Part 3q of Chapter 1 of Book 5 of The Wealth of Nations Simplified

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August 1, 2021

139 Whatever forces students to any college or university independent of the teachers’ merit or reputation reduces the necessity of that merit or reputation.

The privileges of graduates in arts, law, physics, and divinity are in some cases obtained only by residing a certain number of years in certain universities.

It forces a certain number of students to those universities, independent of the teachers’ merit or reputation.

The privileges of graduates are a sort of statutes of apprenticeship.

They have contributed to improve education, just as statutes of apprenticeship have contributed to improve arts and manufactures.

140 The charitable foundations of scholarships, exhibitions, bursaries, etc. necessarily attach a certain number of students to certain colleges, independent of the merit of those colleges.

Were the students under such charitable foundations free to choose the college they liked best, there might be some emulation among colleges.

On the contrary, a regulation which prohibited them from leaving their college to go to another would very much extinguish that emulation.

141 A regulation which:

  • let each college head appoint the teachers instead of being voluntarily chosen by the student, and
  • did not allow the student to change his teacher in case of the teacher’s neglect, inability, or bad usage would:
    • extinguish all emulation among teachers of the same college, and
    • very much reduce their diligence and attention to their pupils.

Such teachers would be very well paid by their students. But they might neglect those students who do not pay them.

142 A sensible teacher must find it unpleasant to:

  • lecture nonsense to his students, and
  • find his students deserting his lectures or attending them with neglect, contempt, and derision.

If he is obliged to give a certain number of lectures, these motives alone might urge him strive to give tolerably good ones.

Several expedients may be used to effectively reduce diligence. The teacher might read a book about the topic he will teach, instead of explaining it to his pupils.

If this book is written in a foreign or dead language, he might:

  • interpret it to them in their own language, and
  • make his students interpret it to him.

Now and then he would remark on it.

He may flatter himself that he is giving a lecture and give himself less trouble. He can do this with the slightest knowledge, without sounding foolish, absurd, or ridiculous.

The college’s discipline may enable him to force his pupils=

  • to regularly attend this sham-lecture, and
  • to maintain the most decent and respectful behaviour during the performance.

143 In general, the discipline of colleges and universities is contrived for the interest or ease of the masters, not for the benefit of the students.

In all cases, it aims:

  • to maintain the authority of the master whether he neglects his duty or not, and
  • to oblige the students to behave as if he performed his duty with the greatest diligence and ability.

“It seems to presume perfect wisdom and virtue in the one order, and the greatest weakness and folly in the other.”

Where the masters really perform their duty, most of the students perform theirs. No discipline is ever needed to force attendance on lectures really worth attending. Force and restraint may be needed to oblige children or very young boys to attend essential early education.

But after 12 or 13 years of age, provided the master does his duty, force or restraint is unnecessary in any part of education. Such is the generosity of most young men that they pardon many of their teacher’s errors. They sometimes even conceal his gross negligence from the public, provided he is serious in intending to be useful to them.

144 Generally, the subjects which do not have their own public institutions are the best taught.

When a young man goes to a fencing or a dancing school, he does not always learn to fence or to dance very well.

  • He seldom fails to learn to fence or dance.

The good effects of the riding school are not so evident.

  • The cost of a riding school is so great that in most places it is a public institution.

The 3 most essential parts of literary education are:

  • to read,
  • to write,
  • to do mathematics,

They are more commonly acquired in private than public schools. It very seldom happens that anybody fails to acquire them.

145 In England, the public schools are much less corrupted than the universities.

  • In the schools, the youth are taught only Greek and Latin. Schools have no exclusive privileges.
  • In the universities, the youth are not taught the sciences.
  • The sciences are taught by guilds (incorporated bodies)

In most cases, the schoolmaster’s reward depends principally or entirely on the fees from his scholars.

To obtain graduation honours in a school, one just needs to answer the examination correctly on what is taught there, and no questions are asked on where he learnt it. He does not need to bring a certificate of having studied a certain number of years at a public school.

146 The subjects in universities are perhaps not very well taught. But without universities, they would not have been taught at all. The people would suffer from the lack of such education.

147 Most of the present European universities were originally ecclesiastical corporations.

They were:

  • instituted to educate churchmen
  • founded by the pope’s authority and under his immediate protection.

Their members were masters or students and all had the benefit of clergy. They were:

  • exempted from the civil jurisdiction
  • judged by ecclesiastical tribunals.

The subjects taught in most of those universities were suitable to their institution’s goal:

  • Theology
  • Preparatory Theology


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