What a difference an education can make!
I have an idea (see below). Here’s something new for us to do: Let’s try to learn a lesson from history. Sounds easy, but apparently it isn’t.
Everywhere I go I try to help promote literacy and education. I belong to many groups and always try to do my part to help with the local school system, PTA, and local, state, and national educational issues. I think it is vital for our nation and its people to be as educated a possible. While this is self-evident, many in our society seem to fear and hate learning and intelligence in general (see IDiots and RepubliCons, for examples) and have waged a fairly successful all-out Culture War to destroy critical thought and factual knowledge and reason-based education in America. It is terribly sad.
But the truth is education works.
I have a great example of what I mean, drawn from history. There was an illegitimate child born in 1452 to a wealthy Italian notary named Ser Piero via a peasant girl, Caterina. Ser Piero lived near Florence in a town called Vinci, but instead of abandoning his lovechild with the scandalous peasant “vixen,” like so many narrowminded people do, he decided to embrace him and support him fully. He took custody of the boy and had him educated first at home, with his own and friends’ privates libraries and hired teachers. Then, he sent his illegitimate son to live and study in Florence, because it was then the intellectual and cultural center of Europe. He payed for the very best education possible, in all fields, from sciences and mathematics to art, design, and writing. To learn from the very best, his son was apprenticed to the great masters of the day, such as the famed sculptor and painter Andrea del Verrocchio. When he emerged, this brilliant young man was amaster of many fields and went on to transform the entire world. To this day, he remains the very symbol of the Renaissance distilled into one man. Who was this product of a vigorous, masterful, and well-funded education? Leonardo Da Vinci.
Now just imagine if we ran an experiment. Let’s call it the Da Vinci Program. Why not experiment with just one generation of Americans. We create a new national program making education the top priority in America. Launch a free, full university education to any student who wishes to sign up for it.
We already know it works, not just from Da Vinci’s example, but from our own history. America rose from backwater former colony to world superpower largely because of its free public education system. It was unique in the world with a universal educational system not tied to class and its priveleges. This allowed the development of a massive, literate, and educated middle class which created the most dynamic economy in the world and the most technologically advanced civilization in history. Furthermore, after World War II we learned this lesson and FDR moved swiftly to create the GI Bill to give free college education to an entire generation of soliders returning home from service. This helped propel America again from emerging powerhouse to the sole superpower on earth. Many of our greatest leaders of industry and education came out of this educational program.
Did we learn the lesson? We are currently cutting back educational programs and funding on all sides. We are constantly “surprised” at falling test scores and our kids are testing lower and lower each year against students in other developed nations. We are creating an impaired generation which will severely impact the future of our nation. Our destiny is very much at risk.
Why isn’t this the number one priority of the nation?
Can you imagine what an entire generation of Leonardos could accomplish? He was one man. What if we produced thousands? No, scratch that, let’s be ultra conservative and say he only produce 50 out of the millions. Could you still imagine the impact of 50 Da Vincis on the world? Da Vinci was one man, yet he was a master artist who has invigorated our lives for centuries. He changed the course of civilization itself by inventing hundreds of devices, such as steam engines, hydraulic irrigation systems, robotic automatons, tanks, submariunes, flying machines, etc. The list is astounding and yet i repeat, he was only one man. he did what he could with the limited amount of time and energy he had.
What could an entire generation of Da Vincis produce? Let’s find out. What have we got to lose? We have wasted more money than it would take just bombing the sand in Iraq. Look, it is risk free. Run a program for a decade or something and if it fails to produce anything, then we can simply end it as easy as we discontinue building new bombers. We have nothing to lose, but we have possibly everything to gain.
The Da Vinci Program could transform not just America, but the entire world as well. Look at the paintings of the Last Supper or Mona Lisa and ask yourself, “Isn’t it worth it?” I think the answer is obvious. All we have to do is open our eyes to the possibilities.
To make the point even more clear, I want to borrow something from another Renaissance master, Michelangelo Buonarroti, who was born about 25 years after Da Vinci in the same province of Florence. Michelangelo captured the heroic potential of mankind with his statue of David. But, he also showed how to reach for even more. If we look closely enough at the Sistine Chapel ceiling, we see that Michelangelo showed man the way to touch the very hand of God. Everything is literally within our grasp, if we simply try.