Thomas Jefferson Education: Educational Theories Defined Part 3

I was hesitant the first time I heard the term Thomas Jefferson Education (TJEd). It sounded so formal; I wondered if it was a history curriculum. A couple of other homeschool moms had been reading a book on TJEd, so my first exposure to the theory was from personal experience. They explained that the model is based on the way the Founding Fathers were educated.

Photo credit: Tony Fischer

Photo credit: Tony Fischer

I learned that there are 2 defining tools used in TJEd: 4 Phases of Learning and 7 Keys of Great Teaching. Combined these tools allow any educator to greatly increase the success and usefulness of their self-education and thereby increase the level of interest in their students to learn. (3, 4)

Where Waldorf, Unschooling, and the rest of the list detailed in the intro tend to focus on the student – how they develop, grow, learn, etc. – TJEd operates from the philosophy that children will model the examples they are given. The tools used in TJEd are meant to join the young with the old, the experienced with the unexperienced. The call from the core of TJEd is to show every student greatness by using classics and mentors. (1)

TJEd holds up the Founding Fathers as examples of individuals who loved knowledge and understanding – they should not be put on the shelf as irrelevant. These men call our attention to where our education is leading us. Or I could explain it this way: every individual – regardless of age – is in one of the Phases of Leadership Education. (4)

Thomas Jefferson Education is also known by the label “Leadership Education,” started by Oliver DeMille shortly after graduating Magna cum Laude with a B.A. from Brigham Young University in 1994. (2)

By using the 4 Phases of Learning, Leadership Education puts into practice the principle of being a life-long-learner. The 4 Phases are: Core Phase, Love of Learning Phase, Transition to Scholar Phase, and Scholar Phase. (4) For a great explanation of the Core Phase read Jamie’s article on SimpleHomeschool “Core Phase: Creating a solid foundation for ages 0-8.” In this article, she beautifully pulls in quotes from Mason, Holt, Steiner, Montessori, and Moore that support the core phase in philosophy and practice.

In the book “A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the Twenty-First Century*” the creator of TJEd explains that he believes genius lies in the heart of every individual. It isn’t a quality reserved for the elite or the gifted. It is there in each one of us, just waiting to be released. Leadership Education’s focus is to restore the leadership missing in the culture today. (2) Read a sample of the book here.

All men who have turned out worth anything have had the chief hand in their own education.” Sir Walter Scott (1)

TJEd addresses the question: What is education for? (1) In our society, it is common to earn a degree and apply for a job – retiring from formal education. But is obtaining a job the ultimate end of a great education?

A great education is when you know what your mission is in life, and you know what you’re supposed to be doing right now to prepare yourself for that mission.” – Oliver DeMille (5)

A student who studies is getting an education. But why the student studies and how they go about their studying will vastly change the outcome of their efforts. Because they have to? Because there’s a reward? Or because they love it?

DeMille defines these three motivations for getting an education as the Stick, the Carrot, and the Love Affair. People, who only study because they have to or because they’ve been convinced that they need to, will at some point stop when the outside motivator is removed. (1)

I look around at the adults in my life that I look up to, and they are the ones who do not have an outside motivation to learn – they have an inner motivation to learn – the Love Affair of learning. That’s the difference and that is what changes a good education into a great one. (1)

DeMille has defined “The 7 Keys of Great Teaching” as the process for applying the best principles for a great education. Using these keys, learning is unlocked. Key #1, the one that can be universally used regardless of the environment for education, is reading the classics. Equally important is key #7: You, not them. The goal is to be self-educated and thereby inspire those around you to want to join you in pursuit of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. With these keys in hand, anyone can become a leader. (3)

Education in America is based on a myth. The myth is that I can educate you.” – Dr. Shanon Brooks, former Executive VP – George Wythe College. (5) TJEd attempts to point out the problem with our educational system in America by addressing this myth and providing tools for change.

How is it that Thomas Jefferson and the great Founding Fathers were educated? That is the question that Oliver and Rachel DeMille set out to answer, and in doing so they have written the answer so that many people may see and learn to do the same.

Photo credit: Rachael Voorhees

Photo credit: Rachael Voorhees

My takeaway: Thomas Jefferson Education (or Leadership Education) is addressing the problem of a lack of leadership in our world today. The founders’ aim is to provide a structure for training and guiding our children to be inspired to pursue greatness for themselves – to have a great impact on their world. Contrary to what happened in our public school systems in the 1930s (see the video above for this reference), where the authorities of the day decided that the classroom was the place to promote the latest social cause, an individual who gets a great education by studying for the love of learning through the classics and a mentor will go on to have purpose in life – their life will be lived on purpose.

Exposing my kids to my own learning journey will not take attention off of their need to learn; rather it will inspire them to know that I haven’t retired from my education. No one should retire from learning. I want my kids to be modeling my discipline to study and research. I depend on their curiosity to keep me hungry for learning naturally through nature, play, and answering how does this work. We work together to understand, explore, and discover the world around us.

As a parent and educator, I recognize the great responsibility to lead my children. Without a great education, how can I accomplish this? I don’t want to waste their lives because I cannot lead them with mine. I want to guide them and show them my mission, and encourage them to grow into their mission in life and their role as a leader. This is the ultimate goal of a great education.

Sources in this article:

  1. About TJEd
  2. Thomas Jefferson Education – Book Sample
  3. The 7 Keys of Great Teaching
  4. The 4 Phases of Learning

To learn more about the founder of TJEd check out his website.

For more resources on the topic: check out Jamie’s post on Simple Homeschool about creating a Compass. And check out the book Better Late Than Early: A New Approach to Your Child’s Education*, a fundamental resource for the Core Phase and why academic facts are intentionally not introduced at this age.

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This post is part of a series: Check out the Index here.