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A Thomas Jefferson Education: Part Two – Three Types of Schooling

thomasjeffersoneducationmediumC H A P T E R  


Three Systems of Schooling

“Teaching, like farming and healing, is a cooperative art. Understanding this, Comenius in The Great Didactic again and again compares the cultivation of the mind with the cultivation of the field; so, too, Plato compares the teacher’s art with the physician’s.”

“…only when teachers realize that the principal cause of learning that occurs in a student is the activity of the student’s own mind do they assume the role of cooperative artists. While the activity of the learner’s mind is the principal cause of all learning, it is not the sole cause. Here the teacher steps in as a secondary and cooperative cause.”

“Like the farmer and the physician, the teacher must be sensitive to the natural process that his art should help bring to its fullest fruition—the natural process of learning. It is the nature of human learning that determines the strategy and tactics of teaching.” —Mortimer J. Adler

On the first day of school, the little boy waved to his mother and turned to run down the bright hallway to class. His teacher smiled and pointed out his desk. “This is going to be great,” he thought. “I love to learn new things.” After a few fun stories, the teacher handed out crayons and paper and announced that it was time to draw a picture. The little boy enthusiastically  grabbed the crayons and began to imagine all the things he could draw: mountains, lakes, airplanes, his family, his dog, the ocean, the stars at night…Hundreds of ideas raced through his creative little mind. His teacher, seeing that he had started drawing, stopped him and said that today the class would be drawing flowers. The boy’s mind again ran wild: daisies, daffodils, roses, carnations, violets, lilacs, pansies, mixed bouquets, green gardens full of rainbows of colors…

pink_flower-1969pxThe teacher again interrupted, informing the class that today they would be drawing a certain kind of flower. Taking colored chalk, the teacher went to the board and drew a green stem, with two leaves, and four identical pink petals. The little boy, eager to please, dutifully copied her drawing. After several attempts, his drawing looked exactly like hers. The teacher congratulated him for doing such good work.

As the school year passed, the little boy became a very good student; he learned to listen, obey instructions and get the right answers on tests. His parents were very proud of him, and his teacher was impressed with his excellent progress. When the next school year arrived, the boy had done so well in his classes that he was enrolled in an accelerated program. During the first week of class, the teacher handed out crayons and paper and announced that it was time to draw a picture. The little boy, still in love with art, enthusiastically picked up his crayons and waited for instructions.

After several minutes the teacher noticed that the little boy wasn’t drawing. “Why haven’t you started?” she asked. “Don’t you like to draw?” “I love to draw,” responded the little boy, “but I was waiting for you to tell us what the assignment is.” “Just draw whatever you want,” the teacher smiled and left the little boy to his creativity. The little boy sat for a long time, watching the minutes tick off the clock and wondering what he should draw. Nothing came to mind.

Finally, in a burst of creative inspiration, he picked up his crayons and began to draw: A green stem, with two leaves, and four identical pink petals.

The story is indicative of an entire generation of American education, which has been called “the cloning of the American mind.” Fortunately, the tragedy is not complete because many parents across the nation are reaffirming their role in educating their children.


The Coming Renaissance in Education

A renaissance is coming to American education, and frankly home schoolers are uniquely positioned to take advantage of it. All parents can do it, regardless of the geography of their children’s learning environment, by emphasizing the highest levels of quality and excellence and settling for nothing less in the education

of their children. In history, and today, there are three major types of schooling:

1 Conveyor Belt education, which tries to prepare everyone for a job, any job, by teaching them what to think. This includes rudimentary skills designed to fit them to function in society. Most public schools are conveyor belt schools, though there are many excellent teachers in the public system who use leadership methods.

2 Professional education—from apprenticeship and trade schools to law, medical and MBA programs—which creates specialists by teaching them when to think.

3 Leadership education, which I call “Thomas Jefferson Education,” teaches students how to think and prepares them to be leaders in their homes and communities, entrepreneurs in business, and statesmen in government.

Each of the three major educational systems has its own goals, methods and curricula, and each prepares its students for certain types of careers and lifestyles. Educators and parents at all levels benefit from understanding all three systems.

The Conveyor Belt System

Duncan YoungkidsHistorically the primary goal of public schools, the reason they were instituted, was to educate the poor so they could get a job and take their place in society. The middle class already had private schools and apprenticeships, and the wealthy were tutored at home. Successful nations in history have had professional schools and leadership education, which complement each other. In class societies, the middle classes have tended toward the professions while the aristocracy received leadership education.10 Of course, that left out the lower classes, so many nations established public schools to educate the poor. This always improved the nation— delinquency, poverty and enslavement were replaced with widespread literacy and functionality, with resulting increased prosperity and opportunity.

