A Thomas Jefferson Education

These notes are to remind me of the important points throughout “A Thomas Jefferson Education” by Oliver DeMille. They don’t mean a lot without the padding that comes in the book – they are just a prompt to my memory. May I encourage you to buy the book yourself!

 Two types of teachers:

  1. Classics
  2. Mentors (sidetrack, a teacher’s job is to teach, to get “the student’s attention long enough and deeply enough to get him started and help him keep going” page 16 and the student’s job is to put in the hard work and mental strain of educating himself)

Three systems of schooling:

  1. conveyor belt (preparing people for jobs by teaching them what to think)
  2. professional (makes specialists by teaching when to think)
  3. leadership (creates leaders – in homes and communities, entrepreneurs in business and statesmen in government – by teaching how to think)

Four phases of Leadership Education:

  1. Core phase
    roughly 0-8 years, though continues the whole life
    “During Core Phase, critical lessons of life are learned and assumptions are made that define the individual’s concept of self, family, and the beginnings of their broader worldview. During this phase attention should be given to the nurture of a happy, interactive, confident child through the lessons that occur naturally during work and play in the family setting.” page 32
  2. Love of Learning phase
    generally 8-12-ish years
    This is a time for exposure to many areas of human knowledge, playing at projects and skills that build his repertoire of understanding and prowess. (It is still not the time for academic perfectionism).
  3. Scholar Phase
    often (but not always) 12-16
    “…readiness to apply a new level of effort to personal and academic achievement through a process of commitments and accountability.” It is a time to “cover every topic and subject in a spirit of passion and excitement for learning. It is a time to study long hours to work hard at learning because you love it, and to ponder, think, read, write, listen, discuss, debate, analyze and learn. It is the time to lose your life in study – and if it doesn’t happen in youth, it is very difficult to recreate later.” page 34
    The student will have additional privileges and defined responsibilities, as befit a young adult (as opposed to “teenager”)
  4. Depth phase
    ideally 16-22
    “characterized by a profound hunger to prepare for coming responsibilities and future contributions to society.”

Seven keys of great teaching:

  1. Classics, not textbooks
    Become conversant with the great ideas of humanity and you learn how to think. BTW, classics does not refer solely to “literature”. Every field has its classic works.
  2. Mentors, not professors
    Professors typically give twenty students the same curriculum by the same methods with the same goals in mind.
    Mentors help students work out what they want to achieve and how to go about it.
  3. Inspire, not require
    Forcing a student to learn will not work. Mentors need to find out what the student needs and creatively encouarge them to engage in it on their own – with excitement and interest.
    i) set the example of passionate study
    ii) help the student understand his options
    iii) give them the choice to to study
  4. Structure time, not content
    “We need structure in order to give adequate time and attention to learning” page 45
  5. Quality, not conformity
    Coach to high standards (scholar phase students, not young children)
  6. Simplicity, not complexity
    Keep it simple: read, write, do projects and discuss. It really is that simple.
    Discussions can be informal or planned, with one student or with a group.
    Writing should be daily – on both the part of the student and the mentor, at least a few paragraphs, if not an entire essay.
  7. You, not them
    Set the example by learning, reading, thinking, pondering, writing, discussing and requiring quality work.

Six reasons to study the classics (chapter five)

  1. They teach us human nature
    All humans have four basic instincts:
    a) survival and security
    b) social mobility, power, relationships
    c) adventure, excitement
    d) to gain meaning; to know self, truth and God
    We can see these things in the classics we read, allowing us to understand others and ourselves better, developing “empathy, compassion, wisdom and self-discipline without subjecting our relationships to a more painful learning curve.” page 62
  2. They bring us face-to-face with greatness
    “Who we are changes as we set higher and higher standards of what life is about and what we are here to accomplish.” page 63
  3. They take us to the frontier to be conquered
    The classics take us to the frontier – not a geographical one like our ancestors had, but an internal one. “They deal with the real questions of life, our deepest concerns: joy, pain, love, hate, courage, anger, death, faith, and others.” page 63
    “I fear that modernity has come to mean ignoring what is important because we are too busy with what is immediate.” page 64
  4. They force us to think
    About the characters, about ourselves, about people we know, about humanity in general.
    It is hard work, not entertainment. Like exercise, thinking requires consistency and effort as we “struggle, search, ponder, seek, analyze, discover, decide and reconsider.” page 65
  5. They connect us to stories
    Each culture has different shared stories, which (among other things) serve to connect generations.
    We also have a personal canon, a set of stories we believe in and base our lives around. The characters and teachings in our canon shape our lives – good, evil, mediocre, or great.
  6. Our canon becomes our plot
    There are four types of stories:
    a) Bent stories portray evil as good, and good as evil.
    b) Broken stories portray accurately evil as evil and good as good, but evil wins. Such books can be transformational in a positive way if they motivate the reader to heal them, to fix them. (eg The Communist Manifesto, 1984, The Lord of the Flies)
    c) Whole stories are where good is good and good wins.
    d) Healing stories can be either broken or whole stories where the reader is profoundly moved, changed, or significantly improved by reading them.

