Robert M. Fearn: An education tradition in NC

November 1, 2013 

The recent concern with educational quality and finance reminded me of a conversation I had about 50 years ago with a mentor at the University of Chicago, Nobel Laureate Theodore W. Schultz. Knowing I was finishing Ph.D. work, Schultz asked me about job prospects. At the time, those included N.C. State and the University of Virginia.

We agreed that, historically, North Carolina had placed more emphasis on learning and education than Virginia and South Carolina, and I suggested the difference might have resulted from the large number of small landholders in N.C. as compared with the plantation economies to the north and south.

Schultz paused then said, “Bob, that kind of economic explanation is too facile!” Schultz noted that North Carolina was settled in part by Quakers, Moravians and Presbyterians, all of whom placed great emphasis on learning – if only to read and consider the Bible and commentaries. That emphasis on learning, he noted, was spread by the University of North Carolina and adopted by other groups – Baptists, Methodists. Then and now, I’m sure that Schultz was right in his analysis. Respect for learning and education is a long tradition in North Carolina. May it ever be so!

Robert M. Fearn

Emeritus professor of economics, NCSU, Raleigh

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