Thomas Jefferson vs Aristotle or a Journey into Education Styles

I came across this article today about different homeschooling styles:

Homeschooling Methods: Discover the different ways to teach at home, and choose the philosophy that’s best for your kids to follow

I found it an interesting read and I was intrigued by the Thomas Jefferson Education. I had never heard of it before but, Jefferson is a personal hero, so I decided to investigate. As far as I remembered, Jefferson had been Classically educated, so I was interested in what the differences would be between this system bearing his name and a Classical education. The link in the article led here:

A Thomas Jefferson Education

After spending some time reading through the site I have to say I find it interesting. I agree with a lot of the ideas, which makes sense since a lot of them are borrowed from Classical. I like the ideas about inspiring your children to love to learn instead of making it a burden they will resent, using classics instead of text books, and the evaluation methods consisting mostly of discussions or other communication (papers, reports, oral presentations, etc) to gauge comprehension instead of tests. I especially like key seven in their Seven Keys of Great Teaching:

“If you think these principles are 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.

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 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.”

I definitely still love to learn, still have so many things I want to learn. Beth and I actually had a discussion this weekend about my going back to school to attain a degree I never finished. As far as teaching, I’ve actually made a deal with Gabe that I would learn all of this stuff along with him instead of turning his education over to a teaching DVD. That means I will be relearning Algebra and will probably be learning Calculus for the first time. I’m going to have to do Physics. I hated math in school. I resisted the structure. But I’m willing to do the work if he is.

It also means I get to read or reread an amazing list of books with him! I was actually just having a conversation with someone about it last night and here is how I described it:

“We’re planning on using a history/lit program from seventh through twelfth that includes an enormous amount of material. It is a Great Books study. All kinds of stuff from multiple plays by Shakespeare to the big Greek and Roman tomes (Ovid, Herodotus,Plutarch, Sophocles, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Virgil, Cicero, Tacitus, Euclid, Marcus Aurelius), Dante, Chaucer, Twain, C. S. Lewis, Cervantes, Augustine, Dickens, Tolkein, Martin Luther, St. Benedict, Melville, Huxley, Camus, Hemingway, Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman, Orwell, Beecher-Stowe, Wilde, Sinclair, Dostoevsky, Tocqueville, Milton, Macheavelli, and on and on. Original documents like Lincoln’s speeches, Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers, Mein Kampf, Benjamin Franklin: The Autobiography, Communist Manifesto, etc.”

This was during a conversation that developed when I asked friends on Facebook what comics or graphic novels they considered literature. Omnibus (the study I referenced) really looks like an amazing study, though it does kind of short shrift more modern fiction. But, since I’m the teacher, I get to add those things in. I had a small list of more modern literature, including comics, that I definitely want to add. That conversation grew my list! I’m definitely not excited about this at all. Learning along with my son should not be a problem for me.

I also really liked an aside about grading. The authors say that when they were teaching college they had two grades: A and DA (do again). They wouldn’t accept anything less than high quality as completed work. Instead of accepting the work and awarding a low mark, the student was coached on how to improve it and then sent back to work on it, as many times as it takes until excellence is achieved. I had seen this idea in other places, especially as a justification from other homeschoolers (and even a curriculum author) as to why they never award anything less than A’s to students since they have the ability to continue working on something with them until they master it. At which point, an A is warranted. Since we don’t have to move on the same schedule as a public school this is completely valid. But I had never seen it summed up this well.

I don’t know how I feel about some of the other ideas though. The system breaks the process of learning up into stages (or phases) like Classical does. But the ideas presented for each stage are very different. I am not a big fan of Unschooling, I just don’t get it. And the first stage, what they call Core Phase, feels a lot like Unschooling to me. From the site:

“Young children do soak up learning like a sponge, but at what cost are children pushed into academic work too soon?

A hate of learning is developed when children are forced to perform at a young age and blooms precisely at the time when non-pressured young minds have the potential to be the most curious and inquisitive!

And if children of a very young age soak up knowledge so easily, shouldn’t they be learning the most important lessons of love, work, and faith during their most formative years, rather than filling their heads with random facts and figures their minds are unable to yet comprehend?”

I understand the idea of making learning fun and not wanting to burn kids out or turn them against education before they’ve really started. But to just teach your kid values, but nothing else formally, until they are eight or older?! My son could read before Kindergarten. He could add, subtract and do simple multiplication as well.

Not because I was a tyrant and made him drill until he cried. We played games, used hands-on implements, counted things while we rode in the car, spelled words with letter magnets on the ‘fridge. I read to him. It wasn’t a strict curriculum in the traditional sense, time spent with text books at a desk, but I definitely presented more than just value lessons. And he understood it just fine.

I hew much more to the Classical idea that the Grammar Stage (or Core Phase) is when kids do a lot of learning but at a shallow level. Learn how to read and count. Learn why the sky is blue. Learn how land, flying, and aquatic animals are alike and different. Learn about how civilization has evolved. Dates, facts, figures. They don’t really have to understand them, just know them. The later stages will show them how to analyze the data they’ve already collected (as well as adding more depth and detail) and then how to communicate the synthesis that results.

I love getting to see different systems and ideas, break them down to see if there are any pieces that I can use. Or if the entire system is superior to the one I’m currently using. I wish I had done way more of this type of stuff in the beginning instead of thinking I needed to dive into curriculum. I feel like the way I initially did it was working backwards. Anyway, I like the site. I’m glad I took the time to look around. I’ll definitely revisit it in the future because I think there are a lot of good ideas there to pull from. I just don’t think I will use the complete system.


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