Wednesday, May 22, 2013

John Knox & Educating America's Revolutionaries

The 1696 Act for Settling Schools (in Scotland) implements Knox's vision of a school in every parish; by 1750 literacy in Scotland about 75% compared with England 53% (Herman p.23)

When Samuel Finley started West Nottingham Academy, Cecile County Maryland, he implemented the plan outlined by John Knox (in 1560) which reads like this:
"Therefore we judge it necessary that every several church have a schoolmaster appointed, such a one as is able, at least, to teach Grammar and the Latin tongue, if the town be of any reputation. If it be [rural] …… then must either the Reader or the Minister there appointed take care over the children and youth of the parish, to instruct them in their first rudiments, and especially in the Catechism …… And further, we think it expedient that in every notable town …… there be erected a [High School] in which the Arts, at least Logic and Rhetoric, together with the tongues, shall be read by sufficient masters, for whom honest stipends must be appointed. …… Lastly, the great schools called Universities shall be replenished with those apt for learning."
In the selected writings of John Witherspoon, edited by Thomas Miller, we read more about this revolutionary project of educating the masses in America. Thomas Miller explains the aims of Witherspoon's course on Rhetorics (he also lectured on moral philosophy) by contrasting it with Blair's approach:
'Witherspoon defined rhetoric quite differently from his former college classmate Hugh Blair, whose Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (1789) came to dominate the origin of college English studies at the turn of the century. Where Blair helped institutionalize a rhetoric defined by its ties to polite literature, Witherspoon reiterated the classical relationship between rhetoric and the twin studies of moral philosophy- ethics and politics.'
'Bower states that Stevenson started the practice of having students compose, deliver, and defend essays on philosophical topics in English as well as Latin.'

