Friday, May 7, 2010

My Journey to Educational Eureka, Part IV

Part I, Part II , Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI

 I 'd like to highlight some of what I learned from A Thomas Jefferson Education, by Oliver DeMille.

"In crisis, leadership determines direction and our level of success-or failure. Unfortunately, in such times it is too late to prepare leaders.  They must be trained, educated, and gain the needed experience before crisis occurs.  Yet it is precise in the years and decades before crisis that peace and prosperity convince the world that such leadership is needed-making a living takes hold of society and material goals drive schools, teachers, parents and students alike.  Professional training and job skills are all that people seek from 'education', and the concept of leadership education is considered quaint, outdated, frivolous, or absurd."

The Thomas Jefferson style (based on Thomas Jefferson's own mentor-lead education from George Wyeth) is one that is based on the assumption that it is not possible for one human being to educate another.  Teachers teach and students educate.

TJE believes there is two types of teachers-mentors and classics. Both must be used to truly motivate the student to educate himself.  "All education boils down to two things: the student putting in the work to educate himself, and the teacher getting the students attention long enough and deeply enough to get him started and help him keep going."

He mentions how he was in college, but he knew he was not getting an education. He graduated, but realized he did not have a 'real' education.  I made the same realization at some point. Well, it was more a gradual realization for me.  I remember nothing from high school or college.  I knew, even then, that I was not learning anything. And I had a lousy memory, so even the short-term memorization necessary didn't work for me.  And I had a passion to understand.  I was relatively motivated to know and understand life.  I knew I'd never get by with memory, as I have NONE.  But if I could really, truly understand something, then I'd be ok. I remember answering questions in high school and simply looking through the text trying to find the same words.  I knew, I knew then, that I was not learning anything. But I had no idea how to learn.  Sadly, that didn't come to me until I was almost 30 years old (I'm 32 now).  And what an exciting thing it was for me to finally realize I could learn and understand and truly grasp. It just took time, caring and lots and lots of work.  But I'm willing to do that!  And so wish I had done more of it when I was young and had more time.  Rather then waiting until I was 30 with many more responsibilities and claims to my time.  But, I'm going to do it now, so my own kids can have that opportunity.  I'm so excited!  (Can you tell?)

DeMille discusses 3 types of education:

1.  Conveyor Belt Education: trying to prepare everyone to fit into society and find a job, and teaching them what to think.  Almost everyone in America today is getting this kind of education-which used to be reserved for those who simply had no other options.  

2.  Professional Education: from apprenticeship and trade schools to law, medical and MBA programs.  They create specialists by teaching them when to think. 

3.  Leadership Education: (TJE Education) which teaches students how to think, and to be leaders in their homes and communities, entrepreneurs in business, and statesmen in government.

Essentially, I want for myself and my children, a leadership education, followed by a professional education if any of us feels we want to pursue a specific role in society that needs specific training (i.e. to become a doctor, lawyer, engineer, etc.).

And why does that matter?  "The philosophy of the schoolroom in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next."  History does seem to teach that. 

His 7 Keys to Great Learning:

1.  Classics not textbooks
2.  Mentors, Not Professors
3.  Inspire, Not Require
4.  Structure Time, Not Content
5.  Quality, Not Conformity
6.  Simplicity, Not Complexity
7.  You, Not Them

I love it.  I can so relate to those keys.  Those are the very keys I found most useful in teaching my children simple things like their colors, potty-training, numbers and letters.  Everytime I got panicy and thought they were not learning fast enough, I'd start to try and push them.  It never worked.  Never!  But when I decided to just lead and let them follow at their pace, they have always learned, in their own time, what they needed to know.  But the key was for me to lead by example, provide a reason for them to want to learn, and have the information available for them to internalize when they were good and ready.  I never had to teach them again when they REALLY got it. If they had just memorized any of it, it failed when I most wanted to show it off.  :) But once they knew it, I knew they knew it, and breathed a big sigh of relief.

It just makes sense that such a logical way of learning should continue after 5 years of age instead of turning them loose into a 'classroom' to socialize and learn the way everyone else is expected to learn. 

I always wondered what made a book a 'classic', but never could get a clear answer from anyone.  He had some great thoughts on classics, as well as some lists in the back of 2 of the books.  But essentially, a classic is something that draws a person out of themselves, makes them really think and eventually want to be a better person, in a broad, moral sense.  I'll have to do a post with some of my current favorite classics-old and new.  The Bible is by far, the most important, classic, life-changing book in this family.  But, there are many, many other books that have guided me, and hopefully will guide my children over time as well.

The Five 'Environments' of Mentoring:

1.  Tutorial-a teacher and 1-5 students discussing something they have read.
2.  Group Discussion-Group Tutorials-6-30 students
3.  Lecture-should be used the least, but valuable when used appropriately.
4.  Testing-used to make sure the student really understands what he is learning. 
5.  Coaching-the coach stays on the sidelines, teaches, demonstrates, watches the student try and then responds.  The coach arranges appropriate field trips, lessons, etc.  (sounds a lot like a parent to me).

He gives a list of objectives for a good education:

~The ability to understand human nature and lead accordingly.
~The ability to identify needed personal traits and turn them into habits.
~The ability to establish, maintain and improve lasting relationships.
~The ability to keep one's life in proper balance. 
~The ability discern truth and error regardless of the source, or the delivery
~The ability to discern true from right.
~The ability and discipline to do right.
~The ability and discipline to constantly improve.

Come on, admit it.  It makes you want to scream and jump up and down and shout 'Eureka!'.  :)

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