Benjamin Franklin’s education

I’m re-reading John Taylor Gatto’s The Underground History of American Education, a rollicking read, and feel compelled to quote the passages on Benjamin Franklin’s education. Frustratingly, JTG is quite footnote-shy so I’m going to have to take his word for it.

Indirectly, this provides early anecdotal evidence for the key role parents play in a child’s upbringing. As Gatto says, A major part of Franklin’s early education consisted of studying father Josiah, who turns out, himself, to be a pretty fair example of education without schooling”.

This is on Franklin’s pop:

He had an excellent constitution…very strong…ingenious…could draw prettily…skilled in music…a clear pleasing voice…played psalm tunes on his violin…a mechanical genius…sound understanding…solid judgment in prudential matters, both private and public affairs. In the latter, indeed, he was never employed, the numerous family he had to educate and the straitness of his circumstances keeping him close to his grade; but I remember well his being frequently visited by leading people, who consulted him for his opinion in affairs of the town or of the church…and showed a great deal of respect for his judgment and advice…frequently chosen an arbitrator between contending parties.

This bit is brilliant too; again about Franklin snr:

At his table he liked to have as often as he could some sensible friend or neighbor to converse with, and always took care to start some ingenious or useful topic for discourse, which might tend to improve the minds of his children. By this means he turned our attention to what was good, just, and prudent in the conduct of life; and little or no notice was ever taken of what related to the victuals on the table…I was brought up in such perfect inattention to those matters as to be quite indifferent what kind of food was set before me.

The rest of Gatto’s chapter on Franklin is well worth reading; his conclusion will do for now:

Josiah drew, he sang, he played violin—this was a tallow chandler with sensitivity to those areas in which human beings are most human; he had an inventive nature (“ingenious”) which must have provided a constant example to Franklin that a solution can be crafted ad hoc to a problem if a man kept his nerve and had proper self-respect. His good sense, recognized by neighbors who sought his judgment, was always within earshot of Ben. In this way the boy came to see the discovery process, various systems of judgment, the role of an active citizen who may become minister without portfolio simply by accepting responsibility for others and discharging that responsibility faithfully.