Benjamin Franklin and Today
In my American Heritage class, my professor asked us to read an excerpt from Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography. In his autobiography, Franklin writes that his ultimate goal is centered on success. Franklin points out that the disposition to industry and frugality would lead people to success. Therefore, Franklin had keen foresight about the business world and maintained efficiency in everything he did.
One of the things Franklin writes about is virtue and the benefits of virtue. Franklin created a list of thirteen virtues: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility. In the explanations for these virtues, Franklin writes how each affects the individual. If somebody, especially the person trying to live out these virtues, lives these virtues out in efficiency, Franklin argues that they will be successful. Thus, Franklin thinks that living a virtuous life is the right thing to do because it results in benefitting people. Therefore, Franklin valued an earthly reward for a life full of virtue rather than the commonly held value for a heavenly reward.
Franklin’s views of virtue and how they pertain to efficiency in industry and frugality warrant attention from the reader. It is true that by being virtuous, one may be able to focus on more important things in life. For example, by having temperance in food and drink, one may be able to think clearly and not be governed by addiction. Efficiency also aids much in industry and frugality by helping people focus on what they deem important. Franklin had a deep view that time was money-all wasted time was wasted money. Thus, all of the virtues (excluding industry) helped aid in focusing on just being successful.
This utilitarian view of virtue does seem to provide an answer to a search for a way to success, however Franklin presents an idea very different from a Christian perspective. In the Christian tradition, the reason for living virtuously is to be successful in the spiritual world, meaning going to heaven. Part of the Christian tradition is to be charitable to others so that they see the goodness of Jesus Christ and go to heaven, not so that they achieve a grand level of greatness on earth. In the bible, it states “but seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). According to this quote, Jesus teaches to prioritize spiritual life over temporal life. It seems like Franklin did the opposite; Franklin used spiritual virtues to aid in temporal success. By placing temporal success as the end goal for living virtuously, Franklin valued virtue for its utility.
Although Franklin’s view of virtue seems too utilitarian for the average Christian, his emphasis on valuing time and success has helped shape American society. In the American society, hard work is extremely valued, along with time and keeping a schedule. These things stem from efficiency and the value of success. Perhaps there is a way to have both—to value time and efficiency while also placing God as the most important in our lives.
One of my favorite courses I have taken so far in college is Great Books in the British and American traditions. In this course, I read many great works, including King Lear, Paradise Lost, Rasselas; Prince of Abyssinia, a hand-full of Hawthorne short stories, British and American poetry, and Huckleberry Finn. Not only were these literary works spectacular, the discussions in class were very intriguing and stimulating. Great Books has been my favorite class thus far because I have felt inspired to contribute as much as I could in class due to the support from the professor. In addition, because it was a discussion based class, I broadened my own viewpoint of the texts from the input from other classmates.
In preparation for each class lecture, each student was responsible for reading certain texts or sections of texts. In class, the professor started the lecture with questions about the reading. Throughout the lecture, the professor asked questions which were intended to lead the student to form a correct, or reasoned, interpretation and relation of the texts. The encouragement to talk in class, therefore, helped create an open platform for discussion. By talking through my ideas and interpretations of the writings, I deepened my knowledge of the texts and became much more engaged in the works which were discussed.
The ideas we discussed included love, honor, family, wisdom, religion, spirituality, and adventure, and how these ideas related to the texts. Even though we read a variety of text types, certain themes were included in all of them. The major theme which we discussed in the texts was voluntary and involuntary exile. It was interesting to trace these themes throughout the different works. In King Lear, we discussed the blinding implications of hubris, and the importance of family unity. In Paradise Lost, we also discussed the negative implications of hubris, while placing attention on the rhetoric of the author. Rasselas; Prince of Abyssinia, was a much more unique text because it followed the structure of a novel, but was more like a philosophical essay. Samuel Johnson, the author, used Rasselas as a vehicle to explore his philosophy of wisdom and human happiness. In the poems and short-stories, we focused on the rhetorical devices of the authors, as well as the ethical and moral meanings of the works. Finally, in Huckleberry Finn, we discussed the issue of racism, southwestern humor, as well as the controversy over the ending. As it may seem, each of these works have deep and hidden meanings. Therefore, having class discussions made it so interesting because the class was able to explore together the varying themes and ideas.
What added to the uniqueness of this course was the time of the class. We met every Tuesday and Thursday from 7:45-9. Because it was a night class, it made the experience truly feel like it was very different than anything I had ever done. Also, the lateness of the class placed added importance on the issues and themes we discussed. However, one of the downfalls to having a later class is that sometimes it encouraged me, as well as other classmates, to wait to do our homework for the next day’s courses until after class. Most of the time, this was avoided, but in the event of staying up late for the next day’s activities, I was reminded that I was in college and I could relate to my family and friend’s own stories of their college lives.
