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As Lincoln urged, celebrate public education

GRAND FORKS — Feb. 12 was Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.

In some states, schools close on Lincoln’s birthday. But the Grand Forks School District did not cancel classes. Perhaps this was appropriate. Lincoln fervently supported public education; so, on his birthday, he probably would have wanted children to have been in school, learning and laughing.

In his first public announcement during his first political campaign, the 23-year-old Lincoln observed it was “an object of vital importance” that every person receive at least a “moderate education.”

During a period in which there were few public schools, Lincoln declared that he hoped to see “the time when education … shall become much more general than at present.”

It would be gratifying, he continued, if some day it was within his power to advance “any measure” that would bring about “that happy period.”

During the Civil War, Lincoln signed the Morrill Act, which led to the creation of scores of public colleges and universities.

Why did Lincoln think that public education was so important? Because it advanced what he called America’s leading object: “to elevate the condition of men — to lift artificial weights from the shoulders of all … to afford all an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life.”

During this week when we celebrate Lincoln’s birthday, I urge Herald readers to cherish and celebrate public education. It is, as Lincoln said, “the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in.”

Eric Burin