What is Man?

Harvard at Night

Before our recent trip to Massachusetts someone incredulously asked me, “You aren’t going to visit Harvard are you?”

I responded immediately, “Of course we are!”

Harvard University is the place John Adams was educated. One of the first things the New England Pilgrims did was establish schools of higher learning! Intellectual capacity and development is a heritage to New England and to this country. All who come here should recognize the indispensable nature of education in furthering happiness and success.

Consider this, Harvard was established in 1636 in Boston a mere 18 years after the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth. Education mattered to them. As noted in a prior post, one of the four values represented in stone on The National Monument to the Forefathers was education. On it is shown a child and mother on one side and a grandfather on the other representing teaching, mentoring and wisdom.

The Johnston Gate entrance to Harvard includes this inscription:

After God had carried us safe to New England/ and wee had builded our houses/ provided necessaries for our liveli hood/ reard convenient places for Gods worship/ and setled the civill government/ one of the next things we longed for/ and looked after was to advance learning/ and perpetuate it to posterity/ dreading to leave an illiterate minister/ to the churches when our present ministers/ shall lie in the dust.

On the importance of education, John Adams expressed his feelings this way in a letter to Thomas Jefferson:

“For I agree with you that there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents. Formerly bodily powers gave place among the aristoi. But since the invention of gunpowder has armed the weak as well as the strong with missile death, bodily strength, like beauty, good humor, politeness and other accomplishments, has become but an auxiliary ground of distinction. There is also an artificial aristocracy founded on wealth and birth, without either virtue or talents; for with these it would belong to the first class. The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society. And indeed it would have been inconsistent in creation to have formed man for the social state, and not to have provided virtue and wisdom enough to manage the concerns of the society.”

Education is the way we discover our virtues, gifts, talents, intellect and excellence. Education informs and animates liberty. In order for America to be a place of natural aristocracy, we must take the time and effort to make those discoveries for ourselves.

I found it interesting that one of the primary purchases by my grandchildren while we were there was a Harvard sweatshirt that was proudly on display as they touched the toe of University Founder John Harvard.

As I circled the monument, I came upon the word VERITAS meaning truth. The original motto of Harvard was Truth for Christ and the Church. Truth was important to these hardy pilgrims. They knew that Jesus words proclaimed, “If ye continue in my word ye are my disciples indeed and ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” (John 8:31-32) and also “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)

In the twentieth century, as Harvard became more secularized, the last part of the phrase was cut so the motto now reads Veritas or “Truth.” Many have become disappointed in the turn to a more secular form of learning and education which leaves Deity completely out.

Because too many today are convinced words are defined by “whatever you believe it to mean,” it is good to revisit a trustworthy definition of the word truth. Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language 1828 defines truth as “Conformity to fact or reality; exact accordance with that which is, or has been, or shall be.”

Our young guide next took us by Emerson Hall, which houses the Department of Philosophy. She pointed out the building and stated, “Notice what is on top of the building.” It read: What is man, that thou art mindful of him?

“Now that is a deep thought,” she said.

Little did she seem to know that she was pointing out one of the Psalms of David from the Old Testament. Here is how it reads in context. “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet…” (Psalm 8)

The accomplishments of man pale in comparison to the infinite creation of Deity.

Everywhere we turned on the campus we found evidence of its historic roots in Christianity, Truth, Beauty and Goodness to fellow man.

I loved visiting Harvard. It made me desire even more to finish my reading of the Harvard Classics mentioned in my prior post. The educational tradition of this institution is epic and notable.

The beauty of the world we live in today is that such an education is within the grasp of every person in the world! These great books and mentors are part of the public domain. Or as I told those two sixth grade boys at the outset of COVID-19 in the post just linked, why wait to go to Harvard!? You can go now! It is education that lifts, inspires and civilizes man to then humbly approach the throne of learning.

Published by Dean Forman

I am co-founder and CEO of the John Adams Academies, an institution that is perhaps the most unique charter school system in America today. The Academies’ curriculum is designed to give its students an American Classical Leadership Education®. This is an education that pursues truth, beauty and goodness and turns its scholars outward in search of those whom they can serve in becoming servant leaders. This website is dedicated to sharing the concepts of an American Classical Leadership Education with its readers so that more citizens can benefit from the truth, virtue and wisdom of the past. The thoughts and opinions I share on this page are my personal views.

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