November 5, 2011

What Is "A Thomas Jefferson Education"?

As LDS mothers who homeschool their children, chances are, most of the readers of this blog have at least heard the phrase "A Thomas Jefferson Education," (or "TJEd") if you haven't already been to a class on the subject, or read the book. This set of principles-- also called "Leadership Education"-- is not a curriculum. It is a method of using resources that best give individuals the kind of education the Founding Fathers of early America had. But I'll share more about that in a moment!

Before anyone dismisses this post as a TJEd promotion or plug, let me say that I have been involved in the homeschooling world for twelve years, and ten of those have been using the TJEd methodology. And in that time, I have heard many things, both good and bad, about TJEd. I don't sell any TJEd products or books. I am just a happy TJEd mom who is excited about what has been a blessing in my home!

As a person who has been using these ideas for a decade, I would like to share more about what TJEd looks like in MY home, clear up some misconceptions about what TJEd is and what it is not, and then share a bit about the events and people of the TJEd community.

So please, join me in this explanation with an open mind, and find out for yourself more about what TJEd REALLY is from a mom "who's been in the trenches" for many years. I love to share what I've learned!

What exactly is TJEd?

The book, "A Thomas Jefferson Education" written by Oliver DeMille
To quote from a TJEd website:
"A Thomas Jefferson Education is the title of the first of three books authored and co-authored by Dr. Oliver DeMille. In it, he describes the kind of education that created some of the greatest leaders in history—Thomas Jefferson being the quintessential example. The American founding fathers, as well as many other great men and women throughout history, were able to truly impact the world around them because they learned using this educational model. This philosophy of education, referred to as Thomas Jefferson Education (TJEd) has a number of key principles and characteristics..."
The book outlines many areas explaining more about these key principles and characteristics, but if you want a quick description, please visit this website or this website for the all the basics of TJEd.

To put it all quite simply, TJEd is just a way of utilizing many different styles of learning, all depending on what phase of education the child is in. (See the websites above to understand more about the phases.) Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Life of Fred, A Well-trained Mind and other curricula can be used in different phases and at different times. One TJEd mom shared how she uses TJEd phases in her home with this analogy: How does TJEd Compare?

TJEd in My Home

Early Years
In my homeschool, the children under eight (Core Phase) spend most of their time working on their chores, learning about the Gospel, playing learning games, exploring outside, and casually doing a few workbooks-- as long as they WANT to work on them. (I do not require academics at this age.) They do join in devotional time, and we work on unit-studies type projects together. 

One of the most important things we do together is to read aloud from the Classics. Even my very small children can understand and enjoy the great literature written through the ages. Their large vocabularies and excitement for great literature have inspired me to keep reading every day.

When my children are small they stay close to home, building family relationships. We choose not to do any outside lessons or sports at this age, though we do many things together as a family. This stage is where our children learn how to do chores as I work with them, instructing and helping them. 

Because very young children are so easily influenced at an early age, this is the time when Gospel and moral instruction and testimony building are paramount, in my opinion. Academics will come, but I try to use every second of these early years to instill solid understanding of right and wrong, good and bad, truth and falsehood. I also use this time to teach my children self-discipline and obedience. Once these principles are ingrained and understood, then their later learning will be more effective.
Learning Examples: Little ones join in scripture study, house cleaning, singing, reading aloud, drawing and art projects, making messes, exploring the outdoors, playing, running, etc..
Later Childhood

Somewhere around age eight (some kids are earlier, some are later), my children want and need a little bit more than just work, family, and play. This is when a child usually begs for help reading (if they haven't already picked it up by now) or pleads to go to the library. Their thirst for knowledge and information seems insatiable at this age! My biggest challenge during this time is to keep up with their interests and questions. They love learning and exploring, so I do all I can to facilitate their curiosity. 

In this stage of learning, THEY lead the way, and I let them follow their interests. Many of my children have been late readers, but it is during this time that they push themselves to read better so that they can learn about more difficult topics.

We keep reading together, they begin reading alone for long periods of time, and we continue with Unit Studies, Gospel instruction, and family work and play. At around age ten, if my child has a REAL interest in an extracurricular activity, and have a strong level of commitment to learning the subject, I allow them to take some kind of outside instruction. Not all of my children choose to do this, but some do.
Learning Examples: I have had children study insects, animals, ballet, warfare, physics, vehicles, art, drama, fairy tales, the ocean, plants, reading, geometry, and more on their own, and for short or extended periods of time.

Right about the time that puberty hits (so many times it happens LATER for boys!), an academic switch seems to go off in the mind of youth. They begin to understand complex issues and ideas they never could quite understand before. Their minds work differently, and because they still have a passion for learning, they push themselves to fill the gaps they find in their understanding and education.

This is a time when peers become more important, as youth want to see where they are in comparison to others their age. It is also a time when young men and women ask themselves the hard questions about what they've been taught by their parents, and examine for themselves what they believe. Obviously, spending time with other good teens who have been raised in righteous homes is of extreme importance during this stage.

As a teen scholar, youth spend many hours reading, writing, studying, and asking questions. Where I have strictly limited computer use for children under age 11 or so, I now allow my older children to use the computer as a tool for their in-depth study. They spend an hour or more each day filling in math gaps (I love the math portion of Khan Academy for this!), use the word processor for writing their papers and reports, and they are allowed to use the Internet for research.
Learning Examples: Some things my older kids have studied include Shakespeare, Botany, the Civil War, the Constitution of the U.S., sewing, baking, cooking, childbirth, computer programming, English Literature, Feudal Japan, medieval living, writing, music composition, poetry, homemaking, and child care.

