On May 14, 1722, Ben Franklin published his fourth essay in the New England Courant under the pen name, Silence Dogood. In this essay, Franklin questions the value of college education. During this time, many families struggled with choosing one of their many children to send to college, just like Franklin’s parents. Most families were only able to send one child due to financial issues, and the child that was chosen was the “brightest.”
In this essay, Franklin is speaking to his Reverend about his decision to send his son, William, to college. Clericus, the Reverend, is very adamant on persuading Franklin to send his son to college. Franklin states, “He perswaded me to do it by all Means, using many weighty Arguments with me, and answering all the Objections that I could form against it; telling me withal, that he did not doubt but that the Lad would take his Learning very well, and not idle away his Time as too many there now-a-days do.” Franklin then takes a walk, falls asleep, and has a dream of how the college accepts its students and later returns them into the world only slightly educated and pompous. It was very common for families to send one child to college if they could afford it, but they did not take into consideration whether the child would be able to thrive and be successful. If the child is not able to perform well, then Franklin is correct when he says that the child will leave only slightly more educated than they were when they began. It would not be worth it to send those children to college. He says, “Some I perceiv’d took to Merchandizing, others to Travelling, some to one Thing, some o another, and some to Nothing; and many of them from henceforth, for want of Patrimony, liv’d as poor as Church Mice, being unable to dig, and asham’d to beg, ando live by their Wits it was impossible.” According to Franklin, these children were admitted into the “Temple of Learning,” while those who thrived were on a path that leads to the “Temple of Theology.” After Franklin revealed this dream to Clericus, the both agreed that it accurately represented Harvard College.