Friday, April 25, 2014

Musings On Education (A Thomas Jefferson Education review)

The Simple Homeschool site recommends a book entitled A Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver DeMille.

Having seen it on the site for a couple years, I finally purchased a used copy from Amazon and began reading. While it's fairly smooth reading, it didn't take me long to notice that the book was never professionally edited (even my 2nd edition copy). It's essentially a self-published book printed by the still-unaccredited university the author founded (George Wythe College).

If you research this author on the web you will find that he has a couple degrees from diploma-mill colleges that are now defunct. His only real degree is a BA from BYU. While I found the book very inspiring and even life-changing--I'll explain why in a minute--it's not well-researched and it makes a few seriously flawed statements (you should learn Spanish, for example, by reading Don Quixote in the original language), though it contains outstanding quotes to reflect on as well. The author clearly has a worthwhile vision.

An ambitious entrepreneur, Oliver DeMille is expert at creating websites and businesses (with his friends) that look official and impressive, but have little substance. He co-authored another book, LeaderShift, which is listed as a NYT bestseller, but only because the authors manipulated the market, as is common now, by arranging for bulk orders. Any book can appear on a bestseller list if many copies are ordered in the same week, but the appearance will quickly wane, while still allowing an author to claim himself a New York Times Bestselling-author. Forever. While this is legal and becoming more common, it's unethical. Entries on bestseller lists now come with an asterisk if bulk orders were reported.

So why did the book inspire me? Why do I claim it is life-changing? It encourages every parent, student, and teacher to be well read in the classics, and to discuss the classics together and write about them. I was so inspired that I've read more books in the last two weeks than I have in the last 6 months. (That's why I haven't appeared on this blog much lately.)

What positive change has come from this? My mind is filled less with mundane, laundry-related thoughts; I'm thinking intentionally more of the time. The difference is a legacy-living daily existence, rather than a get-through-the-day mentality. Great books, or biographies about great people, pull our minds up from our floor-scrubbing.

Don't get me wrong: scrubbing the floor and having a family to scrub it for, is a blessing. Serving others is worthwhile and lofty, but we need inspiration in our days. (I don't mean Facebook or any other time waster we deceive ourselves as being worth our time.) I mean inspiration from the Bible and from Great Books.

It's true, knowledge can puff us up and make us snobby, so we'd do well to balance all our reading with plenty of Scripture, which humbles us before God. (1 Corinthians 8:1 ...Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.)

Classics, by their timelessness, lofty ideals, and picture of the human condition, remind us of our place in time and history, and they push us to make our lives matter. We honor God by using our time wisely--by seeing our lives as a gift from Him--and yet so often we think nothing of wasting time.

Not only am I reading more myself, but I'm asking my boys more questions about their reading, requiring more of them in terms of analysis, comparison, and articulating how a book can impact their lives.

I've always believed in the power of good literature, so many of Oliver DeMille's assertions affirmed my own educational philosophy. Still, I haven't been an avid reader since becoming a mom of four, and now, thanks to this book, that is changing. The book fired me up as a learner, teacher, mother, and citizen.

Mentorship versus teaching is a big part of the book. To mentor effectively, the parent/teacher must continue her own education so as to inspire her students. Inspiration is the goal--creating lifelong learners--and the classics do that beautifully. Great Books inspire us.

Do I think my children are likely to become societal leaders if they are classically-trained, as the author asserts (even promises)? I don't know what God's plan is for my children's futures, but I believe they're certainly more likely to become leaders if they are exposed to good books and biographies, and if they are taught to think, rather than just regurgitate.

Public schools (conveyer-belt schools, he terms them) prepare the nation's youth to take jobs/go to college someday, with some propaganda thrown in. What's missing are well-trained minds to lead our country forward. Brick-and-mortar schools don't emphasize thinking, evaluating, leading, and inventing.

DeMille acknowledges that public schools can have some very good teachers, but asserts that most teachers are mediocre, teach-to-the-test types who fail to inspire students to pursue knowledge for knowledge's sake. Rather, public schools push students to learn just enough to get a good job. Leadership, statesmanship, entrepreneurship--needed so that our country and its freedoms survive--are neglected.

It wasn't until I started teaching my boys with Sonlight's curriculum that I realized how deficient my own education had been. My public-school teachers primarily used textbooks, except in an honors english class I had in highschool, which was superior to a college-prep course but still not ideal. In college I chose a Renaissance-inspired school at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD's - Revelle College), but even it did not classically train me, though it came close, forcing me to take calculus and physics as well as the humanities. I'm learning so much more now, as a homeschool mom, than I ever have before. And what's more, my learning is inspiring me!

When my older son saw me so absorbed with Jane Eyre earlier this week, he commented, "Maybe I should read that book. It must be good if you love it this much."

If you've been wanting to homeschool and your husband is resistant, I highly recommend DeMille's book to inspire you and your husband toward what could be (even as inspiration to supplement your child's public education). Despite DeMille's questionable credentials, he's hit on something good here, along with John Taylor Gatto's (Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling of America). Gatto's is a well-researched, well-written book.

Dumbing Us Down Overview: With over 70,000 copies of the first edition in print, this radical treatise on public education has been a New Society Publishers’ bestseller for 10 years! Thirty years in New York City’s public schools led John Gatto to the sad conclusion that compulsory schooling does little but teach young people to follow orders like cogs in an industrial machine. This second edition describes the wide-spread impact of the book and Gatto’s "guerrilla teaching."

John Gatto has been a teacher for 30 years and is a recipient of the New York State Teacher of the Year award. His other titles include A Different Kind of Teacher (Berkeley Hills Books, 2001) and The Underground History of American Education (Oxford Village Press, 2000).

How would you evaluate your own education? Did it train you to think, and were you inspired toward life-long learning?

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