Friday, April 29, 2011

Ben Franklin, Jane Mecom, Public Schools & the Real Tea Party

Mark Maynard, intrepid (and prolific!) Ypsilanti blogger, drew my attention to this stellar op-ed piece in the New York Times by Harvard professor Jill Lepore, about Ben Franklin's sister, Jane Mecom. She writes,
Franklin, who’s on the $100 bill, was the youngest of 10 sons. Nowhere on any legal tender is his sister Jane, the youngest of seven daughters; she never traveled the way to wealth. He was born in 1706, she in 1712. Their father was a Boston candle-maker, scraping by. Massachusetts’ Poor Law required teaching boys to write; the mandate for girls ended at reading. Benny went to school for just two years; Jenny never went at all.
Their lives tell an 18th-century tale of two Americas. Against poverty and ignorance, Franklin prevailed; his sister did not.
 (In case you are counting, that is 17 kids.) Lepore continues,
Today, two and a half centuries later, the nation’s bookshelves sag with doorstop biographies of the founders; Tea Partiers dressed as Benjamin Franklin call for an end to social services for the poor; and the “Path to Prosperity” urges a return to “America’s founding ideals of liberty, limited government and equality under the rule of law.” But the story of Jane Mecom is a reminder that, especially for women, escaping poverty has always depended on the opportunity for an education and the ability to control the size of their families.
Thanks to Lepore, I know what Ben Franklin thought about public schools.

That world was changing. In 1789, Boston for the first time, allowed girls to attend public schools. The fertility rate began declining. The American Revolution made possible a new world, a world of fewer obstacles, a world with a promise of equality. That required — and still requires — sympathy.
Benjamin Franklin died in Philadelphia in 1790, at the age of 84. In his will, he left Jane the house in which she lived. And then he made another bequest, more lasting: he gave one hundred pounds to the public schools of Boston. (Emphases added.)

Mark thinks this is required reading for Tea Partiers. I think this is required reading for everyone. But I will say this about the supposed "Tea Party." The original tea party was based on the idea that there should be no taxation without representation. Hey, we've got the representation (at least, we've got the vote--I'm not too happy with Snyder right now). So the premise of the current "Tea Party" is entirely false, and yet nobody seems to challenge them on it. Why??? It's actually a great argument for why learning history is so important. Know the real story.

[And so now I've got on my "books to read" list Jill Lepore's book, The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle Over American History.]

1 comment:

  1. From the Ann Arbor District Library web site:

    Celebrate the opening of the Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World exhibit.

    Learn about the life and accomplishments of Benjamin Franklin from Dr. Mark Higbee, Professor of History at Eastern Michigan University. Listen to music from the Plymouth Fife and Drum Corps and enjoy elegantly-themed refreshments.

    Be among the first to see this outstanding exhibit. Held in conjunction with the Downtown Library May 5 - July 7 exhibit, Ben Franklin: In Search of a Better World.

    Thursday, May 5, 2011: 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm -- Downtown Library: Multi-Purpose Room