George Baron to Thomas Jefferson, December 21, 1801 about the dissemination of scientific knowledge in the US and about a law ensuring standards for the preparation of mathematics teachers.
Dec. 21, 1801
I humbly solicit your purusal of a hint concerning the dissemination of scientific Knowledge in the United States.
Many institutions have been formed in this country for the instruction of youth in the Mathematical Sciences and it is much to be lamented that these institutions have not produced the desired effect. Some Mathematicians and Philosophers in Europe finding that notwithstanding the various seminaries of scientific instruction in the United States the Elementary principles of these sciences still remain almost unknown; have concluded the genius of the American people much inferior to that of Europeans. Four years experience in teaching these sciences in the United States, however, fully demonstrates to me the falsity of that rash opinion. The want of abilities in the teachers and professors is a cause that certainly does exist and naturally accounts for the slow progress of scientific knowledge. To remedy this evil is no easy task as the people are not sensible of the importance of the teachers to whom they entrust the instruction of their children, and many of the teachers are not themselves aware of the ill their want of ability produces. The ignorance of schoolmasters has fixed a kind of stigma on that useful and honorable profession and we seldon hear of a young man studying with the intention of becoming a schoolmaster. A certain course of study is thought absolutely necessary in every other profession but very little attention is paid to the instruction of a teacher. An unsuccessful person in any other line of life generally has recourse to turning schoolmaster, and it is no uncommon thing for such a one who can only cast accounts, to consider themselves a mathematician. The columns of our newspapers aboud with the advertisements of such teachers of Mathematics and many a young man pays for learning what he conceives to to [sic] be Mathematics, when in reality he has not been taught one mathematical principle. The mathematical sciences are of vast importantce to civilized man and without them we might perhasps have been yet in the savage state. Philosophers demonstrate the good effects of these Sciences on the minds of young people and contend that the dissemination of science is the best way of fortifying the liberties of a free people. Surely then the Legislature of the country will no longer overlook these sciences. They have already enacted Laws to prevent imposition of of [sic] all kinds, the education of youth excepted. The wisdom of the Legislature will no doubt find out means to promote the program of science and to defned the citizens against the impositions of teachers.
Convinced sir of your paternal regard for the prosperity and improvement of the Citizens of these states, and concerning some Legislative acts highly necessary at this time, to regulate and accelerate the program of Scientific Knowledge; I have addressed you as the friend and protector of these sciences. Should your opinion agree with mine on this subject I shall be happy in laying before you a sketch of a simple plan for disseminating scientific knowledge in the United States; but if not I must humbley crave your pardon for the liberty I have taken.
I am with profound respect
most humb. Servt.
State of New York
Dec 21st. 1801
His Excellency Thos Jefferson
President of the United States
Transcribed by V. Frederick Rickey, July 2002. The original is in the Thomas Jefferson Papers Series I. General Correspondence. 1651-1827 (Image 320 of 1218). An image of this letter is available on the web at http://memory.loc.gov/ . Search for "George Baron".