In addition to these considerable benefits of public schools, they often came with a down side. Consider two of the most successful cases: Eighteenth Century Germany, and Nineteenth Century Britain. Each instituted public schools to educate the poor, and the standard of living increased. But eventually the professional and leadership schools deteriorated because they simply couldn’t compete with free, government-subsidized schools.

In each case the educational system and later the governmental system collapsed or at least convulsed. The lesson seems to be that if you have all three systems working together, society benefits. But when nearly everyone is getting an education for the poor and hardly anyone is being trained as a leader, the whole nation suffers. Conveyor belts may have an important place in society, but it is essential that they don’t become a monopoly and that professional and leadership training schools are maintained.

The Professional System

businessmen-conveyor-belt-580x358The second type of education is the professional system. Private schools arose from the apprenticeship tradition of training youth for specific trades or professions. From kindergarten through the twelfth grade, the purpose of prep schools is to get students into college or technical school; then it is to get them into a trade or law school, CPA or MBA program, medical school, etc.

This is done by teaching them when to think. The law student is trained to handle legal issues, the medical student to effectively handle a medical situation, the manager a business concern. Such students are trained to be creative, to pull together information and use it to make decisions and marshal the talents and resources under their stewardship. Their specialized knowledge makes them valuable as experts in their field, and an important part of an interdependent system where other experts tell them when their knowledge is to be applied and what to do outside the scope of their expertise.

The professional system does what it’s designed to do—create expertise. And if you need a doctor, a lawyer or a manager for your business, you are glad they are well prepared. The professional system has been very effective in achieving its goals, but it is not a substitute for leadership training.


The Leadership System


The third educational system is leadership preparation, which has three primary goals. First, its purpose is to train thinkers, leaders, entrepreneurs and statesmen—individuals with the character, competence and capacity to do the right thing and do it well in business, government, church, school, family, entertainment, research and other organizations.

The second goal is to perpetuate freedom, to prepare people who know what freedom is, what is required to maintain it, and who exert the will to do what is required. These two goals are accomplished by the third: teaching students how to think. Those who know how to think are able to lead effectively and are able to help society remain free and prosperous. Those who know only what to think or when, no matter how valuable their contributions to society, are not capable of maintaining freedom or leading us to real progress without additional leadership skills.

The success and perpetuity of our “American way of life” depend upon leadership education. Leadership education can be found in certain public school classrooms, a few private and charter schools, and many home schools. Of course, there are conveyor belt home schools just as there are leadership public classrooms. Unfortunately, many home schools are considered inferior by other schools; and the antipathy and relative contempt seem to be mutual in most cases.

outIn truth, there are high quality public schools, private schools and home schools, just as there are mediocre and poor ones. The key is for parents to find the best education possible for their children and implement it. Parents should choose the school that offers the best educational opportunity for their child. Despite current stigmas, homeschool is one legitimate option.

Homeschooling has a long and successful tradition. Actually, it has two traditions: first, the very wealthy have always educated their children at home, some through professional tutors and others with the parents as mentors; and second, many of the greatest thinkers, leaders, statesmen, entrepreneurs, scientists and artists of history were self-educated.

Wherever the student sits to study, at public or private school, or at home, leadership education is based on several powerful traditions: student-driven learning, great teachers, mentors, classics, and hard work. Together these form the tradition of leadership education, what I call Thomas Jefferson Education, a tradition which is sorely needed in modern America.

I am firmly convinced that Thomas Jefferson Education is the direction education must, and will, take in the coming decades. Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying, “The philosophy of the schoolroom in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.”11 This thought has brought me much hope as I have seen the future in the faces of thousands of parents and teachers I have spoken with across the nation.

I have been so impressed with the parents, public and private school teachers, college and university professors, and a few excellent private and charter schools that are applying the principles of Thomas Jefferson Education. Wherever the elements of Jefferson Education are present, parents and teachers nearly all have in common courage, energy and dedication. The future is in good hands with their children and students at the helm.

1,000 Oaks LeadersFACE TO FACE WITH GREATNESS SEMINARS (FTF) have supported over 300 communities with their two-day TJed seminar since 2001. If you want to know more about Dr. Brooks and Face To Face With Greatness Seminars, call 435 590 1661 or email

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