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Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth
in Pensilvania

Ben Franklin Document

Ben Franklin’s 1749 pamphlet on the aims of education, Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pensilvania, led directly to the founding of the Academy of Philadelphia, since 1791 known as the University of Pennsylvania. In this document, Franklin described his revolutionary and visionary plan to properly educate American youth. He believed in combining “every Thing that is useful, and every Thing that is ornamental.”

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It has long been regretted as a Misfortune to the Youth of this Province, that we have no ACADEMY, in which they might receive the Accomplishments of a regular Education.

The following Paper of Hints towards forming a Plan for that Purpose, is so far approv’d by some publick-spirited Gentlemen, to whom it has been privately communicated, that they have directed a Number of Copies to be made by the Press, and properly distributed, in order to obtain the Sentiments and Advice of Men of Learning, Understanding, and Experience in these Matters; and have determin’d to use their Interest and best Endeavours, to have the Scheme, when compleated, carried gradually into Execution; in which they have Reason to believe they shall have the hearty Concurrence and Assistance of many who are Wellwishers to their Country.

Those who incline to favour the Design with their Advice, either as to the Parts of Learning to be taught, the Order of Study, the Method of Teaching, the Oeconomy of the School, or any other Matter of Importance to the Success of the Undertaking, are desired to communicate their Sentiments as soon as may be, by Letter directed to B. Franklin, Printer, in Philadelphia.

AUTHORS quoted in this PAPER.

1. The famous Milton, whose Learning and Abilities are well known, and who had practised some Time the Education of Youth, so could speak from Experience.

2. The great Mr. Locke, who wrote a Treatise on Education, well known, and much esteemed, being translated into most of the modern Languages of Europe.

3. Dialogues on Education, 2 Vols. Octavo, that are much esteem’d, having had two Editions in 3 Years. Suppos’d to be wrote by the ingenious Mr. Hutcheson (Author of A Treatise on the Passions, and another on the Ideas of Beauty and Virtue) who has had much Experience in Educating of Youth, being a Professor in the College at Glasgow, &c.

4. The learned Mr. Obadiah Walker, who had been many Years a Tutor to young Noblemen, and wrote a Treatise on the Education of a young Gentleman; of which the Fifth Edition was printed 1687.

5. The much admired Mons. Rollin, whose whole Life was spent in a College; and wrote 4 Vols. on Education, under the Title of, The Method of Teaching and Studying the Belles Lettres; which are translated into English, Italian, and most of the modern Languages.

6. The learned and ingenious Dr. George Turnbull, Chaplain to the present Prince of Wales; who has had much Experience in the Educating of Youth, and publish’d a Book, Octavo, intituled, Observations on Liberal Education, in all its Branches, 1742.

With some others.

Proposals, &c.

The good Education of Youth has been esteemed by wise Men in all Ages, as the surest Foundation of the Happiness both of private Families and of Common-wealths. Almost all Governments have therefore made it a principal Object of their Attention, to establish and endow with proper Revenues, such Seminaries of Learning, as might supply the succeeding Age with Men qualified to serve the Publick with Honour to themselves, and to their Country. (*1)

Many of the first Settlers of these Provinces, were Men who had received a good Education in Europe, and to their Wisdom and good Management we owe much of our present Prosperity. But their Hands were full, and they could not do all Things. The present Race are not thought to be generally of equal Ability: For though the American Youth are allow’d not to want Capacity; yet the best Capacities require Cultivation, it being truly with them, as with the best Ground, which unless well tilled and sowed with profitable Seed, produces only ranker Weeds.

That we may obtain the Advantages arising from an Increase of Knowledge, and prevent as much as may be the mischievous Consequences that would attend a general Ignorance among us, the following Hints are offered towards forming a Plan for the Education of the Youth of Pennsylvania, viz.

It is propos’d,

THAT some Persons of Leisure and publick Spirit, apply for a CHARTER, by which they may be incorporated, with Power to erect an ACADEMY for the Education of Youth, to govern the same, provide Masters, make Rules, receive Donations, purchase Lands, &c. and to add to their Number, from Time to Time such other Persons as they shall judge suitable.

That the Members of the Corporation make it their Pleasure, and in some Degree their Business, to visit the Academy often, encourage and (*2) countenance the Youth, countenance and assist the Masters, and by all Means in their Power advance the Usefulness and Reputation of the Design; that they look on the Students as in some Sort their Children, treat them with Familiarity and Affection, and when they have behav’d well, and gone through their Studies, and are to enter the World, zealously unite, and make all the Interest that can be made to establish them (*3), whether in Business, Offices, Marriages, or any other Thing for their Advantage, preferably to all other Persons whatsoever even of equal Merit.

And if Men may, and frequently do, catch such a Taste for cultivating Flowers, Planting, Grafting, Inoculating, and the like, as to despise all other Amusements for their Sake, why may not we expect they should acquire a Relish for that more useful Culture of young Minds. Thompson says,

    ‘Tis Joy to see the human Blossoms blow,

    When infant Reason grows apace, and calls

    For the kind Hand of an assiduous Care;

    Delightful Task! to rear the tender Thought,

    To teach the young Idea how to shoot,

    To pour the fresh Instruction o’er the Mind,

    To breathe th’ enliv’ning Spirit, and to fix
          The generous Purpose in the glowing Breast.

