motivating persons to seek true knowledge

A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

So said James Madison, a founding father of the U.S., in a letter in 1822 to William T. Barry, Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky. Madison made this statement in the context of supporting government funding for a public school system (including colleges and universities).  Madison’s point was not just open access to knowledge.  Madison also recognized that seeking knowledge should be sufficiently entertaining to compete with other amusements:

Were I to hazard one {suggestion}, it would be in favour of adding to Reading, Writing, & Arithmetic, to which the instruction of the poor, is commonly limited, some knowledge of Geography; … A knowledge of the Globe & its various inhabitants, however slight, might moreover, create a taste for Books of Travels and Voyages; out of which might grow a general taste for History, an inexhaustible fund of entertainment & instruction. Any reading not of a vicious species must be a good substitute for the amusements too apt to fill up the leisure of the labouring classes.

This insight applies to all classes, including intellectuals.  Vicious species of reading and writing have become prevalent.  Hear the echoes of Madison’s words in the writing of Karl Marx:

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

In an uncanny Marxist dialectic, public education is now playing on the stage of a farce.

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