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Leadership Education: Cultivating the Next Generation
by Rachel DeMille

My husband and I have spent several years now promoting a traditional approach to education –“A Thomas Jefferson Education,” also known as “Leadership Education.” The response has been wonderful! It has often been voiced in a two-part reaction:

“This is just what we’ve been looking for! It feels so natural! It’s so obvious!”


“But…how do you really do it?”

It seems strange that something so natural and obvious can leave us feeling so unsure of how to go about it.  The answer to this is also natural and obvious—it has to start with the teacher or parent. I believe that with few exceptions, those who struggle most to find success in homeschooling are those who are still focusing exclusively on educating their children. But Leadership Education requires parents to set an example of getting a great education.

Thomas Jefferson Education is more than just a collection of ideas, more than a curriculum. It is a recounting of a process by which individuals such as Thomas Jefferson, Isaac Newton, Marie Curie, Winston Churchill and many of the great leaders in history achieved excellence in scholarship and personal development.

Over the next few months I will present a series of articles to suggest how parent educators can be empowered to homeschool their children for excellence using Leadership Education, with an increase in inspiration and a decrease in frustration. Does that seem like a tall order? It really does work. Just like a coach or a trainer can help an athlete’s performance with tiny tweaks in form and execution, just like a master gardener can help us achieve an optimal crop with minimal loss, so too can understanding and applying the principles of Leadership Education help you make great progress with the right small modifications.

Over and over again I have seen parents with homeschool burnout and children who fail to excel find a new excitement for learning, a clearer direction, closer family unity and a deeper sense of purpose in their homeschool.

Whose Job Is It?

The assumption in this forum, and for homeschoolers in general, is that it is the role of the parent to see to the education of the child. This seems self-evident in theory; but in practice very, very few parents are involved in decision making about the particulars of their children’s education. In short, in popular culture today, a fully engaged parent-educator is fulfilling her role by making sure that assignments about which she has little say are completed on time. There are parents who define their role as more than homework helper: today’s homeschoolers.

On further consideration, I would suggest that there is another answer to this question that is less obvious on the surface, but more in line with the ideal. Who should be my child’s primary educator? Or: Whose responsibility is it to see to it that my child gets the education she needs? If we are to look to the luminaries in history like Jefferson, Gandhi and Churchill, the answer goes beyond “the parent.” Certainly the influence of an inspirational and committed parent is felt for generations—but only insofar as the child internalizes the proffered lessons.

So again, who should be the primary educator? If educators, scientists and philosophers like Barzun, Erikson and Piaget are to be believed, the answer is: The child. If a child is to fully achieve her potential, it will be because of a desire to pay the price, an allegiance to a cause greater than herself, and a will to consecrate herself to a life’s mission.

Sir Walter Scott said, “All men who turned out worth anything have had the chief hand in their own education.”  In this spirit, the purpose of Leadership Education, or TJEd, is to foster self-education in children—and in their parents.

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.

So the role of the parent takes on a new dimension; not, What do I need to teach my child? Or, How do I get my child to learn “x”? But, What is my role in helping my child become a successful self-educator? How do I help them discover their purpose in life and get the education they need to accomplish it?

By understanding the 4 Phases of Learning and applying the principles of the 7 Keys of Great Teaching (I will go into these in more detail in upcoming articles), parent-mentors are able to lead out as self-educators and facilitate their children’s efforts as well. And while it may seem like a lot of work to tend to your own education, thousands of TJEd homeschoolers can attest that it’s actually less stressful than trying to copy public school at home. It’s like hitting the sweet spot on the bat or the tennis racquet—with no additional effort, your power, speed and accuracy are increased exponentially.

In the words of an old German auto commercial touting its state-of-the-art engineering for power and fuel efficiency: It is easier to pull a car than to push it. In terms of human relations:  It is easier to lead a self-educator than to drive him.  And really, all education is ultimately self education.        

This is how we answer the Who? TJEd not only teaches the Who, but the Where, When, How and Why; and the answers to these questions define that inspiring, empowering and satisfying “sweet spot” that brings success to homeschooling. More on these later.

A Thomas Jefferson Cultivation

While I know of successful TJEd families literally the world over, I can best illustrate this from our own experience. We have four youth between the ages of 13 and 19 of differing styles, strengths and weaknesses, with one thing in common—all of them own their education. They look to Oliver and me as resources, facilitators and guides. The will to exceed themselves comes from their own sense of purpose and the desire to know and be and do.

You could say, “Well, it’s easy for you, because they’ve known this all their life.”

I do say that. And that is precisely the message of TJEd.

The outcomes are as natural and predictable as, say, gardening. It is a great deal of work to prepare a plot of ground, to learn about the optimal conditions and varieties for the region where we live, to plant and water while the little seeds are getting established. There are absolutely multitudinous things beyond our control. And while it doesn’t always turn out the precisely the way we envisioned, the process is always instructive, enriching and transformational. And for all that we would like to control the outcome, certain things are ours to do, and certain things are not. When we partner with the land and sky, we must submit to that truth.

And yet, we plant. We pray for rain. We wish away and fend away frost and pests, invaders and diseases. We weed and we amend the soil, we trim back and thin. But for all our tending, it really is a process that we only tap into; we never are in control of it.

TJEd mentor Melinda Ambrose has said, "You don't dig up beans to see if they're growing." It illustrates for me the obvious truth that humankind has learned through millennia to resign ourselves to the futility and even peril of tinkering in the wrong ways with developing things.

However, to say that there is a level of uncertainty is not the same thing as to say that we are leaving things to chance. Just because we don’t completely control the outcome doesn’t mean that things are out of control. True, there is a level of uncertainty in gardening—as in parenting, and as in education; but to act against principle to circumvent the process in the name of control is not only ineffective, it’s not even rational. We just need to pay the price to know and understand our role, invest ourselves completely in the things that are ours to do, and let the sun shine and the rain fall. The universe does its part in the process, and over the course of years, the good harvests outnumber the bad by far.

The essence of TJEd is to identify and master the principles that govern our success, and then to work in harmony with them. And finally, to Trust the Process.

In next month’s article I will discuss the 7 Keys of Great Teaching and introduce the 4 Phases of Learning. Until then, one parting thought: An investment in your own education is not a withdrawal from your children’s. If you needed permission to read a book for your own enrichment or pleasure, please consider that permission is now given! (Not sure where to start? Try Little Britches by Ralph Moody; just a thought…)

xoxo rd

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.