That a House be provided for the ACADEMY, if not in the Town, not many Miles from it; the Situation high and dry, and if it may be, not far from a River, having a Garden, Orchard, Meadow, and a Field or two.

That the House be furnished with a Library (if in the Country, if in the Town, the Town (*4) Libraries may serve) with Maps of all Countries, Globes, some mathematical Instruments, and Apparatus for Experiments in Natural Philosophy, and for Mechanics; Prints, of all Kinds, Prospects, Buildings, Machines, &c. (*5)

That the RECTOR be a Man of good Understanding, good Morals, diligent and patient, learn’d in the Languages and Sciences, and a correct pure Speaker and Writer of the English Tongue; to have such Tutors under him as shall be necessary.

That the boarding Scholars diet (*6) together, plainly, temperately, and frugally.

That to keep them in Health, and to strengthen and render active their Bodies, they be frequently (*7) exercis’d in Running, Leaping, Wrestling, and Swimming (* 8) &c.

That they have peculiar Habits to distinguish them from other Youth, if the Academy be in or near the Town; for this, among other Reasons, that their Behaviour may be the better observed.

As to their STUDIES, it would be well if they could be taught every Thing that is useful, and every Thing that is ornamental: But Art is long, and their Time is short. It is therefore propos’d that they learn those Things that are likely to be most useful and most ornamental. Regard being had to the several Professions for which they are intended.

All should be taught to write a fair Hand, and swift, as that is useful to All. And with it may be learnt something of (*9) Drawing, by Imitation of Prints, and some of the first Principles of Perspective.

(*10) Arithmetick, Accounts, and some of the first Principles of Geometry and Astronomy.

The (*11) English Language might be taught by Grammar; in which some of our best Writers, as Tillotson, Addison, Pope, Algernoon Sidney, Cato’s Letters, &c. should be Classicks: The Stiles principally to be cultivated, being the clear and the concise. Reading should also be taught, and pronouncing, properly, distinctly, emphatically; not with an even Tone, which under-does, nor a theatrical, which over-does Nature.

To form their Stile, they should be put on Writing (*12) Letters to each other, making Abstracts of what they read; or writing the same Things in their own Words; telling or writing Stories lately read, in their own Expressions. All to be revis’d and corrected by the Tutor, who should give his Reasons, explain the Force and Import of Words, &c.

To form their (*13) Pronunciation, they may be put on making Declamations, repeating Speeches, delivering Orations, &c. The Tutor assisting at the Rehearsals, teaching, advising, correcting their Accent, &c.

But if (*14) HISTORY be made a constant Part of their Reading, such as the Translations of the Greek and Roman Historians, and the modern Histories of antient Greece and Rome, &c. may not almost all Kinds of useful Knowledge be that Way introduc’d to Advantage, and with Pleasure to the Student? As

GEOGRAPHY, by reading with Maps, and being required to point out the Places where the greatest Actions were done, to give their old and new Names, with the Bounds, Situation, Extent of the Countries concern’d, &c.

CHRONOLOGY, by the Help of Helvicus or some other Writer of the Kind, who will enable them to tell when those Events happened; what Princes were Cotemporaries, what States or famous Men flourish’d about that Time, &c. The several principal Epochas to be first well fix’d in their Memories.

ANTIENT CUSTOMS, religious and civil, being frequently mentioned in History, will give Occasion for explaining them; in which the (*15) Prints of Medals, Basso Relievo’s, and antient Monuments will greatly assist.

MORALITY, (*16) by descanting and making continual Observations on the Causes of the Rise or Fall of any Man’s Character, Fortune, Power, &c. mention’d in History; the Advantages of Temperance, Order, Frugality, Industry, Perseverance, &c. &c. (*17) Indeed the general natural Tendency of Reading good History, must be, to fix in the Minds of Youth deep Impressions of the Beauty and Usefulness of Virtue of all Kinds, Publick Spirit, Fortitude, &c.

History will show the wonderful Effects of ORATORY, in governing, turning and leading great Bodies of Mankind, Armies, Cities, Nations. When the Minds of Youth are struck with Admiration at this, (*18) then is the Time to give them the Principles of that Art, which they will study with Taste and Application. Then they may be made acquainted with the best Models among the Antients, their Beauties being particularly pointed out to them. Modern Political Oratory being chiefly performed by the Pen and Press, its Advantages over the Antient in some Respects are to be shown; as that its Effects are more extensive, more lasting, &c.

History will also afford frequent Opportunities of showing the Necessity of a Publick Religion , from its Usefulness to the Publick; the Advantage of a Religious Character among private Persons; the Mischiefs of Superstition, &c. and the Excellency of the CHRISTIAN RELIGION above all others antient or modern (*19).

