Public education in most states is being trimmed to fit reduced budgets. Meanwhile, college tuition is rising again—the average cost for a year of college is now more than $20,000.
The stimulus package, which was passed earlier this year, set aside $32 billion in higher-education funding, which will benefit 800,000 students. Even so, parents are naturally concerned that their earnings aren’t rising nearly as fast as the cost of educating their children.
Ben Franklin would try to reassure today’s parents with the value of learning. “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”
Franklin remained a skeptical pragmatist all his life, but he grew dreamy-eyed whenever he talked of learning. He prized education above all things, even above hard work and justice. The minimal schooling he received as a child—only two years of elementary education—left him hungry for more. However, the needs of his family forced him to start work early in life.
Everything else Ben Franklin learned he grabbed between jobs. He read continuously. As a young man, he lived on inexpensive vegetables so he could afford to buy more books. His lifetime of study led him beyond the range of his educated peers into fields of scientific and philosophic speculation. His pursuit of learning eventually earned him honorary degrees from Harvard and Yale, an honorary Master’s degree from William and Mary College, and honorary doctorate degrees from the University of St. Andrews and Oxford University.
Yet he never considered himself an intellectual. If anything, he believed he hadn’t learned enough, and that his thick head prevented him from being truly intelligent. Too much of his education, he believed, was obtained the hard way. He was referring to himself, as much as anyone, when he observed:
“Experience keeps a dear [overpriced] school, but fools will learn in no other.”