Notes on “A Thomas Jefferson Education” by Oliver DeMille

These are literally my “notes” while I read the book. There is no real form to them. Sorry! I’m working my way toward a real way to note and discuss the books I read to get more from them without finding someone to talk them out with. That’s part of my problem. I learn more from reading and then talking but I have no group to do that with yet. Still searching. Online groups don’t work for me because I don’t need to write more, I need to talk more and THEN write. But I digress..

The real cost of freedom is not war but education. We all, as self-governing citizens, must do the work of educating ourselves if we expect to remain a free nation.

Chapter 2 – Education Today

“Education is so many things to so many people: for some, education means job training, for others it means fixing social problems, still others see education as job security or a source of political clout.”

“fixing social problems”…that always irks me. If we just “educate” people they will stop making the wrong decisions and do things right.

“Teachers teach and students educate.” I wish we could change that word “teach”. You can’t teach what you people don’t want to learn. Teaching cannot be forced on anyone. Indoctrination can though!

“Homeschool can be an ideal place to do it for parents who will take real leadership, but all types of education will change if parents lead the charge. In fact, if even a significant few do it effectively, public and private schools will have real incentive (spurred by competition) to follow suit.” I believe that has happened with the invention of charter schools over the last ten years. I’m not sure they are really interested in changing education itself. It seems they are more upset that they have lost control over some of the children and families in our country.

Chapter 3 – Three Systems of Schooling

“But eventually the professional and leadership schools deteriorated because they simply couldn’t compete with free, government-subsidized schools.” That happens with any government-subsidized anything. Competition is the key to keeping things affordable and quality. Make one that is free for anyone to use, the rest will go out of business.

“The philosophy of the schoolroom in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.” Lincoln. Well. What do we have now?

“The goal is to give students the same ideas, and to grade and rank them according to their conformity with these ideas.” 25% are learning as they would naturally. 25% can’t and fail. 25% will conform and never be the greatness they were meant to be and never know. 25% will fight and struggle and be forced to conform, losing who they are completely.

“In this system you go down the factory line, first grade, second grade, third grade, with a factory worker at each station, being assembled with certain parts (the curriculum) at a certain point in a certain way from a common book or manual.” This is why they rarely let kids move up or slow down at their own pace. They are placed by age, not skill or need. The point is to make everyone the same.

A note from the margins, I wonder if anyone reading this for the first time get the feeling that he believes a class system is a good thing?

“What happens when a society does not prepare leaders? We get managers and professionals leading in areas they have no training for, such as government, and we get a nation of followers who see no problem with that because they have no experience with anything else.” I’ve gotten this feeling in many situations, that the wrong people are being forced into doing jobs they really don’t know how to do. My work experience was very much like this. “Managers” aren’t leaders, yet they are constantly being confused.

“in America we don’t have an aristocracy and don’t want one, so leaders must come from all classes – what Jefferson called the “natural aristocracy”” Those that naturally and from their education feel called to lead others and get things done in a peaceful manner.

On keeping your kids out of school, “Will they seem normal and well-adjusted, or backward and strange? In most cases that depends on the parents.” And that’s no matter why style of education system you use!

“Homeschool is natural to socializing future leaders who don’t feel compelled to follow the crowd or bend to social pressure, but who feel at ease with others and work well in society.” Because they are always out among people of all kinds in differing situations on a daily basis. They aren’t locked away with children of their own age group, doing things that have nothing to do with living in the adult world.

“The success of leadership education ultimately hinges on one thing – the mentor.” My biggest weakness. I’m terrified of reaching out to someone and being turned down, or them asking me to do something I’m not comfortable doing.

Chapter 4 – Mentoring

“Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern, but impossible to enslave.” – Lord Broughman

Not school…EDUCATION. It makes a group easy to lead because you can discuss ideas and intelligently make decisions. It makes a group easy to govern because they generally govern themselves, their families, and their immediate neighbors without assistance from an authority, limiting the amount of actual governing that is needed.

“Our schools – public, private, and home – can do the same (create leaders) by simply taking each student as an individual.” I’d add…with the goal of becoming who you were meant to be, not a preconceived notion what a child should be. Each person is born whole, not something to be formed into an adults vision of what a child is supposed to be.

“Structure Time, Not Content” – My sons have begun to impose a schedule on themselves to get what they want to do done. I structured my own time as they were growing up.

There’s a note in the margin where DeMille references Star Trek. This is why I love DeMille. He doesn’t dismiss things like TV, movies, games, and cars. Everything has value to someone. It’s your passion about it that makes it into something more than just entertainment.

He talks about “writing as learning” and makes assignments for his older students. This is something that happened much more organically at our house. Writing is just something that comes up in life. There are comments to be made, Facebook posts, for sale ads, and product reviews to be written. They take these very seriously and ask for help reviewing writing to be sure it is saying what they want it to say and that it is correct. I ask them to review my writing as well. It’s been an amazing thing to watch unfold.

“it’s easier to talk about their (kids) education than to improve our own.” Ain’t that the truth. No one wants right now thinks they need to educate themselves although most will readily admit they didn’t get the education they wanted or feel they needed from the school system. Almost everyone though is ready to throw their kids right back into it and blame the failure on themselves instead of the system. They believe they will get their kids to “do it right”. I’ve heard this directly from several people including my own family members.