History will also give Occasion to expatiate on the Advantage of Civil Orders and Constitutions, how Men and their Properties are protected by joining in Societies and establishing Government; their Industry encouraged and rewarded, Arts invented, and Life made more comfortable: The Advantages of Liberty, Mischiefs of Licentiousness, Benefits arising from good Laws and a due Execution of Justice, &c. Thus may the first Principles of sound (*20) Politicks be fix’d in the Minds of Youth.

On Historical Occasions, Questions of Right and Wrong, Justice and Injustice, will naturally arise, and may be put to Youth, which they may debate in Conversation and in Writing (*21). When they ardently desire Victory, for the Sake of the Praise attending it, they will begin to feel the Want, and be sensible of the Use of Logic, or the Art of Reasoning to discover Truth, and of Arguing to defend it, and convince Adversaries. This would be the Time to acquaint them with the Principles of that Art. Grotius, Puffendorff, and some other Writers of the same Kind, may be used on these Occasions to decide their Disputes. (*22) Publick Disputes warm the Imagination, whet the Industry, and strengthen the natural Abilities.

When Youth are told, that the Great Men whose Lives and Actions they read in History, spoke two of the best Languages that ever were, the most expressive, copious, beautiful; and that the finest Writings, the most correct Compositions, the most perfect Productions of human Wit and Wisdom, are in those Languages, which have endured Ages, and will endure while there are Men; that no Translation can do them Justice, or give the Pleasure found in Reading the Originals; that those Languages contain all Science; that one of them is become almost universal, being the Language of Learned Men in all Countries; that to understand them is a distinguishing Ornament, &c. they may be thereby made desirous of learning those Languages, and their Industry sharpen’d in the Acquisition of them. All intended for Divinity should be taught the Latin and Greek ; for Physick, the Latin, Greek and French; for Law, the Latin and French; Merchants, the French, German, and Spanish: And though all should not be compell’d to learn Latin, Greek, or the modern foreign Languages; yet none that have an ardent Desire to learn them should be refused; their English, Arithmetick, and other Studies absolutely necessary, being at the same Time not neglected.

If the new Universal History were also read, it would give a connected Idea of human Affairs, so far as it goes, which should be follow’d by the best modern Histories, particularly of our Mother Country; then of these Colonies; which should be accompanied with Observations on their Rise, Encrease, Use to Great-Britain, Encouragements, Discouragements, &c. the Means to make them flourish, secure their Liberties, &c.

With the History of Men, Times and Nations, should be read at proper Hours or Days, some of the best Histories of Nature (*23), which would not only be delightful to Youth, and furnish them with Matter for their Letters, &c. as well as other History; but afterwards of great Use to them, whether they are Merchants, Handicrafts, or Divines; enabling the first the better to understand many Commodities, Drugs, &c. the second to improve his Trade or Handicraft by new Mixtures, Materials, &c. and the last to adorn his Discourses by beautiful Comparisons, and strengthen them by new Proofs of Divine Providence. The Conversation of all will be improved by it, as Occasions frequently occur of making Natural Observations, which are instructive, agreeable, and entertaining in almost all Companies. Natural History will also afford Opportunities of introducing many Observations, relating to the Preservation of Health, which may be afterwards of great Use. Arbuthnot on Air and Aliment, Sanctorius on Perspiration, Lemery on Foods, and some others, may now be read, and a very little Explanation will make them sufficiently intelligible to Youth.

While they are reading Natural History, might not a little Gardening, Planting, Grafting, Inoculating, &c. be taught and practised; and now and then Excursions made to the neighbouring Plantations of the best Farmers, their Methods observ’d and reason’d upon for the Information of Youth. The Improvement of Agriculture being useful to all (*24), and Skill in it no Disparagement to any.

The History of Commerce, of the Invention of Arts, Rise of Manufactures, Progress of Trade, Change of its Seats, with the Reasons, Causes, &c. may also be made entertaining to Youth, and will be useful to all. And this, with the Accounts in other History of the prodigious Force and Effect of Engines and Machines used in War, will naturally introduce a Desire to be instructed in (*25) Mechanicks, and to be inform’d of the Principles of that Art by which weak Men perform such Wonders, Labour is sav’d, Manufactures expedited, &c. &c. This will be the Time to show them Prints of antient and modern Machines, to explain them, to let them be (*26) copied, and to give Lectures in Mechanical Philosophy.

With the whole should be constantly inculcated and cultivated, that Benignity of Mind (*27), which shows itself in searching for and seizing every Opportunity to serve and to oblige; and is the Foundation of what is called GOOD BREEDING; highly useful to the Possessor, and most agreeable to all (*28).

The Idea of what is true Merit, should also be often presented to Youth, explain’d and impress’d on their Minds, as consisting in an Inclination join’d with an Ability to serve Mankind, one’s Country, Friends and Family; which Ability is (with the Blessing of God) to be acquir’d or greatly encreas’d by true Learning; and should indeed be the great Aim and (*29) End of all Learning.

Ben Franklin Tercentenary Logo

This document, along with Franklin’s 29 extensive footnotes which pertain to the parenthetical numbers below, can be found at www.archives.upenn.edu/primdocs/1749proposals.html.


  Almanac, Vol. 52, No. 19, January 24, 2006


January 24, 2006
Volume 52 Number 19


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