'Stevenson also lectured on the rhetorical theory of Cicero and Quintilian'
Which should immediately remind us of Quintilian's claim that: 
'Cicero was "not the name of a man, but of eloquence itself'
 Who was Quintilian??, let's see here:
'During the hundred years or more which elapsed between the death of Cicero and the birth of Quintilian education all over the Roman Empire had spread enormously, and the education of the time found its end and climax in rhetoric.'
I'm affraid Thomas Jefferson and Murray N. Rothbart didn't understand the aim of Princeton's founders when they focus on Cicero's 'ideas' instead of  Cicero's eloquence:
'Jefferson names Cicero as one of a handful of major figures who contributed to a tradition “of public right” that informed his draft of the Declaration of Independence and shaped American understandings of "the common sense" basis for the right of revolution'
"Murray N. Rothbard praised Cicero as 'the great transmitter of Stoic ideas from Greece to Rome. ... Stoic natural law doctrines ... helped shape the great structures of Roman law which became pervasive in Western Civilization."
Teaching rhetorical skills was Princeton's main contribution to revolutionary America according to Thomas Miller:
'Witherspoon's interest in moral philosophy is apparent in his Latin thesis on the immutability of the soul (which is translated and reproduced in Rich). He draws heavily on Ciceronian moral philosophy, while also citing Berkely and Locke.'
'Witherspoon rejects the closely related assumption that an enlightened individual can understand what is best for society because his Calvinism led him to view human understanding as itself highly fallible.'
'In "Answers to the Reasons of Dissent," Witherspoon and his allies argued against the Moderates on the grounds that individuals have both "a right" and "an indispensable duty" to follow their conscience because it speaks from God, a higher power than any civil authority.'
'On both sides of the Atlantic, evangelicals like George Whitefield, whom Witherspoon holds forth as a model in his "Lectures on Eloquence," preached on the populist theme that God's law overruled earthly authorities and bestowed natural rights on all.'
'Fordyce, Hutcheson, and Thomas Reid's teacher George Turnbull are the major sources of Franklin's Proposals for the Education of Youth (1749).'
Samuel Blair's Account of the College of New Jersey (1764) gives insight in the daily routine at Princeton before Witherspoon's arrival:
'Students delivered syllogistic and forensic orations in the evenings in English as well as Latin. These orations were inteded not merely as rote repetions of classroom material but as opportunities to explore issues that the students had independently researched in the college library.'
The diverse background of the students: from all walks of life and from all 13 colonies, contrasted starkly with other Colleges:
'Princeton's students came from all the colonies and from a wider cross section of colonial society because Princeton was the cheapest college and had strong support from the popular evangelical movement.'
John Witherspoon aimed for the most extensive program of oratorical study in revolutionary America:
'According to Bohman, Witherspoon developed the most extensive program of oratorical study in revolutionary America. The students' diaries and letters are full of references to their compositions. Virtually every evening students gathered for speeches and debates in the main hall. These exercises, which sometimes included dramatic performances, were attended by the whole school as well as by townspeople and visiting dignitaries, who would occasionally offer comments and suggestions.'
"One of the student orations aptly expressed the underlying assumption of this program: "Any Person of Tolerable Genius, may by Application acquaint himself with all the Rules of Oratory, but if he has never practised Speaking in Public, if he should be broght before an august Assembly to deliver some important Harangue, he would appear ridiculous to all"
 'As this student suggests, the purpose of combining classroom instruction with extensive public practice was to prepare students to speak to the practical problems of public life'
How would Jefferson and Rothbart reconcile their love for Cicero's ideas and Stoïcism with John Witherspoon's antithetical position towards those who sought a return to the classics?:
'Those who sought a return to the classics wanted colleges to return to their traditional role of instilling the classical knowledge essential to a scholarly gentleman, while Witherspoon was more committed to the ideal of the college graduate as a public leader who was prepared to speak to the political problems of contemporary life.'
Thomas Miller does a great job explaining the focus on oratorial skills at Princeton before and after the arrival of John Witherspoon and summarizes this on page 20 :
'According to Davies, science and religion are bound irrevocably to the public interest, without which "all the valuable ends of a liberal education will be lost".'
Sofar, so good. However, on page 26 Miller claims:
'John Witherspoon was one of the central figures in the transition from clerical to political leadership; he helped introduce the Scottish moral philosophy that was pivotal to that transition; and he taught one of the greatest practical theorists of the new political ideology, James Madison.'
 This claim is contradicted by Michael Horton who quotes James Madison here:
'Interestingly, James Madison—a student of Presbyterian theologian John Witherspoon—saw the “two kingdoms” doctrine as essential for the good of the church as well as the civil society; that is, the “due distinction, to which the genius and courage of Luther led the way, between what is due to Caesar and what is due to God.” This view “best prospers the discharge of both obligations,” he said.'
On the other hand, Miller's explanation of 'moral philosophy' as a tool seems very reasonable:
'As the culminating studies of the curriculum at Princeton, these lectures (on moral philosophy) present his ideal of the broadly educated individual with the rhetorical, ethical, and political abilities needed to debate contemporary political issues in democratic forums.'
Michelle F. Eble and Lynée Lewis Gaillet write:
'The eighteenth-century courses in moral philosophy and the civic rhetoricians who taught them offer valuable lessons for present-day professional and technical communication theories and practices.'
James Farrell writes:

'Classical rhetorical theory and practice were grounded on the assumption that eloquent public speech was a practical necessity in a free society.'

Robert S. Null, in a 2011 dissertation, adds another aspect to our knowledge of John Witherspoon's work:
'Witherspoon's work as a theologian has been neglected and his work as a historian has gone virtually unnoticed. A review of class notes of Princeton graduates from the time of James Madison (1769-71) until a few years beyond Witherspoon's death (1794) led to the discovery of four unstudied manuscripts of his lectures regarding history and chronology. Analysis of these manuscripts produced the first critical edition of his "Lectures on History and Chronology." These forgotten lectures reveal an interest by Witherspoon to examine antiquity in the flowing context of redemptive history, simultaneously recognizing the importance of salvation history and the progress of general history maintained and guided by providence.'
Some of Witherspoon's work can be read online here. Everyone interested in politics in general, in American politics and/or in the relationship between faith and politics should read these lectures on Moral Philosophy  In the introduction we find the declaration that seems like the core of Witherspoon's thinking when he argues:
'It would be more just and useful to say that all simple and original discoveries have been the production of Providence, and not the invention of man'

Scripture is perfectly agreeable to sound philosophy; yet certainly it was never inteded to teach us every thing. The political law of the Jews contains man noble principles of equity, and excellent examples to future lawgivers; yet it was so local and peculiar, that certainly it was never inteded to be immutable and universal.

It would be more just and useful to say that all simple and original discoveries have been the production of Providence, and not the invention of man.'
This offcourse reminds us immediately of Witherspoon's famous sermon The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men which is often mentioned by scolars studying Witherspoon. 

His lectures on Eloquence can be read online here.

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