Thomas Jefferson - Leader of Education

Thomas Jefferson was, quite simply, a visionary.

A pioneer and one of the most incredible men in America’s history. I have written extensively on how much he valued separating government and religion. He was clear that religion should play no part in government and it is well known how much he was influenced by Thomas Paine. However there is a lot more to Jefferson, as he continues to be seen throughout the globe as a figurehead for people who seek independence and freedom.

Jefferson was born during the Enlightenment era (the Age of Reason), a movement that started in Europe where many academics were trying to influence society to value reason and knowledge. This had a significant impact on Jefferson who would go to own between 9,000 and 10,000 books. Right from his youth, Jefferson was obsessed with books and particularly he enjoyed natural science (Darwin & Newton) but also loved poetry from Shakespeare and Homer. It is understood he could discuss his ideas in English, Greek, Latin, Greek , Spanish and French.

There is no doubt that this amount of reading and knowledge played a huge role in him being one of America’s founding fathers. An avid writer, there is much we can still learn from Jefferson.

Jefferson was clear in that people needed to think freely and have a real respect for science. Should they have this, then humanity can improve hugely through education. He fought for free public education so that children could receive basic knowledge and literacy, and wanted people to seek higher education on their talents rather than their wealth. An example of this can be seen from his commitment to education as after he left his presidency, he founded the University of Virginia. Although, there would be few to disagree with the above in today’s society, at the time it was seen as radical. The concept of pushing forward educated logical ideas over religious ones left many infuriated. We could argue that still today there are many parts of America and the world where this would anger people. He believed that it was through education and learning that you can truly advance yourself as an individual and this can be seen through his actions.

The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom drafted by Jefferson played a massive role in not just basic freedom for all religions but also made a huge impact on education. The statute dissolved much of Church of England in Virginia and guaranteed freedom of religion to people of all religious faiths. It was incorporated into the U.S. Constitution by James Madison. Jefferson felt outraged that in England you couldn’t attend Oxford or Cambridge if you weren’t Christian (more specifically Episcopalian). He believed that government should play no part in such matters.

He defined the school system in three stages with the first elementary/primary schools where children would learn how to read and write. The schools would be built across Virginia and would be paid for by the people who live in each area. The next step would colleges (high/secondary schools today) followed by university. Here, students with ability and talent could receive education that would produce lawyers, doctors and future leaders.

Almost every modern university is inspired by Thomas Jefferson. Prior to this university, curriculums were focused so that students would attend class and would recite what they have remembered. Jefferson believed that students should instead pick what they want to learn and deemed interesting. Instead of reciting their memory, students should show their knowledge in the form of essays. Every post-secondary school currently in America and many countries across the world resemble the core principles listed by Jefferson. In retirement he spent much of his time focused on education in Virginia as he believed the idea of government depended on citizens being able to make intelligent decisions.

Thomas Jefferson spent a huge amount of time writing letters with plans to publish his entire collection starting in 1943 and is expected to be completed around 2026. Here we can see how he became friends with John Adams (the second president of the United States), when they had been enemies for some time.

His core principles of liberty, democracy, universal education, enterprise, limited and decentralised government and property set out America as an example to the world. Many of today’s political issues can be answered by understanding the path Jefferson set for America two centuries ago.

by Sunil Sharma

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