Frances "Fanny" Wright's observations about American education during her tour of America, 1818-20.
In a letter from Albany, New York, in July 1819, Wright makes her first significant comments about education in Views of Society and Manners in America (1821). She writes, first, about the enormous significance of education in a democracy—especially a fledgling one like America’s.
To enlighten the mind of the American citizen, she writes, is, therefore, a matter of national importance. And she hurries to add that this education is not left to chance. She sees that in this union of knowledge with liberty lies the strength of America. She then moves on to other topics—including the astonishing scenery in upstate New York.
Later, she makes a sharp, education-related comment now and then. In August 1819, for example (from Geneseo, NY), she writes: Among the ignorant, one fool can work more harm than twenty wise men can work good ….
Throughout, I noticed, she seemed determined to praise Americans. (What country before, she asks, was ever rid of so many evils?) She saw such hope here, even though she raged against our failures, as well—especially slavery. And women’s rights, though she comments at one point—excessively so, perhaps—that it is impossible for women to stand in higher estimation than they do here.
But it’s in her letter from New York City (March 1820) that she expatiates most fully—and most enthusiastically, even passionately—about American schooling. She begins bluntly: The education of youth, which may be said to form the basis of American government, is in every state of the Union made a national concern.
In Connecticut, she writes, she saw a group of children heading to school, and what she observes is almost amusing in its contrast to what Jaques, in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, says in his celebrated “All the world’s a stage speech”—the line about “the whining school-boy, with his satchel / And shining morning face, creeping like snail / Unwillingly to school.”
This is not what Wright sees, no whining, unwilling lads. She writes about the children, neatly dressed, with their satchels on their arms and their faces blooming with health and cheerfulness, dropping their courtesy to the passenger as they trooped to school.