Chapter 5 – Classics

“People sub together, play together, travel together, but they do not think together. Hardly any homes have any intellectual life whatsoever…” I read this and thought it was interesting because my oldest son recently commented that he heard other families don’t really talk about things. He likes being home with us precisely because we talk about things. The dinner table is only one of the places we discuss the world. While we watch tv, read books, play on the internet, or go to community meeting or even the grocery store, we always have something we are learning or discussing. I’m constantly fascinated by their view of the world. Especially good are the times we are traveling in the RV. So much to see and talk about!

“The whole problem is a result of families failing to teach, educate, train, and civilize.” Not schools, government, or society. They just can’t do what families do and the idea of family is falling apart day by day, undermined by a society that believes it is better for a government school to train up a child into what it believes as a model citizen. It’s a false ideal.

“If we let them, classics can teach us lessons without the pain of repeating certain mistakes ourselves.” This is SO true, especially novels and social situations. We connect with those characters and when they have pain and trauma we feel it and learn from it.

“Human beings need a frontier in order to progress. Fortunately, we do have one frontier left, and it is in fact the hardest one.” SELF! Our forefathers were too busy staying alive, creating a nation, building technology. We now have so much leisure due to their efforts that we have the time to face the frontier of the philosophy of self. It’s pretty darn exciting. And so many people would rather go back to the old ways of doing everything ourselves, or sitting around watching TV and not studying.

“Who we are changes as we set higher and higher standards of what life is about and what we are here to accomplish.” That’s what studying brings us.

“The classics help us see that quest in others and how their choices fail or succeed. A by-product of this rapport is the erasure of prejudices and ill-founded biases that divide and factionalize us from others. Classics help us connect with individuals whatever their race, creed, age, culture and even place in history.” And that is why government education does not study them. People who aren’t fighting, work together, they have no need to be cared for, no need to interference. If we don’t study the classics and barely learn to read and write and do simple math, we are more easily led by masters.

Chapter 6 – Great Teaching

“Smile throughout, shower advice, warn, encourage, praise, and most importantly, set the example.” That is all there is to great teaching. No assignments, no grades, no external discipline.

“(those that ask how do I actually do it?) really believe that teaching must somehow be more complex, that there must be a trick to it. This is a residual or side effect form the conveyor belt, a trust in experts and the idea that education must be complex to be good.” If learning were so difficult and needed a complex set of rules, tests, text books, and professionals, how did anyone learn the very first time?

This is something that grabbed my attention the first time I read this book ten years ago. It’s something I have based my home “school” on. “Students choose to educate themselves when they are inspired by teachers. If you don’t read math classics, how can you inspire him to read them? You can’t.”

And this one, “A child that is read to consistently and often will not need to be pushed to learn to read.”

“Go to work reading the classics yourself, invite your students along with you and have lots of discussions along the way.” That’s the way to start!

Chapter 7 – In the Public Schools

I really don’t think it truly works in public schools due to the one fact that they are compulsory. Teachers can read and discuss until they are blue in the face, but some kids don’t want to be there in the first place and will not be inspired by being jailed and forced to listen. Some kids are not inspired by academics and that should be allowed.

Chapter 8 – College

“The world teaches that good grades equal intelligence, but they don’t; that degrees are equal to education, but they aren’t; that money and position are success, but they aren’t.”

Chapter 9 – Leadership Careers

“It is important to realize that an individual with a leadership education may choose whatever vocation he or she pleases, be it “blue collar”, “service”, “management”, “professional”, or “entrepreneur”, etc. But with his or her leadership education, the vocation is not a dead-end without prerogatives. It is a venue of service that suits the leader’s interests, talents, and timing.”

And that doesn’t mean everyone needs to go into debt at a college to get that education. You can do it at home, practically free and then decide whether your vocation requires the certification to advance.

He lists different universities and the skills they expect their graduates to have. I have very few of these. I’m 43 years old. Will I ever advance past the study and leadership skills of the average 13 year old?

Chapter 10 – Making a Difference in Society

“Their decisions are rooted in history, based on true principles and made concerning the long-term impact on society.” This is where I start to disagree. I truly believe that if everyone focused on themselves, their families, and their immediate community, the long-term society aspect will take care of itself. We cannot predict what the future needs. We can only do what we need to do now with the knowledge of how things have worked out in the past.

“Diplomacy” A skill I very much lack at times.

He lists a lot of statesmen and books from the founding era and earlier. Is there no one between then and now to learn statesmanship from?

“The Five Pillars” Love this. Something solid to build on.

“God. Great statesmen have experience with inspiration. Often these very public people keep their spiritual lives private, but their journals and papers acknowledge the hand of the Almighty.” Those that don’t are using the spirituality to gain supporters. True love of God shines through without you telling everyone. Salvation is a private thing.

The founders “were ordinary people who chose to live good, honest lives and pay the price of greatness.”

My last note in the book is this.

Stirred up. That’s how I feel. But where to go? How to bring this back? IS that what I should do? I felt that Deena’s FATJEF was so inspiring but no one was there to keep in going. I wasn’t ready to take it on myself and I don’t believe one person should. Am I now? Should I? I just don’t know. Are there others out there willing to help?

Hearing my new friend talk about leading changes in our community group, I realize how little I know, how unorganized my thoughts are. I have so much to learn.

Should I work at inspiring my boys more. Should they be studying more? They inspire me!

I just don’t know where to go for help. I have no mentor. I feel like I’m treading water and getting nowhere.


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