The book "Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning" by Oliver and Rachel DeMille contains more specific details about the Phases of Education and the research that further clarifies childhood learning theories.

Misconceptions about TJEd

TJEd is not a curriculum, a checklist, or even a "classical method." It is a custom-built education that looks different for every child, even those in the same home. A popular phrase in TJEd circles is "YOU are the expert in your home!"

TJEd is working with the different childhood phases that naturally exist in the growing up experience. It is not the same as the Greek Classical education many follow-- at least not in every phase. (The teen scholar phase looks more like this than any other phase.)

TJEd is not an "exclusive club" that only seminar attendees and "insiders" can use in their homes. All the information on "how to do" TJEd is in the books above and on e-mail lists, websites, and TJEd groups.

At first, TJEd may seem strange and unusual to most people, simply because none of us public schooled students have seen this kind of education in our country for over a century! There is vast evidence of some of the greatest leaders in history being taught in this way. Some good examples besides Thomas Jefferson are Benjamin Franklin (See his autobiography), Thomas Edison, William Shakespeare, George Washington, and Nathaniel Bowditch.

As for being an "exclusive club," unfortunately, TJEd families do tend to exclusively associate with other TJEders, because of the basic fact that TJEd is such an unfamiliar way of educating in this modern age! Most who start implementing TJEd principles find it VERY difficult to withstand the impulses to teach as they were taught, and so constant encouragement and reinforcement is needed for the first few years, at the very least. As any homeschooler knows, it takes a very dedicated, strong person to go against the tide, and most of us are not there when we first learn and explore these educational ideas! No offense and unkindness should be taken when TJEd-ers stick together, though I'm sure there are some misunderstandings, and probably even some condescension, intended or not.

TJEd is NOT only for LDS families. I know many, MANY people of other faiths who actively use TJEd principles in their homes, and even teach classes at TJEd events, large and small. There are many LDS people who use TJEd, since there are many TJEd families in Utah, and so that is where it is easiest to find other TJEd homeschoolers.

The TJEd Community 

There are many TJEd resources online and in communities across North America.

Here are my favorite TJEd Internet resources:

To Use TJEd, or not to Use TJEd?

We have found that TJEd has been a perfect fit for OUR family. Of course, TJEd is not for everyone! But I think learning about what others are doing gives us the opportunity to ask questions and explore new ideas so that we can each find the right fit for our families and homes.

Thank you for letting me share what has been a blessing to my family and our educational goals. I wish you all the best in your own homeschooling efforts!

Rachel is the happy mother of eleven children between the ages of 17 and one year old. Now in her twelfth year of homeschooling, she continues to be an enthusiastic advocate for Thomas Jefferson Education principles and has spoken at several homeschool and TJEd conferences. She enjoys Shakespeare, designing and sewing Renaissance costumes, and both singing and reading with her family. She blogs at Thoughts From The Hearth and at Old Fashioned Motherhood .

7 comments - Add a comment below -:

Eme said...

I really enjoyed reading this article!! The TJEd model does seem to go against the grain. I had not thought of it like that. No wonder I long for fellow TJEd-ers, living far away from any homeschool families whatsoever. You give a great explanation of the early and youth phases, but it is not overly detailed and overwhelming! It just excites me with a feeling of support for what we do in my home. Thank you for communicating these thoughts and experiences!

Brooke said...

Thank you for this post. I have been corresponding with someone interested in homeschooling and suggested this book as one of the references. When I found out this post was up today, I let her know so she could check it out.

In our home we use a combination of TJEd and Charlotte Mason. I find that they complement each other nicely.

Tristan said...

It is always neat to read about other methods and you explained this one well enough for me - thanks! It's not what we use, but it's always good to see the possibilities.

Heather said...

Thank you for making this post about the positives and the truth of TJED unlike other recently posted, divisive opinions. I spent the last two days at F2F and I was again reminded of the truth that TJED is founded on.

Amanda said...

Thank you for your post! I have often wondered how to incorporate TJEd into our homeschool. I've been very attracted to its principles and I love the classics, but I found it difficult to avoid workbooks and other measurable sources as we have to report our progress each semester.

We often pull away from regular academics for our younger children, but then I feel guilty, like I've neglected their interests in math and science at a young age. I am also a product of the public school conveyor belt system so breaking from that mold has been difficult for me. I see other homeschooling families being so successful with workbooks and schedules and then I see how my family often moves away from our spiritual focus when we get caught up in our workbooks. Unfortunately, memorizing the Articles of Faith (by playing games) and extensive scripture study are the first things to go away when I feel we need to do more workbooks to show the state that we're progressing.

I visited your Consortium many times in my early homeschooling years looking for a specific plan to use for our home. As you've said, I am the expert in my home and I need to find what works for us, not specifically model our school based on exactly what other families do. Thanks again for the inspirational post...I feel an urge to explore TJEd again!

Amber said...

I guess it depends on what your ultimate goals for your child's education are. If you're aiming for college scholarships and excellence in measurable ways, then a more structured approach is probably what is needed. More direction over what the kids spend their time on is probably necessary in order to be sure they are ready for the more in depth subjects when the time comes. TJEDer's like to say that you just need to do what you think is best for your family-- but that often is different from what DeMille recommends, so then is it really TJED anymore?

Anyway, it's not all bad, but we should be very careful about adopting one methodology and excluding ourselves from other homeschoolers.

julie said...

For a counter perspetive on the Thomas Jefferson Education, you can visit this blog. I found it very interesting.