Economic opportunity requires economic ability, which is provided in large part by education. One task of education in the United States has been to equip citizens with the knowledge and sense of civic responsibility that will make them dutiful voters, rational jurors and capable public servants. With this in mind, Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison in 1787: "Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to; convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty." Madison echoed this thought in 1822: "A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."
Yet education’s role in building self-sufficiency and economic ability has been just as important in the evolving social contract. The land grant agricultural and mechanical schools with their emphasis on practical instruction are an early example. So was legislation which established federal funding for cooperative extension programs to teach new techniques to farmers and businesses with the assistance of land grant colleges. As the economy has evolved and society has grown more complex, a good education is more important than ever as a foundation for the pursuit of the American Dream.