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“Wisdom and Knowledge, Diffused Generally”

September 18th, 2012

Yesterday in Orem, Utah Valley University cut the ribbon on its new Center for Constitutional Studies. Not coincidentally, yesterday was Constitution Day—the 225th anniversary of the day when the U.S. Constitution was adopted by the Constitutional Convention.

As part of the festivities, the Center welcomed David McCullough, world-renowned author and historian, whose works include 1776 and John Adams. He is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and a recipient of America’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. McCullough was named the Center for Constitutional Studies’ inaugural Honorary Fellow, and delivered a keynote address at a program on the 17th. Having greatly enjoyed John Adams, and looking forward to reading 1776 (and also his Harry S. Truman biography), I secured tickets to the event and took my two oldest daughters with me.

Not surprisingly, McCullough is passionate about understanding history, especially regarding the country’s founding. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, McCullough said, “There is a tremendous need for the teaching of history. We are raising a generation that is historically illiterate and have a very sketchy, thin knowledge of the system on which our entire civilization is based on. It is regrettable and dangerous.”

During the evening program, he compared our times to that of the Founding Fathers, chiding us all (in a grandfatherly way) as “softies.” “We have been coddled. We have been comforted and made to feel secure in ways they never knew,” he said.

McCullough said the founders were active in society, not spectators watching from the sidelines, and that we were raising a “generation of spectators.” He quoted verbatim Chapter V, Section II of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, written by John Adams:

Wisdom and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties; and as these depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education in the various parts of the country, and among the different orders of the people, it shall be the duty of legislatures and magistrates, in all future periods of this commonwealth, to cherish the interests of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries of them; especially the university at Cambridge, public schools and grammar schools in the towns; to encourage private societies and public institutions, rewards and immunities, for the promotion of agriculture, arts, sciences, commerce, trades, manufactures, and a natural history of the country; to countenance and inculcate the principles of humanity and general benevolence, public and private charity, industry and frugality, honesty and punctuality in their dealings; sincerity, good humor, and all social affections, and generous sentiments, among the people.

So what does all this have to do with UTOPIA?

Our fiber-optic infrastructure will go a long way to help diffuse knowledge (and hopefully wisdom) among the body of the people. We are eager to help spread the opportunities and advantages of education. As technology has become an indispensable part of modern life, including in pedagogical settings, our network literally opens the door to a universe of information and understanding.

Students today respond to multimedia, and streaming video can help students better visualize and appreciate historic events. UTOPIA is best able to handle the bandwidth demands of video. Even better, make learning social: long-distance video conferencing/collaborating with students at other schools, across the country or around the world. Such opportunities would expose students to varied perspectives and diverse cultures.

My own niece just started teaching at a charter school in Orem which happens to be on the UTOPIA network. She has high praise for the network’s bandwidth and what it helps her accomplish in the classroom. The need for such bandwidth in classroom settings will only keep growing.

Eventually, advanced infrastructure could make possible virtual tours and lessons of historic sites and events in America’s history—the Boston Tea Party, Lexington and Concord, Breed’s Hill, the Continental Congress’ debates on independence, Washington’s crossing of the Delaware, Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown, the Louisiana Purchase, Lewis and Clark’s explorations, the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Gettysburg, Appomattox, Reconstruction, the fight for women’s suffrage, the Progressive Era, the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, WW2, Dr. King’s March on Washington, Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, and so on.

We’ll see what we can do about inculcating good humor, too.