JEFFERSON'S PERSPECTIVE ON EDUCATION
>I hope I am not presuming anything by this question, but I am very >frustrated in a search for information about Thomas Jefferson's >perspective on education. I have gleaned from my reading about him that >he wanted everyone to have an education and had definate ideas about >curriculum, but I don't believe that he advocated government control >over curriculum or compulsory schooling. As I remember, he did advocate >the restriction of voting rights or ability to hold public office to >individuals who could demonstrate skills in reading and writing. Are >there quotes to support these ideas, or have I just infered them? I >can't find anything in your (wonderful!) website, though I did find the >statement he made to Chevalier de Ouis from Spain where he praised the >fact that the Spanish Constitution disenfranchised citizens who could >not read and write. > >Thank you for any help you can provide me! I am always glad to help to the extent I am able, so there is no question of a "presumption" involved. There are two chapters of the Jefferson Quotations site that are relevant to your search: Educating the People http://etext.virginia.edu/jefferson/quotations/jeff1350.htm Publicly Supported Education http://etext.virginia.edu/jefferson/quotations/jeff1370.htm Your note indicates you have read at least one, and possibly both, of those chapters. I don't really have anything else I can direct you to, although Jefferson did make some references to education in other contexts. You should be able to find everything you need on those two pages, however. The truth is, I am not aware of any statements where he specifically advocates the restriction of voting rights or ability to hold public office to individuals who could demonstrate skills in reading and writing. I have not reviewed the above two chapters in writing this, but if there was anything that I ran across wherein he recommended such restrictions, I'm sure I would have included it on those pages somewhere. As to government control over curriculum or compulsory schooling, I think the only safe thing we could say is that he did not discuss those issues, and we could only speculate as to what positions he might take today. His comments on the Spanish constitution would lead us to assume that he certainly approved of the measures contained therein, though he never specifically proposed the same measures in this country. Spain probably had many more illiterate people than America at that time, and I suspect that Jefferson felt the measure was not really necessary in this country for that reason. Therefore, it was not an important issue for us and was not addressed. I have another website, The Jeffersonian Perspective, that has essays that seek to project Jeffersonian ideas onto the problems of today. There are several essays that address education issues, though maybe not exactly what you are looking for. These are: Education and Discipline http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/7970/jefpco05.htm Education Elitism http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/7970/jefpco11.htm The People & the Intellectual Elite http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/7970/jefpco38.htm Teaching History: Keepers of the Flame http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/7970/jefpco54.htm I am sorry I can't be of more help. As regards the two issues you mentioned specifically, I suspect that Jefferson would probably approve some STATE OR LOCAL minimum standards for curriculum if the purpose was clearly an improvement of educational opportunities. Similarly, he might well support compulsory schooling, just as he would forbid suffrage to illiterates in Spain, if he thought that parents refusing to see to the free education of their children was a substantial problem. After all, he could not see how a government of the people could survive if the people remained in ignorance. These being internal matters, however, in no case would he have the National government involved. Nevertheless, Jefferson did NOT say "that government is best which governs least," and he generally allowed suficient leeway for a government to be whatever the will of the people wanted it to be. I hope that helps. If you have any further questions, or if you would like more information on any of these issues, write back, and I will try to expand on the above. Best wishes, Eyler Coates
> After reading your essay on Educational Elitism, I feel inclined to > respond. You note, and I agree, that Jefferson favored the education > of the masses. You say, "Jefferson certainly wished to see the talents > of the gifted given full opportunity to be realized. But to put this in > terms of an invidious comparison with those 'unequal' because of lesser > talent is especially un-Jeffersonian." You go on to say, "Notice, his > interest was in an appropriate education for EVERYONE." > > I still agree. However, as an educator, I must dispute your idea of > what is appropriate for everyone. It is essential that we meet the > learning needs of each individual. This is virtually impossible without > differentiation in the classroom. To provide an appropriate education > for everyone means to challenge everyone to perform at the highest level > at which they are capable of performing. Because those levels > inevitably vary from student to student, educators need to provide a > variety of educational opportunities based on the needs of their > students. It is as unfair to expect students who excel academically to > work at a level that does not challenge them as it is to expect students > who perform at an average level to work at a level that is beyond their > capacity. In both instances we do a disservice to children, in one case > by not expecting of them all that they can give, and in the other, by > expecting far more than