Jan 22, 2013
A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders For the Twenty-First Century by Oliver DeMille
I guess that means I just called A Thomas Jefferson Education "a dense and heavy text," which it kind of is but also kind of is not. It is because it discusses ideas that, in order to really understand, you have to think about, ponder, discuss with others, and then think about some more. I have a feeling I barely scratched the surface with this reading. However, on the other hand, it isn't "dense or heavy" in the sense that it uses a lot of difficult words or complex sentences. It's written in plain, pretty simple, English.
And just what is "A Thomas Jefferson Education"? It's education that is guided by mentors and the classics but which places the responsibility for learning squarely on the shoulders of the student. It is returning to the same kind of education received by our forefathers (hence, the name "A Thomas Jefferson Education"). It is the kind of education that will produce great leaders.
And who is learning the TJEd way? Oliver DeMille says it would be wonderful and ideal if everyone was learning this way (and he claims that it is possible in a public school setting), but really, it's most often implemented through home schools. However, I think you'll notice every time that those who are truly successful and become great and influential leaders were heavily influenced by one or more mentors and the classics (classics not just reserved for literature but meaning the classics that are found in every subject), regardless of what their formal schooling was actually like.
I think it's definitely possible to take any education and turn it into a TJEd. Parents guide and direct the education of their children in all settings, but obviously if they're going to public school, they're away for seven or more hours a day, and so that doesn't leave very much time to learn from mentors and the classics unless they're getting that in school.
I thought DeMille made an interesting point in the book when he said this: "In the history of education, the current American system is very non-traditional, very different from what has been done for generations. Almost everybody in America today is getting the kind of education that has historically been reserved for those who simply had no other options." (pp. 26-27) If you look at the past, those who were well enough off went to a private school or engaged a private tutor. It was only those who couldn't afford better that went to public schools. While I think this is interesting to note, I'm not completely sure I agree with it. I know there are many flaws in our current education model, but I also know that there is much to be gained from studying and learning together not just alone or with an elitist group.
Which is not necessarily what Oliver DeMille is even saying. Later on in the book, he discusses the "Five Pillars of Statesmanship," as he calls them. And two of these ("simulations" and "field experience") both involve working with other people. Also, he frequently states the "Five Environments of Mentoring," which includes group discussion.
(See what I mean? Even trying to write a review of this book is difficult because there are so many competing ideas and avenues of thought.)
DeMille frequently refers to the "conveyor belt" method of education, which seems to be the standard method in most public schools. DeMille explains it this way: the "...standards and grade levels are set at a low enough level that virtually everyone can get through and be a finished product. What happens if you try to get ahead? A factory worker moves you back into place. What if you get behind? A 'special' worker pulls you up to speed." (p. 25) DeMille says we use this type of method because it is moderately successful in training the future workforce of America, but it is not successful in training future leaders.
Let me try to sum up some of my thoughts with a series of questions and answers:
Q: Do I agree with a TJEd?
A: Yes. I believe that mentors and the classics are essential to a good education. I also believe that teachers inspire students to learn on their own. No teachers actually teach.
Q: Do I disagree with a TJEd?
A: Yes. I think in a lot of ways DeMille idealizes the education of the founding fathers. But then, I also realize I have a lot of my own reading and studying to do, so I can't offer a very solid opinion on this yet.
Q: Will I use the TJEd model in my own home?
A: Yes, of course! Mentors and classics are essential. We are already employing them as much as we can with our young children.
Q: So if I homeschool, will I use a TJEd?
A: Yes, to the extent I stated above, but no, I will not structure it as DeMille suggests. He talks about the four phases of learning. The first phase (the Core Phase, encompassing the years 0-8) involves a lot of free play and exploring learning in a very unstructured way. Even the next phase (the Love of Learning Phase, encompassing ages 8-12) is still very much child-guided as they choose what to learn about and what interests them. In this way, this method reminds me a lot of what I've heard about "unschooling." (I've also heard those who are familiar with both adamantly refute that they are not the same, so again, I need to do more research and studying.) This unstructured type of learning is not the way that I learn best, and so I don't think I could guide my children very well using this type of method either. (But I would never say "never" because I have no idea what growth and change might happen over the next ten years that might make me change my mind.)
Q: So will I homeschool?
A: At the current time, no (meaning in the formal sense and not that there will not be any learning going on in our home. Far from it!). But in the future? Possibly. Right now, I'm quite happy and content with the thought of Aaron going to public school. But I'm still exploring my options.
A Thomas Jefferson Education is worth your time no matter what your thoughts on education are. I guarantee you'll find something to like and dislike. And you might even discover some things you want to change in your current approach to education.