From U-T San Diego:
In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville, the famous French historian, came to America to study our nation. Europeans and others were fascinated by the success of the fledgling nation, then barely 50 years old and already competing on the world stage.
Such a thing had never before occurred, and Tocqueville was determined to discover the secret. He was duly impressed by our governmental structure, including the separation of powers, but he was in awe of the public education system, which rendered its recipients completely literate by the completion of second grade. This depth of education was generally only found among the aristocracy in Europe.
Early settlers not only mastered reading, writing and arithmetic, but shared practical skills, all of which enabled them to traverse and tame a rugged and frequently hostile terrain from sea to shining sea.