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WASHINGTON AND OUR SCHOOLS AND
BY CHARLES W. ELIOT
The brief phrase—the schools and colleges of the United States—is a formal and familiar one; but what imagination can grasp the infinitude of human affections, powers, and wills which it really comprises? But let us forget the outward things called schools and colleges, and summon up the human beings. Imagine the eight million children actually in attendance at the elementary schools of the country brought before your view. Each unit in this mass speaks of a glad birth, a brightened home, a mother’s pondering heart, a father’s careful joy. In all that multitude, every little heart bounds and every eye shines at the name of Washington.
The two hundred and fifty thousand boys and girls in the secondary schools are getting a fuller view of this incomparable character than the younger children can reach. They are old enough to understand his civil as well as his military achievements. They learn of his great part in that immortal Federal convention of 1787, of his inestimable services in organizing and conducting through two Presidential terms the new Government,—services of which he alone was capable,—and of his firm resistance to misguided popular clamor. They see him ultimately victorious in war and successful in peace, but only through much adversity and many obstacles.
Next, picture to yourselves the sixty thousand students in colleges and universities—selected youth of keen intelligence, wide reading, and high ambition. They are able to compare Washington with the greatest men of other times and countries, and to appreciate the unique quality of his renown. They can set him beside the heroes of romance and history—beside David, Alexander, Pericles, Caesar, Saladin, Charlemagne, Gustavus Adolphus, John Hampden, William the Silent, Peter of Russia, and Frederick the Great, only to find him a nobler human type than any one of them, more complete in his nature, more happy in his cause, and more fortunate in the issues of his career. They are taught to see in him a soldier whose sword wrought only mercy and justice for mankind; a statesman who steadied a remarkable generation of public men by his mental poise and exalted them by his singleness of heart; and a ruler whose exercise of power established for the time on earth a righteous government by all and for all.
And what shall I say on behalf of the three hundred and sixty thousand teachers of the United States? None of them are rich or famous; most of them are poor, retiring, and unnoticed; but it is they who are building a perennial monument to Washington. It is they who give him a million-tongued fame. They make him live again in the young hearts of successive generations, and fix his image there as the American ideal of a public servant. It is through the schools and colleges and the national literature that the heroes of any people win lasting renown; and it is through these same agencies that a nation is molded into the likeness of its heroes.