But though the common people cannot, in any civilized society, be so well instructed as people of some rank and fortune; the most essential parts of education, however, to read, write, and account, can be acquired at so early a period of life, that the greater part, even of those who are to be bred to the lowest occupations, have time to acquire them before they can be employed in those occupations. For a very small expense, the public can facilitate, can encourage, and can even impose upon almost the whole body of the people, the necessity of acquiring those most essential parts of education.
The public can facilitate this acquisition, by establishing in every parish or district a little school, where children may be taught for a reward so moderate, that even a common labourer may afford it; the master being partly, but not wholly, paid by the public; because, if he was wholly, or even principally, paid by it, he would soon learn to neglect his business. In Scotland, the establishment of such parish schools has taught almost the whole common people to read, and a very great proportion of them to write and account. In England, the establishment of charity schools has had an effect of the same kind, though not so universally, because the establishment is not so universal. If, in those little schools, the books by which the children are taught to read, were a little more instructive than they commonly are; and if, instead of a little smattering in Latin, which the children of the common people are sometimes taught there, and which can scarce ever be of any use to them, they were instructed in the elementary parts of geometry and mechanics; the literary education of this rank of people would, perhaps, be as complete as can be. There is scarce a common trade, which does not afford some opportunities of applying to it the principles of geometry and mechanics, and which would not, therefore, gradually exercise and improve the common people in those principles, the necessary introduction to the most sublime, as well as to the most useful sciences.
The public can encourage the acquisition of those most essential parts of education, by giving small premiums, and little badges of distinction, to the children of the common people who excel in them.
The public can impose upon almost the whole body of the people the necessity of acquiring the most essential parts of education, by obliging every man to undergo an examination or probation in them, before he can obtain the freedom in any corporation, or be allowed to set up any trade, either in a village or town corporate. —“Of the Expense of the Institution for the Education of Youth,” The Wealth of Nations
- Adam Smith's Laissez-Faire Policies
- A Corrective to common views of Smith's ideas of Laissez-Faire — Smith, Townsend, and the Workhouse Test Act
- Eleanor Courtemanche's The “Invisible Hand” and British Fiction, 1818-1860: Adam Smith, Political Economy, and the Genre of Realism
- Carlyle's attack on Smith in "Signs of the Times"
Recent Scholarly Studies
Rasmussen, Dennis C.. The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship That Shaped Modern Thought. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019.
Schliesser, Eric. Adam Smith: Systematic Philosophy and Public Thinker. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.
Related Web resources
- Gavin Kennedy's Adam Smith's Lost Legacy (UK)
- Adam Smith's An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. London: T. Nelson & Sons, 1852. Project Gutenberg. [EBook #38194]
Last modified 7 May 2019