by Rachel DeMille
Every person has inner genius. Thomas Jefferson Education consists of helping each student discover, develop and polish her genius. This is the essence and very definition of great education.
What is education?
Is it good grades and high test scores? Is it repetition of facts and dates? Is it measured by how much income one can earn, by how much political power one can amass, or by popularity?
There are really only three kinds of education, and they are best understood from the student’s perspective. Students get a good education for one of three reasons:
• They are forced to study long, hard and effectively (the “Stick”)
• They are convinced or manipulated to study long, hard and effectively (the “Carrot”)
• They love to study long, hard and effectively (the “Love Affair”)
The Stick, the Carrot, or the Love Affair–these are the three types of education; and the Love Affair is by far the most effective.
Sticks, Carrots and Love Affairs
Only a true love affair with learning helps students discover their great inner genius, effectively develop it and refine it to become their best and to deeply benefit society.
Why would anyone not follow this path? Because they were forced or convinced to do otherwise.
The standard educational conveyor belt (The Stick) attempts to bring all students to literacy and job preparation by compelling parents and children to meet certain minimum standards. Vast amounts of wealth and untold sacrifice are dedicated to achieving these minimums. Children are herded in the same direction and required to fit in. At times even legal or pharmaceutical methods are brought to bear to ensure conformity.
In contrast, the professional conveyor belt (The Carrot) offers special rewards to those who rise above the masses to get on a different assembly line (still conformist, but based on incentives rather than punishments) to gain higher compensation, status and perks. For all of the notable good that the dedicated educators within them achieve, these systems too often lead to educational mediocrity, dysfunctional lives and declining society. But a renaissance is coming in American education, and home schoolers are uniquely positioned to take advantage of it.
For great education to occur, students must choose to study long, hard and effectively because they genuinely love it! It must be their passion and their delight. When students are deeply in love with studying they absorb massive amounts of information, understanding, connections and wisdom in a very short time. Students passionately apply themselves to the hard work of study when a great mentor, a great sense of purpose or a great work inspires them.
Thomas Jefferson Education (or “TJEd”) describes the principles and process by which great thinkers, leaders, artists and innovators throughout history were prepared for greatness, and these same principles can be applied today as we empower and inspire our children to achieve their purpose in life.
The Seven Keys
There are 7 Keys of Great Teaching. When they are applied, optimal learning occurs. When they are ignored or rejected, the quantity and quality of education decreases. Whatever the student’s individual interests or learning style, these principles can be applied. And whatever your role in education—home, public, private, higher education or corporate training—the application of any and ultimately all of the 7 Keys will significantly improve your effectiveness and success.
1. Classics, not Textbooks
No one can deny the value of a great idea well-communicated. The inspiration, innovation and ingenuity inherent in great ideas elevate those who study them.
Great ideas are most effectively learned directly from the greatest thinkers, historians, artists, philosophers and prophets, and their original works. Great works inspire greatness, just as mediocre or poor works tend to inspire mediocre or poor achievement.
The great accomplishments of humanity are the key to quality education.
This first key means that in pursuit of a transformational education we favor original sources — the intellectual and creative works of the world’s great thinkers, artists, scientists, etc., in the form they were produced.
2. Mentors, not Professors
The professor/expert “tells” the students, invites them to conform to certain ideas and standards, and grades or otherwise rewards/punishes them for their various levels of conformity.
In contrast, the mentor finds out the student’s goals, interests, talents, weaknesses, strengths and purpose, and then helps him develop and carry out a plan to prepare for his unique mission.
Parents and teachers who apply the 7 Keys can be an effective part of the mentoring of a student in the early Phases of Learning (more on these later), and help prepare the individual to fully take advantage of the influence of later mentors that will be formative for continued development and achievement.
3. Inspire, not Require
This is perhaps the most-promoted, least-understood and least-practiced of the 7 Keys. It is also probably the single most important element of Leadership Education.
There are really only two ways to teach—you can inspire the student to voluntarily and enthusiastically choose to do the hard work necessary to get a great education, or you can attempt to require it of them.
Mediocre teachers and schools use the require method; great teachers and schools pay the price to inspire.
Instead of asking, “what can I do to make these students perform?” the great teacher says, “I haven’t yet become truly inspirational. What do I need to do so that these students will want to do the hard work to get a superb education?”
4. Structure Time, not Content
Great mentors help their students establish and follow a consistent schedule, but they don’t micromanage the content. Indeed, micro-management has become one of the real poisons of modern education. Great teachers and schools encourage students to pursue their interests and passions during their study time.
