some of them waste their strength, and impair their health, and all of them prove more or less, the means of producing noise, or of exciting angry passions, both if which are calculated to beget vulgar manners. The Methodists have wisely banished every species of play from their college.”
Of gunning Rush wrote, “I know the early use of a gun is recommended in our country, to teach our young men the use of firearms, and thereby to prepare them for war and battle. But why should we inspire our youth, by such exercises, with hostile ideas toward their fellow creatures? – Let us rather instill into their minds sentiments of universal benevolence to men of all nations and colours.”
Rush made an argument against focusing so much on teaching Greek and Latin. In that argument, he wrote a line has the backlash potential of President Carter’s 1976 book on Middle East peace. Benjamin Rush wrote, “We are struck with pity and horror in contemplating the folly discovered by our ancestors in their military expeditions to the holy land of Palestine. The generations which are to follow us, will probably view our partiality to the classic ground of Greek and Rome, with similar emotions.”
Politicians and pundits would drive a stake straight through the heart of Benjamin Rush’s ideals to slay a political opponent. Politicians and pundits may not see it that way. That is exactly what is happening, though. One minute politicians and pundits quote the Founding Fathers. Then, in the next breath, they demonize the ideal of an opponent as anti-American and out of line with the intent of the Founding Fathers.
The fact is, some Founding Fathers held dear those very ideals. With such attacks, Rush and the other Founding Fathers are being transformed into counter-revolutionary hobgoblins.

Hardy lives in Bryan County and writes an occasional guest column for The News.
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