Penn’s Pen: Stay in School

As children get ready to return to school, let’s take a look at Penn’s vision for schooling his own children.  This is from a letter to his wife Gulielma written as he prepared to leave for America 1682.  He is setting everything in order, just in case “I should never see you more in this world”:

 For their learning, be liberal.  Spare no cost, for by such parsimony all is lost that is saved; but let it be useful knowledge, such as consistent with truth and godliness, not cherishing a vain conversation or idle mind, but ingenuity mixed with industry is good for the body and mind too.  I recommend the useful parts of mathematics, as building houses or ships, measuring, surveying, dialing*, navigation, etc.; but agriculture is especially in my eye.  Let my children by husbandmen and housewives.  It is industrious, healthy, honest and of good example…It is commendable in the princes of Germany, and [the] nobles of that empire, that they have all their children instructed in some useful occupation.  Rather keep an ingenious person in the house to teach them than send them to schools, too many evil impressions being commonly received there.  Be sure to observe their genius and don’t cross it as to learning.  Let them not dwell too long on one thing, but let their change be agreeable, and all their diversions have some little bodily labor in them.

 *surveying under ground, as in a mine


Written by Mary Ellyn Kunz, Museum Educator


One comment on “Penn’s Pen: Stay in School

  1. […]  Because of their isolation and irregular practices, Quaker education did not prepare children (mainly boys) for college.  Classic topics (Latin and Greek) were often not included in their education. Moreover, Quakers were also “free in their criticisms of traditional schools.” Even Penn noted the issues with English schools, saying “We are in Pain to make them Scholars, but not Men! To talk, rather than know.” Nonetheless, both Penn and other Friends wanted “classical learning with the study of useful knowledge”. This practical knowledge meant being able to” read, write, and cipher” while gaining “a fuller appreciation of the Creator”. William Penn also made his sentiments on education known through letters to his wife,which can be viewed in a previous post entitled, Stay in School. […]

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