On my Facebook and Twitter pages I have implemented a weekly segment called #WednesdayWisdom, where I provide quotes from significant scholars from various disciplines. Education is a subject that I return to often because I think evangelical Christians need help in learning how to love God with their minds. One of my favorite educational change agents and political philosophers is William “Bill” Bennett. His lectures and writings have influenced my views about how a nation should educate its citizenry and I have used some of his books to instruct my own children.
I hope this brief biography of Bennett along with four of his provocative quotes will inspire and instruct you as they have me. I’ve used them in my social media segment and I’ll expand on these pearls of wisdom here.
Who is William J. Bennett?
William Bennett is a political philosopher, theorist, and commentator as well as an American educational reformer. He served as Secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan and as Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under George H. W. Bush. He is also a senior advisor to Project Lead The Way, a nonprofit organization that provides training and curriculum to improve STEM education in American schools. Bennett, a Roman Catholic, is the author and editor of more than a dozen books including The Book of Virtues and The Educated Child.
All four of these quotes focus on the education of children and are from the highly acclaimed book, The Educated Child, that Bennett coauthored with Chester E. Finn, Jr. and John T. E. Cribb, Jr.
1. On Learning Preparation
“You should supply five basic ingredients in these years before school: your love, protection, and care; your time; a positive learning environment; an attitude that values learning; and strong moral training.”1
In many ways being a good parent requires putting your children first. They need to be genuinely nurtured in mind, body, and soul. Teaching children to prize learning and grounding education in a sound moral philosophy of life pays great dividends for the whole family.
2. On Books
Under the heading, “Making Your House a Book House,” the authors state that “You want her to grow up in the presence of books and to think of them as things that make her home every bit as warm and comfortable as her favorite blanket or pet puppy. One of your first steps is to make sure books are plentiful.”2
C. S. Lewis, in describing his home as a youth, said that he was virtually born in a library. He states “[t]here were books in the study, books in the drawing-room, books in the cloakroom.”3 In other words, the great Christian author grew up in a home where books were plentiful and he was encouraged to read voraciously. Building a home environment where books are bountiful and viewed as essential, comforting aspects of life breeds lifelong readers and learners.
3. On Reading
“Good schools assume as their sublime and most solemn responsibility the task of teaching every child to read. Make no mistake, this is the critical business of education in the early years.”4
Reading is to the mind what food is to the body. Sharpening one’s thinking, speaking, and writing skills is deeply tied to reading. Success in school and in life are deeply connected to being able to read well. Parents and teachers, therefore, must make the task of creating robust readers top priority as early in a child’s life as possible.
4. On Children’s Classics
“You’ll want to expose your child to a wide variety of books. Some books, though, are better than others. Be sure to include children’s classics in the mix at your house—timeless stories children adore.”5
Not all books are created equal. Classics are inexhaustible. That is, the reader never gets to the end of them; never fully comprehends all they have to offer. Children’s classic books challenge minds and teach lessons that can last for a lifetime. Bennett’s text lists many great children’s stories.
While these four quotes focus on a child’s education, they apply to adults as well. William J. Bennett’s many books reflect his considerable learning as a philosopher, educator, and public intellectual. His diligence has provided all of us with plenty of Wednesday Wisdom.
Reflections: Your Turn
Are there public intellectuals that you’ve learned from? Which quote from above do you resonate with most?
- William J. Bennett, Chester E. Finn, Jr., and John T. E. Cribb, Jr., The Educated Child: A Parent’s Guide from Preschool through Eighth Grade(New York: The Free Press, 1999), 24.
- Bennett, Finn, and Cribb, The Educated Child, 41.
- C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (New York: HarperOne, 2017; London: Geoffrey Bles, 1955), 10.
- Bennett, Finn, and Cribb, The Educated Child, 101.
- Bennett, Finn, and Cribb, The Educated Child, 42.