A Jefferson-Styled Education

Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson


In my home state, and probably in yours, we often hear about the deplorable state of public education.

The cure always involves more money, either to shrink classroom size, to hike administrator’s salaries, to install a few extra computers, or to build shiny new buildings.

Some states even shovel some of that money back to the parents in order to force the public schools to “compete” for those same dollars.

But what if the real cure isn’t about money and gadgets and buildings?

In choosing a path for education and for life, Thomas Jefferson outlined a course of education for one Peter Carr over two centuries ago. His recommendations, by today’s standards, are remarkable.

In a letter from Paris dated August 19, 1785, he advised the young Peter to “begin a course of ancient history, reading everything in the original and not in translations.”

“First read Goldsmith’s history of Greece . [for] a digested view of that field . and then take up ancient history in the detail, reading the following books in the following order: Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophonti s Anabasis, Arrian, Quintus Curtius, Diodorus Siculus, Justin.”

“The next will be of Roman history”, says Jefferson [to include, Livy, Sallust, Cæsar, Cicero’s epistles, Suetonius, Tacitus, and Gibbon].

After laying that foundation, the youth should move on to a study modern history.

But this was not all. Greek and Latin poetry ought to be studied daily. “[Y]ou have read or will read at school, Virgil, Terence, Horace, Anacreon, Theocritus, Homer, Euripides, Sophocles”, Jefferson said. “Read also Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” Shakespeare, Ossian, Pope’s and Swift’s works, in order to form your style in your own language.”

A study of morality was part of the program, as well. “[Read] Epictetus, Xenophonti s Memorabilia; Plato’s Socratic dialogues, Cicero’s philosophies, Antoninus, and Seneca.”

And let’s not neglect the body.

“In order to assure a certain progress in this reading, consider what hours you have free from the school and the exercises of the school. Give about two of them, every day, to exercise; for health must not be sacrificed to learning. A strong body makes the mind strong.”

Early to bed, early to rise, was part of the above, as well as an additional half hour morning walk first thing in the morning to invigorate the mind and body for the day ahead.

From what we know about the Jeffersonian model of education, all of the above would be followed at the University level with a rigorous study of all useful sciences, the arts, attendance at religious seminaries (across the street from every campus), and after the university, a lifelong commitment to continuing education.

More importantly, was the purpose for all this learning.

One must apply knowledge to “the interests of . country . friends . and [self]-and in one way only;-that is, “with the purest integrity, [and] the most chaste honor.”

And listen to this:

“The defect of these virtues can never be made up by all the other acquirements of body and mind.”

“Make these, then, your first object. Give up money, give up fame, give up science, give the earth itself and all it contains, rather than do an immoral act.”

He wasn’t kidding. He continued.

“And never suppose, that in any possible situation, or under any circumstances, it is best for you to do a dishonorable thing, however slightly so it may appear to you.

“Whenever you are to do a thing, though it can never be known but to yourself, ask yourself how you would act were all the world looking at you, and act accordingly.”

If he did this, Jefferson promised the lad, no matter the perplexity, no matter the odds of success, the supposed Gordian knot would untie, and peace of mind would be “[his] in every moment of life, and in the moment of death.”

Could this be the cure to our modern educational crisis;-not gold, not gimmicks, not gadgets, but a need to return to the Jefferson styled classical education of old, an education in mind and in morals, that puts love of neighbor, country and personal integrity first? I suggest that it is.

Source: Thomas Jefferson. Letter to Peter Carr, August 19, 1785, written from Paris. Peter Carr was Jefferson’s nephew.

Steve FarrellSteve Farrell is the Founder and Editor In Chief of The Moral Liberal, one of the original pundits at NewsMax.com (1999-2008), and the author of the inspirational novel, Dark Rose.

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