Pliny the Younger on schooling

Yesterday I posted the views on schooling of Thomas Paine and Adam Smith. Today I turn to an earlier writer, one whose views are remarkably similar to those of Adam Smith.

[K]ids and schools did not just appear on the scene five decades ago, and neither did the debate over school governance. That point is most sharply driven home by a letter from a successful lawyer, outlining his views on schooling. He was born in the early sixties in a small town and lamented the fact that it didn’t have a high-school, so he decided to found one himself. But rather than fully endowing the new school, which he could easily have afforded to do, he chose to supply only a third of the necessary funds. In his letter, he explained his decision this way:

I would promise the whole amount were I not afraid that someday my gift might be abused for someone’s selfish purposes, as I see happen in many places where teachers’ salaries are paid from public funds. There is only one remedy to meet this evil: if the appointment of teachers is left entirely to the parents, and they are conscientious about making a wise choice through their obligation to contribute to the cost. People who may be careless about another person’s money are sure to be careful about their own, and they will see that only a suitable recipient shall be found for my money if he is also to have their own… I am leaving everything open for the parents: the decision and choice are to be theirs-all I want is to make the arrangements and pay my share.

What’s remarkable about his letter isn’t so much its contents as its context. As I said, it’s author was born in the early sixties–not the early 1960s or the early 1860s, but the early 60s of the first century A.D. His name was Pliny the Younger, and he was a citizen of the Roman Empire.

Andrew J. Coulson, “Forgotten Lessons”, June 13th, 1997.

Andrew Coulson is Director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, and serves on the Advisory Council of the E.G. West Centre for Market Solutions in Education at the University of Newcastle, UK. He is author of Market Education: The Unknown History (Transaction Publishers, 1999).

Lifted from the Thought du Jour archive.

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