Education of the people is democratic principle ~ The lack of depth in American education
Americans learn much more outside of the classroom ~ The state of the universities

Harriot Martineau aptly summed up the European view of education in America with one sentence: "Schooling is considered a necessity of life" (143). All of the travelers are impressed by the Americans' serious commitment to education, and recognize that this commitment was related to the democratic form of government. Universal suffrage made education a necessary part of civil duty. Not surprisingly, Alexander Farkas was extremely enthusiastic about the public schools of America and their ability to promote citizens' equality and national stability.

"The greatest strength of the republic lies in the effort to have the entire population equally well educated and instilled with the knowledge of its laws. The Americans know well that just as the individual can achieve superiority through education, so can a nation through culture and knowledge rise and stay above the others. They recognize that where culture and familiarity with the laws are acquired by a small class only, there the knowledgeable will easily rule over the ignorant masses, and for that reason they will do everything to educate even the poorest members of society" (55).

"It is considered essential to the public interest that every man should receive so much instruction as shall qualify him for a useful member of the state" (Hamilton, 126).

"Certainly education could not be more diffused in this country, and a more sober, sedate steady set of people cannot be found, too much so indeed for mirth, and the few holidays that they had are gradually falling into disuse" (Hall, 104).

Though they were impressed by the idea of universal education, many of the travelers were less than enthusiastic about the American schools' ability to create a sophisticated citizenry. In an entire section titled The power of the people exceeds their educational attainments phrenologist George Combe explains that the very basic education of the public schools of America is not yet adequate to prepare people to rule a country. Other writers agree that there is an inherent inadequacy of the schools of the United States: their neglect of the more abstract pursuits of morality, virtue and philosophy.

"In the present generation of Americans, I can detect no symptom of improving taste, or increasing elevation of intellect...Elementary instruction, it is true, has generally kept pace with the rapid progress of population; but while the steps of youth are studiously directed to the base of the mountain of knowledge, no facilities have been provided for scaling its summit" (Hamilton, 21)

"In short, the state of American society is such as to afford no leisure for any thing so unmarketable as abstract learning" (Hamilton, 208).

"One defect in the American institutions and social training at present appears to me to be, that they do not sufficiently cultivate habits of deference, prudence and self-restraint...an American young man, emerging from schools, has scarcely formed a conception that he is subject to any natural laws by which the production and distribution of wealth are regulated, or the laws which determine the progress of society; nor is he trained to subject his own inclinations and will to those or any similar laws as indispensable to his well-being and success" (Combe, 146).

For young America, education was not always in the classroom. Americans had a unique kind of savvy and ability to grasp the ways of the world. Again, this trait was attributed to the pragmatism and hunger for money inherent in the American people.

"In all knowledge that must be taught, and which requires laborious study for its attainment, I should say the Americans are considerably inferior to my countrymen. In that knowledge, on the other hand, which the individual acquires for himself by actual observation, which bears an immediate marketable value, and is directly available in the ordinary avocations of life, I do not imagine the Americans are excelled by any people in the world" (Hamilton, 74).

The Universities and West Point military academy were considered attractions in themselves. All of the travelers comment on visiting either West Pointe, Harvard or the University and Medical School of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Only a few travelers inquired about the form of the educational systems, but they were not short on observations of the institutions in general. Charles Lyell found Harvard and its community to be an integrated whole, where the professors mingled with the town and students. Alex Farkas also saw the integration of the college on a more physical level, "I found it unusual that neither here nor in other states are the colleges surrounded by a high fence as they are at home" (101). Not surprisingly, Thomas Hamilton felt the universities of the U.S. suffered from the same utilitarian regimentation that the grade schools did.

"Every one is compelled to travel in the same track, and to reach the same point, whatever may be his future destination in life. It is perhaps quite right that such portions of a university course should be considered imperative, as relate to the preparatory development of the intellectual powers, but it does appear somewhat absurd to insist on cramming every boy with mathematics, chemistry, and natural philosophy. In America, the period devoted to education is so short, that there can be no folly greater than that of frittering it away in a variety of pursuits, which contribute little to the general elevation of the intellect. it is the certain result of attempting too much, that nothing will be accomplished" (204).

Overall, the Europeans felt that the educational institutions of America were a symbol of both a government of equality and the pragmatic national character. Americans were street smart and did not favor abstract theory, and their institutions of learning reflect these values.


Introduction ~ The Travelers and Their Writings ~ On the Road ~ Character
Habits ~ The Press ~ Nature, Industry and the American West