they are capable of giving. > > Providing for the needs of the individual is by no means creating an > unequal learning environment; in fact, it is the only way to guarantee > equality of opportunity. > > This in my opinion embodies what Jefferson was saying to P. Carr: > "It is highly interesting to our country, and the duty of its > functionaries, to provide that every citizen in it should receive an > education proportioned to the condition and pursuits of his life." > 'Proportioned' means differentiated. I find myself in almost complete agreement with what you say. I think the only point of possible disagreement might be in the interpretation of "proportioned" and "differentiated." When Jefferson spoke of "education proportioned to the condition and pursuits of his life," there is no doubt that he was referring to the *extent* of the student's education, i.e., whether his formal schooling ends after basic or primary education, or whether the student goes on to college and advanced training. This interpretation he makes plain in other writings in which he outlines his proposal for a complete education system, from primary school through university, and especially his proposal for state-supported education for the talented who could not afford the higher levels. In other words, he was really talking about the student's *continuance* in school. This is not at all to say that he was opposed to specialized opportunities for gifted students at any given level. He just did not address that issue. In fact, it could very well be assumed that he would take that form of "differentiation" for granted. As you know, most of the primary schools of his time were the old "one-room school house." While unthinkable today, it nevertheless demanded a more or less individualized approach to each and every student, since the class consisted of students at a variety of levels. Assuming that there should be some kind of appropriate differentiation at every given level of education, the real question becomes, What form should that differentiation take? Through most of our history, specially talented students sometimes skipped grades or participated in special projects. Some even helped in the tutoring of younger children. All of this seems appropriate to me, and would not at all be contrary to the spirit of Jefferson's ideas. I can't imagine him being anything other than fully supportive of such special attention. It is all a matter of the individual teacher's responsibility for recognizing these particular needs, and the development, on an ad hoc basis, of techniques for dealing with the situation. As you suggest, *all* students vary from one to another, and a skillful teacher takes that into account in making schoolwork a challenge for each student in the classroom--no mean feat, by the way. I think we are on far less sure grounds when we consider Tracking and special, separate classes for the gifted, especially if these are part of public education. A first reaction is that this approach is undemocratic. Whatever its administrative advantages, it fosters a class-sense that is inappropriate in a democratic republic. Moreover, students become well aware of their classification and that higher authorities have passed sentence on them. The teaching in the "dumb" sections is invariably inferior to that in the "smart" sections, and the "dumb" students are further deprived of positive educational influences by being denied meaningful contact with the "smart kids" and the examples that they set. While the come-back to that might be that the dumb ones are not made to feel inferior in the presence of the smart ones, that is just argumentation. In every walk of life, people must deal with the fact that there are others, some of which are more talented, and some less. Although my short essay did not go into "tracking" (but probably should have), I think that form of differentiation is detrimental to all. It should also be noted that this form of differentiation does not solve the problem of individual differences in students. Even when so classified, students within each track will still differ from others in the same track. Students who are unequal in their talents are not unequal in their rights. If education is viewed as a necessity in a free society (and it most certainly is), then each student should receive an education appropriate to "the condition and pursuits of his life." And that appropriateness, proportion, or differentiation, should accomodate his individual needs, and not be the occasion for a better treatment of one individual to the detriment of another. That is the point I was trying to make.
"To provide an appropriate education for everyone means to challenge everyone to perform at the highest level at which they are capable of performing. Because those levels inevitably vary from student to student, educators need to provide a variety of educational opportunities based on the needs of their students. It is as unfair to expect students who excel academically to work at a level that does not challenge them as it is to expect students who perform at an average level to work at a level that is beyond their capacity. In both instances we do a disservice to children, in one case by not expecting of them all that they can give, and in the other, by expecting far more than they are capable of giving. Providing for the needs of the individual is by no means creating an unequal learning environment; in fact, it is the only way to guarantee equality of opportunity. This in my opinion embodies what Jefferson was saying to P. Carr: 'It is highly interesting to our country, and the duty of its functionaries, to provide that every citizen in it should receive an education proportioned to the condition and pursuits of his life.' 'Proportioned' means differentiated."
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