From Homeschool, to College
Many people would agree that homeschooling provides the student with a great academic experience. However, some people also argue that homeschooling does injustice to the student by failing in preparing him for the social scenes of the world. I would argue that when a student is homeschooled, the independent nature of study and the forced one-on-one situations he has with his teachers (parents) help him mature at the same or even quicker pace than he would have had he had been just another student in the crowd of students in the classroom.
As a homeschooler who now attends a four-year college, I greatly appreciate the education I received. Throughout my homeschool years, I studied very independently. I had specific tasks which had to be accomplished for each day. I read my lesson from my math book, and proceeded to practice my newly learned lesson with homework problems. I had similar lessons from other subjects. In history, I was assigned pages to read from a history textbook, with the task of looking for information which would help me address a specific question or questions. In this way, I was much like the historian, evaluating information in history and creating my own stance on the subject based on my studies. My other studies were carried out in much the same way. Through the independent nature of study in homeschooling, I developed more as an individual than as just another student in a classroom full of many students.
In addition to the individuality and confidence I gained from my independent studies, I also matured quicker due to a 1:5, or in some cases, a 1:1 teacher-student ratio. This forced me to articulate my ideas and explain myself much more often than students in a larger classroom setting. Although students-at public and private schools-who are self-motivated can gain confidence through their participation in class, it is much easier to speak more often if there are less students.
In college, much of the schoolwork and learning is done independently of the classroom. Students get out of their education what they are willing to put into it. Much of the homework involves teaching oneself a part of a lesson, or reading a literary work before the class discussion. Those who excel in these classes are ones who are self-motivated and willing to prepare their studies on their own so as to prepare for each class. Homeschooling prepared me for the academic rigor of college by instilling a self-motivation in me that was directly proportional to my success in my classes.
Due to the fewer amount of classes, and the semester, trimester, or even quarter systems, another key element to success at the collegiate level is the ability and willingness to represent oneself well to the professor and to participate in class. The college student has to have the speaking skills required to hold a conversation with another adult, and in order to make a good impression, speak clearly and with respect. Coming from a homeschool background gave me the experience of talking to many adults and presenting myself in a mature manner. This has aided me in my conversations with my professors both during office hours and just around campus.
As a native of southern California, I had hesitated to venture out to the mid-west to attend a school in Michigan, named Hillsdale. Some of my concerns had included being far from my family and only being able to visit once or twice a year, the cold weather, not knowing anyone in the area, and just not being familiar with my surroundings. These issues concern many other people who think about studying out-of-state and abroad as well. However, studying out-of-state has offered me an opportunity to travel to a different part of the nation and experience a different way of living while still getting the same college degree had I stayed in California. Thus, I looked past my concerns and decided to travel to another part of the country while still getting the needed college degree.
In the first semester, I found that it was really important to familiarize myself with the campus and the people at my school. A level of familiarity would help with feeling at home in this new place. During my first semester at Hillsdale, I familiarized myself with Michigan and the school. The concerns of not knowing anybody or the area soon faded as I met many new people. I soon got along with my roommate and some of the other freshmen on my basketball team. I met many nice people through one of my teammates, and about a month into school, I developed a close group of friends. This friend group helped me feel comfortable in a completely different state. I became so close to them that they became my second family.
I discovered that the solution to the issue of homesickness is to keep in contact with my family through Skype, sending letters, and phone calls. During my first semester at school, I busied myself with meeting new people and learning in my classes that I did not have too much free time. Once the excitement of living in a new place faded during the spring semester, it became more important to keep in contact with my family. For some other students, however, the opposite pattern occurs; people are more homesick during the first semester, and less homesick because they become more familiar with their surroundings during the second semester. Keeping in contact with people’s families, in both situations, is the key to not being as homesick.
My concern over the weather faded as well. When fall turned the color of the leaves from light greens, to vibrant yellows, bright oranges, and deep reds, it felt like I was living in a magical place. The leaves constantly fell in the fall, and walking to class in the fall was extremely peaceful because it was so beautiful outside. The crisp, cold air outside added to the effect of creating a different experience because I had never experienced a fall below 60 degrees. The cold weather added to broadening my experience and spreading my limits-forcing me to become comfortable with colder weather. After being cold on the first colder day, my body started to readjust to the colder weather. Then, winter struck Michigan. The first snow was beautiful; everything was covered by a blanket of soft, white, pure, snow. It was really nice to experience snow as a part of regular daily life.
For those who are hesitant about going to out-of-state schools based on the following concerns, I highly recommend taking the chance and trying something new. I am greatly pleased with my decision to explore another state.
Jessica De Gree
Jessica teaches 5th grade English and History as well as 11th grade Spanish III at a Great Hearts Academy in Glendale, AZ. In addition to teaching, she coaches JV girls basketball and is a writing tutor for The Classical Historian Online Academy. Jessica recently played basketball professionally in Tarragona, Spain, where she taught English ESL and tutored Classical Historian writing students. In 2018, she received her Bachelor's degree in English and Spanish from Hillsdale College, MI.