Category Archives: History


New York Times, October 28, 1921

What Difference Does It Make, He Asks, How Many times “Greeks Flew Kites”?

Ford defines the Education we need —Learn to Read and Write, Then Work Out Your Own Ideas, Mix With People, Get Experience

Special to The New York Times.

Syracuse, N. Y., Oct. 28.—”The one thing necessary in the nation today is for  employers and employees to awaken to their opportunities,” declared Henry Ford, who stopped there overnight on his automobile trip from Detroit to the East. “There is nothing wrong with industry, education, religion or politics,” he said, “if one’s eyes are open to the truth, which is that life is really as simple as a Ford car.”

“The solution of all this discontent with which every one except millionaires seem to be shot through,” he said, “is must keeping busy and getting a decent return for it. The boys on my railroad out West keep so busy eight hours a day that they haven’t time to think of striking. They know how to run a railroad and they get paid for it.”

“Railroads should throw their stocks and bonds away as mine did and get down to business and make some money. The strike was threatened for the purpose of stock manipulation. It was called off because the manipulators accomplished some of their purpose and because they were scared.”

“Necessary education is learning how to read and write and write and then working out ideas, mixing with people, getting experience. The schools are all right and their organization should go right on the way it is.”

“History is bunk. What difference does it make how many times the ancient Greeks flew their kites?”

“America is the greatest land and has the greatest people in the world. We are the pioneer stock of the world, whose who dared. We all came from the old country in some sense. Your epople were probably Irish or English. My own father was Irish. My mother was Pennsylvania Dutch. We can’t help but win. We won the war not on a fluke, but because it was right to win.”


Contrast these words of Henry Ford, with these of  the Roman statesman, orator, and philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero:

Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum.

“Not to know what happened before you were born, that is to be always a boy, to be forever a child.”

Did Henry Ford remain forever a boy? And how about us? Will we ever grow up? Life is more that a Ford car, or an iPad. And knowledge of history, and especially prehistory of which Americans know little or nothing, helps us to understand that.

Thomas Jefferson’s “informed citizenry.”

Throughout his lifetime Thomas Jefferson had much to say about education. His own education was constantly on his mind. And perhaps because of this we still respectfully listen to what he had to say. Here are a few excerpts from his writings on education:

“Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories. And to render even them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree.” Notes on Virginia 1782

“Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. Enable them to see that it is their interest to preserve peace and order, and they will preserve them. And it requires no very high degree of education to convince them of this. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.” –Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1787.

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” -Thomas Jefferson to Charles Yancey, 1816.

“If the condition of man is to be progressively ameliorated, as we fondly hope and believe, education is to be the chief instrument in effecting it.” –Thomas Jefferson to M. A. Jullien,

“I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.” to William Jarvis, 1820

From these comments and others like them, written over a period of at least 40 years it is clear that Jeffferson saw the continued health and survival of his country in a well-informed people, in a well educated citizenry. Be that as it may Jefferson’s writings are not without evidence that he in fact believed much more in a meritocracy.

Forexample: “It becomes expedient for promoting the public happiness that those persons, whom nature has endowed with genius and virtue, should be rendered by liberal education worthy to receive, and able to guard the sacred deposit of the rights and liberties of their fellow citizens; and that they should be called to that charge without regard to wealth, birth or other accidental condition or circumstance.” –Thomas Jefferson: Diffusion of Knowledge Bill, 1779.

Much more than he believed  in a generally well informed citizenry. The makers of our country, including Jefferson himself, were anything but the well-informed citizenry of which he speaks. They were rather an elite, for the most part consisting of wealthy land and slave owners from the Eastern seaboard of our country.

In Jefferson’s time we didn’t yet have a system of public education so he was free to say anything he wanted regarding what might be such a system’s merits. And in fact when the beast is not yet born it can be all things to all people that await its coming. An educational system as described by Jefferson that created an informed citizenry, thus preventing kings, queens, the nobility and the priesthood from returning to power, could very well be thought of as the source of this country’s strength.

And many even today think, or rather speak of our public educational system in this way, whether they believe it or not. I tend to think that no one can really believe that, that our public educational system has created a well informed and responsible citizenry. And yet we still have our democracy, no worse today than in Jefferson’s time, probaby still in the hands of an elite, not now, no more than in Jefferson’s time, in the hands of the people.

Perhaps the very best one can say of our schools is that so far they seem to be replenishing, along with significant help from a constant flow of highly educated immigrants, our governing elite. Jefferson was wrong in what said about an informed citizenry, or at least that our country would depend on having such, and happily so, because if our country’s survival had really depended on an informed citizenry it would never have survived as long as it has.