Thomas Jefferson's Views on Education

Thomas Jefferson's Views on Education
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  • 0:01 Meet Thomas Jefferson
  • 2:14 Jefferson's Views
  • 7:57 Why Is Jefferson Relevant?
  • 9:09 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adam Jordan

Adam is a special educator with a Ph.D. in Education

You probably know that Thomas Jefferson was a founding father, the drafter of the Declaration of Independence, and the third president of the United States. However, did you know Jefferson also had a great impact on education? In this lesson, we will take a look at how his views impacted American education.

Meet Thomas Jefferson

You probably know that Thomas Jefferson was a founding father, the drafter of the Declaration of Independence, and the third president of the United States. However, did you know Jefferson also had a great impact on education? In this lesson, we will take a look at how his views impacted American education.

Thomas Jefferson - the name probably brings an image to your mind. Jefferson is one of the most famous men in American history. He drafted the Declaration of Independence and served as the third president of the United States. He is often quoted and usually admired. His face is on the nickel and the two-dollar bill. In short, Thomas Jefferson is a big deal. He's an important man.

He was born on April 13, 1743, and lived until July 4, 1826. He served as president of the United States from 1801 until 1809. He was the governor of Virginia, a lawyer, an inventor, and a planter. He authored numerous works, most of which are focused on expressing his views of how to strengthen the American government and to put the power in the hands of the people.

Entire college courses are devoted to understanding Thomas Jefferson as a man, a philosopher, and a statesman. The purpose of this video is not to unpack all of those intricate details. The purpose of this video is to highlight Jefferson's views on public education. Most people do not know that Jefferson had strong views on the topic, but some credit Jefferson as being a pioneer in the field. Let's take a look at some of the most important aspects of Jefferson's views.

Jefferson's Views

Thomas Jefferson's views on education were in many ways provocative for his time period. To be clear, these views were at least provocative enough that he was never very successful at shaping legislation regarding education. Of course, the reasons behind this unsuccessful endeavor are complicated and beyond the scope of this lesson. Just because he wasn't successful in passing legislation regarding education, doesn't mean his views have not had a profound impact on school governance.

If we were attempting to briefly summarize Jefferson's views on education, it would suffice to say that his views on education mirrored his views on the role of government in the United States. Now, let's unpack that a little.

Many of Jefferson's views on education were best explained in two particular pieces of work: one drafted in his early career and one drafted after his retirement from public service. In 1781, Jefferson wrote the only full-length book that he would publish in his lifetime. The book was called Notes on the State of Virginia.

Notes on the State of Virginia was a response to questions regarding Virginia that were asked of him by the Secretary of the French delegation in Philadelphia. It covered a vast array of questions on numerous topics, one of which being education. In Notes, as it is often referred to, Jefferson outlined the fundamental root of his educational views. While his views were numerous and complex, it is possible to summarize his ideas in three main points.

First, for Jefferson, it was absolutely essential that education not be an institution that is overly governed, but rather an institution that is locally controlled by the people of an area. Jefferson knew that the last thing the American people wanted was a government that bossed them around. He knew that free people deserved control over one of the most fundamental human rights - the right to education.

Second, Jefferson believed that all children should receive at least three years of public-supported instruction in the areas of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Jefferson knew that in order for an individual to successfully move forward in any field, there was some fundamental and core knowledge that must be obtained. In fact, Jefferson was a proponent of a continued education, but given the agrarian nature of his time, particularly in Virginia, he also knew that wasn't practical for everyone. Still, as individuals progressed through the educational ranks, Jefferson placed incredible emphasis on the reading of history and other branches of the social sciences.

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