Adam Smith on Education

Member Group : David Kirkpatrick

This commentary continues to look at the education ideas of Adam Smith as found in Book V, Chapter I, Article 2d, Of the Expence (sic) of the Institutions for the Education of Youth, pp 716-740, Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, NY The Modern Library, 1937

"If in each college the tutor or teacher…should not be voluntarily chosen by the student, but appointed by the head of the college; and if, in case of neglect, inability, or bad usage, the student should not be allowed to change him for another, without leave first asked and obtained; such a regulation would not only tend very much to extinguish all emulation among the different tutors of the same college, but to diminish very much in all of them the necessity of diligence and of attention to their respective pupils." pp 719-720

"The discipline of colleges and universities is in general contrived, not for the benefit of the students, but for the interest, or more properly speaking, for the ease of the masters. Its object is, in all cases, to maintain the authority of the master, and whether he neglects or performs his duty, to oblige the students in all cases to behave to him as if he performed it with the greatest diligence and ability…No discipline is ever requisite to force attendance upon lectures which are really worth the attending…" p. 720

"Those parts of education, it is to be observed, for the teaching of which there are no public institutions, are generally the best taught…The three most essential parts of literary education, to read, write, and account, it still continues to be more common to acquire in private than in public schools…The rewards of the schoolmaster in most cases depends principally, in some cases almost entirely, upon the fees or honoraries (sic)of his scholars." p. 721

"In general, the richest and best endowed universities have been the slowest in adopting those improvements, and the most averse to permit any considerable change in the established plan of education. Those improvements were more easily introduced into some of the poorer universities, in which the teachers, depending upon their reputation f or the greater part of their subsistence, were obliged to pay more attention to the current opinions of the world. p. 727

"In modern times, the diligence of public teachers is more or less corrupted by the circumstances,.which render them more or less independent of their success and reputation in their particular professions…The endowments of schools and colleges have, in this manner, not only corrupted the diligence of public teachers, but have rendered it almost impossible to have any good private ones.

"Were there no public institutions for education, no system, no science would be taught for which there was not some demand, or which the circumstances of the times did not render it either necessary, or convenient, or at least fashionable, to learn." p. 733

"There are no public institutions for the education of women, and there is accordingly nothing useless, absurd, or fantastical in the common course of their education. They are taught what their parents or guardians judge it necessary or useful for them to learn; and they are taught nothing else. Every part of their education tends evidently to some useful purpose…In every part of her life a woman feels some conveniency (sic) or advantage from every part of her education. It seldom happens that a man, in any part of his life, derives any conveniency (sic) or advantage from some of the most laborious and troublesome parts of his education…the understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments. The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations…has no occasion to exert his understanding…He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become…But in every improved and civilized society this is the state into which the labouring (sic) poor, that is, the great body of the people, must necessarily fall, unless government takes some pains to prevent it." pp 734-5