What is Thomas Jefferson Education and Homeschooling?
The Thomas Jefferson method is a classical approach to homeschooling. It's based on a "great books" curriculum. The Thomas Jefferson method, which can be used in homeschooling or group schooling, is outlined by Oliver Van De Mille in his various books on the topic.
De Mille believes that there are three methods of education. The method largely used in public schooling is considered to be a conveyer-belt "Soviet" style of education that does not teach students how to think, but what to think. The Thomas Jefferson method is designed to create thinkers and leaders.
Three Methods of Schooling
De Mille suggests that there are three types of schooling: public school, professional education and leadership education. The Thomas Jefferson method claims to be a system that trains people for leadership roles.
Public Education (conveyor-belt education) - according to De Mille, the public school system was designed to prepare students for the job market. Today, the overwhelming majority of American students receive this type of education. This is considered to be a “conveyor-belt education.” Public schools are run like factories with students being taught the same things at the same age. They all use the same textbooks. They are tested and graded the same way. Students are taught what to think, not how to think or lead. This is also referred to as "Soviet" because the bar is set low enough to ensure that most students can pass. It provides not just equal opportunity but equal outcomes as well.
Professional Education (the competitive conveyor belt) - this system of education prepares people to enter professional fields, such as law, business or medical. Graduates of a professional education are specialists who know when to think.
Leadership Education - this is the Thomas Jefferson method of education. This method prepares students to become leaders in government and business by teaching them how to think. Historically leaders came from the aristocracy and were trained in the classics using mentors, tutors and prep schools. Since America does not have an aristocracy leaders must come from all classes. This is a "natural aristocracy" to use a Jeffersonian term.
How the Thomas Jefferson Method Works
To properly implement the Thomas Jefferson method, homeschool parents must become mentors to their kids. This requires parents to read the classic works and discuss them with their children.
1. Classics, Not Textbooks - by reading classic works in philosophy, literature, science, economics and law, students learn how to think and how to lead. Essentially this method requires students to go directly to the source by reading works by Homer, Galileo, Orwell, Plato and Adam Smith. Children might read works like Shakespeare, Aesop's Fables, Dr. Suess, Charlotte's Web and The Gettysburg Address.
2. Mentors, Not Professors - a curriculum must be personalized for each student. The mentor asks the student what do they want to learn and what do they want to become.
3. Inspire, Not Require - students should spend a lot of time reading and studying on their own. They should not be forced to study.
4. Quality, Not Comformity - you either tell the student they have done "great work" or ask them to "do it again." Only high quality assignments are to be accepted. If students hate a book, find out why. Questioning gets students to think and explain.
5. Structure Time, not Content - don't micromanage content.
6. Simplicity, Not Complexity - read, write, do projects and discuss. Students must be given time to think during discussions.
7. YOU, not Them - the parent must inspire their children by pursuing their own education.
Find More Information
To understand the Thomas Jefferson education method in detail, you can read De Mille's books, which are available on amazon.com or go to the official website http://www.tjed.org.
While this method may not be possible or desirable for most homeschooling parents there are aspects of it that parents can definitely implement. A focus on the classics and discussions can be hugely beneficial to a child's education and can easily be used alongside a more traditional curriculum.
If you're a secular or nonchristian homeschooler, it's important to note that the Thomas Jefferson method as outlined by De Mille is heavily Christian. This definitely has some influence on the great books list provided by De Mille. If you're a secular homeschooler, it is possible to read De Mille's book and implement his ideas but you may want to develop your own great books list.