Three rules for using the classics:

  1. Avoid Bent stories
  2. Develop a personal canon of Healing stories.
  3. Spend the majority of your studies in Whole works, but don’t neglect Broken stories that you ought to be fixing.

Five environments of mentoring (chapter six)

  1. Tutorial
    teacher and 1-6 students discussing what they have all read.
    Talk as equal human beings seeking truth and knowledge in order to live better lives. No experts!
  2. Group discussion
    Like tutorials but with 6-30 people. There is a guide/moderator, but everyone contributes.
  3. Lecture
    One person talks while others take notes, with a few minutes for questions and answers at the end. This is when you need an expert!
  4. Testing
    Valuable when student and mentor discuss, debate, reconsider and coach after the event. Simply grading is insufficient.
    “Essay exams measure memory of fact, ability to organize and express, application and persuasion.” page 76
    “Oral exams have the advantages of essay exams, plus they add the dimension of public performance, thinking on one’s feet, and persuading verbally.” page 77
  5. Coaching
    “The coach stays on the sidelines, teaches, demonstrates, watches the children try and then responds.” page 77
    Essential in the non-academic part of a student’s education.

Teaching Writing
Teaching Reading
Teaching Literature
Teaching History
Teaching Math
Teaching Science
Teaching Foreign Language
Teaching the Arts
Teaching Other Subjects pages 78-96

TJ Education in the Public Schools – chapter 7
TJ Education at College – chapter 8 – including three excellent warnings to students
Leadership Careers – chapter 9

Statesmanship: making a difference in society – chapter 10
A statesman is a “certain type of leader, one who takes character and moral courage into small business and major corporations, the media and entertainment, homes and families, cshools anduniversities, hospitals and law firms, the military or the clergy, and government….Statesmen apply statesmanship to industry, academia, government or wahtever career path they choose. Individuals with such training think and act in a certain way. Their decisions are rooted in history, based on true principles, and made concerning the long-term impact on society. The result is an uncommon individual, guided by virtue, wisdom, diplomacy and courage.” page 129

The five pillars of statesmanship:

  1. Classics
    Most great men and women of history studied other great men and women of history, usually reading original works.
  2. Mentors
    Behind every great person, there is a mentor pushing their mentees to excellence, opening doors for their advancement and giving wise counsel.
  3. Simulations
    “Statesmen practice in order to prepare….Simulations have a long tradition: from moot courts to mock parliamnet, role-plays to athletic scrimmages, military maneuvers to operations on cadavers.” pages 132-3
  4. Field experience
    “Most great men and women in history had a variety of real-life experiences before they were called upon to exhibit greatness and leadership. Internships, employment, travel, participation in real events and other experiences can be helpful to future statesmen – especially if done under the guiding hand of a seasoned and nurturing mentor and coach.” page 133
    “If we are to become statesmen, we must get involved now in our communities and society. Future statesmen stand for something now.” page 133
  5. God
    “Whatever a person’s religion or belief system, greatness requires a relationship with truth, inspiration, and absolutes.” page 133

Appendix A: 100 Classics
Appendix B: Classics for Children and Youth
Appendix C: Sample Discussion Questions
Appendix D: Where to Find the Classics
Appendix E: Recommended Readings
Appendix F: Putting TJ Ed to Work

How to get started:

  1. Forget the kids! (Yeah, I like this one!) Concentrate on yourself and keep them doing whatever they’re used to.
  2. Week One: read a classic
    The Chosen or Little Britches or Laddie or Anne of Green Gables or The Lonesome Gods
  3. Weeks Two-Four: read another classic from the above list each week
  4. Week Five:
    a) Read the Declaration of Independence
    b) Read it again, looking up unclear words and writing out their definitions
    c) Read it again and write down ten interesting ideas
    d) Discuss your ideas with two people
  5. Weeks Six-Eight: annotate two more classics
    Pride and Prejudice or A Tale of Two Cities or A Merchant of Venice or Walden
    a) Read each book
    b) Answer the questions in Appendix C
    c) Discuss with someone else
  6. Now start the students
    a) assign them one of the first books to read
    b) set a time to discuss the reading
    c) re-read it yourself and take lots of notes
    d) have the discussion
  7. Arrange a group discussion with at least eight people based on the same book
  8. Repeat steps six and seven, using a different book
  9. Plan the next six months
    there is a whole page of notes on this, but it seems so far away at this stage…
  10. Increase the difficulty
    After six months

Link to hubby’s initial reaction to the book
Link to A Thomas Jefferson Education In Our Home booklet discussion
Link to Core and Love of Learning booklet discussion and here
Link to Scholar Phase booklet discussion


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