This may be an odd concept in an educational blog, but the history of these United States depends on understanding the generation of wealth and the role education plays in generating that wealth. In Empire of Wealth (Gordon, 2004), one of the first stories of American wealth involves the Jamestown settlement’s failure to thrive after its beginning in 1607 until John Rolfe brings tobacco seeds to plant in 1612. Rolfe would end up marrying Pocahontas and bringing the first crop to England in 1616 and that establishes the first market, supply and demand, for generating wealth in America.
The People, The Land, and the Laws
Lincoln is famous for summing up all nations as made up of people, land, and laws. In Jamestown, the people were strong-willed risk-takers, with an inexhaustible amount of land and an important change in the law that had been growing in concept since the Magna Carta—the idea of local control in concert with their sovereign fostering personal rights to the land, common sense laws, and the liberty to grow in wealth. Gordon (p. 15) tells us that fifteen years after the first seed was planted in Jamestown (1612-1627) they were harvesting five hundred thousand pounds of tobacco and by 1638 they were exporting 3 million pounds to England every year. They had figured out how to make more wealth than consume it.
The most important change in personal ownership, called “head rights,” was the Virginia Company’s land policy that, instead of expecting the Virginians to work for the company’s land, the company would now grant 50 acres to each person who wanted to own and work the land, and 50 acres for every indentured servant they brought to Virginia. In this single policy shift intended to supply new workers for the tobacco labor shortage, one of the most difficult problems for education was created. The need to solve the labor shortage without protection for the indentured servants is perhaps one of the largest failures in America as it has lead to a Civil War, racism, and an unequal education system. Without guaranteeing the equal rights of every working head, the American dream bifurcated into those with slaves and those who are the slaves. K-12 schools were left to pick up the pieces, explain the unequal, and educate those who belong and those who don’t. Our country can only get ahead of this deeply unfair policy by re-establishing the head rights of every person living and working in America—including those who have been wronged and those who we wrong today.