Of course, as with all the 7 Keys, this principle is applied differently at different levels of student development.
There are 4 Phases of Learning (ages vary up to 99 years):
• Core Phase, roughly ages 0-8
• Love of Learning Phase, roughly 8-12
• Scholar Phase, roughly 12-16
• Depth Phase, roughly 16-22
Beyond these come the Applicational Phases of Mission and Impact, where we each set out to accomplish our unique mission in life, and fulfill our role as societal elder and mentor to the rising generation. In a later article I will explain the individual Phases in greater depth, but for our purposes here, I will give a brief description of the Foundational and Educational Phases.
During Core Phase work times and play times are scheduled, with children allowed to choose their own subjects of play during playtime. As they get older, play includes reading, math and other subjects that students choose to engage for fun.
At the beginning of the Love of Learning Phase a student might choose a structure of 1 or 2 or 3 hours a day of set study time; it is important that the student choose it, and that the mentor help the student learn accountability for his choice.
If the student won’t choose it, either he’s not completed the important lessons of Core Phase or you haven’t inspired him yet—get to work. Don’t fall back into requiring. Pay the price to inspire, and trust the process—it's the only way to get the result of the student owning their role as a self-educator.
By the early Scholar Phase a student will likely be studying 6-8 hours a day on topics of their deepest interest. During the Scholar and Depth Phases, the student increases the structured time and goes into more depth. In next month’s article I will discuss these Phases in greater detail.
5. Quality, not Conformity
With the student feeling inspired and working hard to get a great education, the mentor should give appropriate feedback and help. But the feedback should ideally not take the form of common “grading”, but rather personalized feedback—commenting on the particular strengths of a work (including clarity of expression, original thought, technical precision, correlation of principles and ideas, effectiveness of argumentation or other reader appeal, etc.).
These are clearly directed toward the evaluation of a written work, but similar concepts can be adapted for feedback on other products of a student’s scholarly efforts, be they organizational, artistic, personal, interpersonal, innovative, etc. Great teachers and schools reward quality—quality work and quality performance.
In the early phases emphasis is placed almost exclusively on positive feedback; as the student matures (usually after puberty), more technical critiques become valuable and even preferred by students as they strive for excellence.
In late Scholar Phase and Depth Phase, anything less than high quality is not accepted by the mentor as a completed work; instead, the student is coached on how to improve it and sent back to work on it—over and over again until excellence is achieved.
For example, for years George Wythe University utilized a two-grade system: “A” and “DA”, which mean Acceptable and Do it Again. Great teachers inspire quality, demand quality—and they coach the student on how to achieve it.
6. Simplicity, not Complexity
The more complex the curriculum, the more reliant the student becomes on experts—and the more likely the student is to get caught up in the Requirement/Conformity trap. This leads to effective follower training, but is more a socialization technique than an educational method.
Education means the ability to think, independently and creatively, and the skill of applying one’s knowledge in dealing with people and situations in the real world. Complex systems and/or curricula usually lead to student frustration and teacher burnout as personalization is at a minimum and performance requirements are pre-determined.
Great teachers train great thinkers, and great leaders, by keeping it simple: students study the greatest minds and characters in history in every field, write about and discuss what is learned in numerous settings, and apply what is learned in various ways under the tutelage of a mentor.
7. YOU, not Them
Here’s the Key that unlocks all the rest: If you think these principles are primarily about improving your child’s or student’s education, you will never have the power to inspire them to do the hard work of self-education. To be a transformational mentor, to experience the dynamic power of principles in action in your home education, focus on your education, and invite them along for the ride.
Read the classics in all fields, find mentors who inspire and demand quality, structure your days and weeks to include study time for yourself, and become a person who inspires great education.
A parent or teacher doesn’t have to be an “expert” to inspire great education (the classics provide the expertise), but he does have to be setting the example.
Leadership Education is self-education. It is personalized. It believes that every child has an inner genius, and that the purpose of true education is to help the child discover, develop and refine that genius.
That’s TJEd in a nutshell.
Rachel DeMille is the editor of This Week in History , a daily offering for educators to correlate historical events with learning resources and activities in math, science, writing, geography and more. She is the author, with her husband Oliver DeMille, of the Thomas Jefferson Education educational resources . They have eight children. For more about Thomas Jefferson Education visit http://tjed.org.