Will a Thomas Jefferson Education Approach suit your homeschool family? How can it be done and what are the goals?
A Thomas Jefferson Education is Individualized Leadership Education. This approach has been named by Oliver DeMille who titled his book, "A Thomas Jefferson Education; Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the Twenty First Century." The book describes a classics-based educational approach which Thomas Jefferson received through the mentoring of George Wythe.
Through his research, the author, Dr DeMille, found that great leaders throughout time had very similar educational experiences. "From Lincoln, Jefferson and Washington to Gandhi, Newton and John Locke, to Abigail Adams, Mother Theresa and Joan of Arc - great men and women of history studied other great men and women." What are the educational experiences they all share?
"Whatever the culture, look at its greates leaders and you will almost always find that they were guided by at least one outstanding mentor and made a lifetime study of classic works." (p37)
"Wherever the student sits to study at public or private school, or at home, leadership education is based on several powerful traditions:
Together these form the tradition of leadership education, which I call a Thomas Jefferson Education, a tradition which is sorely needed in modern America." (A Thomas Jefferson Education, p24)
Dr DeMille has concluded after several years of mentors and classics and after teaching and mentoring at George Wythe College for more than ten years, that all education boils down to two things:
Getting an education is the job of the student and getting an education is a difficult job! It takes time and hard work - by the student, who is guided and mentored by teachers or parents and by the classics.
In history, Dr DeMille says, there have been three major types of schooling:
The purpose of leadership education is
A society which has all systems working together will benefit.
"The fundamental difference between leadership education and other types of learning, is that leadership curriculum is individualized."
(A Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver Van DeMille, p31)
The phases of this individualized learning underpin this education and Oliver De Mille, in his research, has identified this pattern in the lives of many learned, great men and women in history. These phases are defined and discussed more fully in their book on Phases of Learning.
Here is a summary of the stages:
This is the foundational phase - where in the context of work and play, children define their concept of self, family and the beginnings of their worldview. A child at this stage will play at and practice learning in the natural context of life. It is a time to provide a rich learning environment, in which the child interacts with and enjoys all things. It is a time to teach the lessons of right/wrong, good/bad, true/false. It is not the time to acquire or polish scholarly skills.
During this phase, the child will continue to explore their world, their interests, their skills by following their own interests. The time devoted to learning will gradually increase over these years. The child is obliged to be involved in the running of the home, chores, developing good habits and obeying family rules etc, but through the modeling of study set by parents and older siblings, the child will pursue their own interests.
This is also the time to teach a number of life skills. In A Thomas Jefferson Education Home Companion, by Oliver and Rachel de Mille and Diann Jeppson, the authors talk about how they set up Skills Classes into which their children can enrol. The classes can be as varied as you like, and are important life skills such as cooking, baking, sewing, car maintenance, and so on.
The family may set up or participate in Book Discussion Groups or other "Mom Schools" - classes which are set up for specific purposes which Mum usually runs and plans, and then opens it to other families to join in. It is a good time for clubs, discussion groups, groups which meet to cover a specific theme/ aim/ purpose in mind.
Some groups mentioned in The Home Companion are :
The time the young adult studies in this phase will be lengthened during the scholar phase. The child's chore responsibilities can be changed to reflect the change into longer, uninterrupted study periods. Once again, the child is inspired to set their monthly goals, plan each day and pursue their own interests.
Most of the adult skills should already be taught by this time.
The child will continue to have monthly meetings with the mentor/parent in which goals are set, books are decided upon.
In the Companion written by Oliver and Rachel de Mille and Diann Jeppson, the authors mention that in this time period, the scholar may be asked to study certain topics based on each particular family's goals and decisions. The student would continue to set his/her own course of work, and also pursue daily study in two areas over a four month period. After this four month period, the student would write a lenghty report based on their daily studies of this topic.
At this time, the student is usually seeking a college which studies the classics and uses the individual mentored approach to further their education.
Through intensive research, reading and studying how George Whythe mentored Jefferson, Oliver de Mille found Seven Keys of Great Teaching which form the core of great mentoring. In brief, they are as follows:
Also described in A Thomas Jefferson Education, are the five environments of Mentoring: Tutorial, Group Discussion, Lecture, Testing and Coaching and discusses how to teach each subject area. Teach History by reading biographies and the historians; Teach Math by reading great mathematical clasics of history (Euclid, Newton) and current thinkers; and so on.
The Apendix lists 100 Classics, Classics for Children and Youth; Sample Discussion Questions; Putting A Thomas Jefferson Education to Work and more helpful information.
A Thomas Jefferson Education is based on principles as outlined above. What do I see as the weaknesses and strengths of a Thomas Jefferson Education?