Thomas Jefferson and Education

August 21, 2006 @ 6:59 am | Filed under: ,

Scott’s birthday present to Rose was a surprise visit home for the weekend. Home! As in HERE! Which is to say: not California! All weekend! Here!

And now it’s Monday, and he has to go back, but let’snotthinkaboutthat.

On Saturday we decided to do some Virginia things we hadn’t gotten around to doing yet. One thing in particular, a place I would have felt really chagrined to leave this area without having visited: Monticello.

Like pretty much everyone I know, I’m awfully fond of Thomas Jefferson. Now, for me, I think the attachment was formed during childhood viewings of the musical 1776. (No WAY. Just  now when I looked up the IMDB link for this film, I discovered that Jefferson was played by well-known actor Ken Howard. I had no idea. He was so young! And red-haired!) What I chiefly took away from this film (which must have been on HBO, I watched it so many times) was that Thomas Jefferson was manipulated into writing the Declaration of Independence by a duet-singing John Adams and Ben Franklin; that Tom played the violin (a phrase I can only hear in melody and had to forcibly restrain myself from SINGING during the house tour on Saturday); and that he had a pretty wife who fell for him precisely because of that there violin-playing (which turned out to be a metaphor I totally didn’t get as a kid, fortunately).

The result of all this musical-comedy indoctrination is that I’ve always had in my mind an image of the young Jefferson, not the twinkling yet demanding esteemed-grandfather personage presented to us by our energetic tour guide at Monticello. The Monticello Jefferson (on the family tour, at least) is the doting gentleman who gave his granddaughter Cornelia six gray geese as a present for sending him a letter at the White House, the affectionate scholar who rewarded children with valuable books after they’d managed to read the books in question. Everything about our Monticello tour pointed to Jefferson’s love of education, his fascination with the arts and sciences, his determination to raise articulate and knowledgeable heirs.

There were unsettling incongruities—how can there not be, since this man who spoke out so passionately for liberty as a human right lived on a magnificent estate whose productivity depended on the labor of slaves—but the children’s tour did not delve into these. The slaves’ contribution was acknowledged matter-of-factly, at the beginning of the tour. (Tour Guide: "And how was all this beauty made possible? Who made it possible for Thomas Jefferson to live here in comfort?" Beanie: "GOD!" Tour Guide: "Um, well, yes, but…")

For the most part, though, the tour focused on the architectural details of the house and on Jefferson’s passion for learning. The kids were enchanted by the museum of Native American artifacts collected by Lewis and Clark (local heroes in these parts) and displayed by Jefferson in the entryway of his home. There’s a famous clock there, too, which Jane had read all about in some book or other and shared some interesting facts with the crowd, much to the tour guide’s amusement. (Tour guide: "You’ve certainly done YOUR homework!" Jane, blankly: "Homework?")

Some of the books on the shelves are Jefferson’s own copies: a Don Quixote in four volumes; many texts in Latin. I admit to some goose bumps as I peered through the protective glass to read the titles. I thought of little Cornelia standing on tiptoe to see the names inscribed on the leather covers of her grandpa’s books, wondering which of them she might one day earn for herself.

I could say a lot more, but we’ve got Scott for just a few more hours and I am ditching this computer posthaste. Instead of trying to be, you know, articulate and stuff, I’ll just leave you with some links on Thomas Jefferson education.
One-Sixteenth on TJE
George Wythe College bookstore
Dumb Ox Academy—TJE in a Nutshell

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7 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Love2learn Mom says:

    Interesting! One thing to consider about education past vs. present is that the wealthier classes of the past had the leisure for education because they had slaves to do their work. Today more ordinary people like us have those quantities of leisure available because of wonderful things like dishwashers and clothes dryers but we don’t value that wonderful “leisure” or fritter it away with TV and too many hours of formal school or whatever (and the vast quantities of formal schooling certainly help kill an interest in learning as something we live for). Somehow our idea of learning and such as something to be enjoyed has been lost – possibly because we’ve gotten confused about HOW MUCH WE HAVE TO GET DONE! (at least it feels that frantic in our culture today).

    I found it so interesting to talk to my friend Ana from Brazil this weekend. I learned from her that it is normal in Brazil and many other parts of the world to attend formal school classes for half a day and spend much more time with family (including that very important informal learning that is very motivating and helps people to see it as something to be valued and enjoyed).

  2. Jennifer says:

    LOVE 1776. That is such a fun movie. Sounds like a great weekend.

  3. Karla says:

    Hi Lissa,
    I wonder if you remember me? We emailed back and forth about Sonlight and all things Little House awhile back. (We “met” on the Sonlight forums.)

    How fun to discover your blog! Amazon actually led me to it… They have this new thing called a “Plog” (still not sure what that is…), but it had a post from you on it because I’ve bought some of your books on Amazon. So I went to the Bonny Glen site and found my way here.

    I loved hearing about your family’s visit to Monticello. Lewis & Clark are very popular around here, too. I think we’ve visited all the historical sites having to do with them within a 500-mile-radius! LOL!

    I’ve bookmarked your blog and will be “subscribing” to keep up!

    Karla C

  4. the piano teacher says:

    LOOOOOVE to read your blog and am so gald you have it so that I can keep up you and your family when the big day arrives! I have to LOL because Jane told me to visit here and read all about Tucumcari Mtn — how beautiful! And your blog sounds just like Jane at the beginning of her lessons! I always have to find a creative way to focus her attention on the keys in front of her … although it’s hard when she is so informative and entertaining at the same time!! I will miss your family so!
    Fondly –
    the piano teacher

    P.S. You can call on me for chocolate ANYTIME!!!

  5. Steve the LLamabutcher says:

    Sounds like you’ve got the grist for a new book….

  6. Angela, Mother Crone says:

    I am a Jefferson junkie as well. I think I even embrace him more because of his complexities, as they allow him to be human amongst his brilliance! I haven’t been to Monticello in 20 years, and plan on taking the kids as we work our way through the historic sites of the East Coast (this year is Boston!). My son wants to go to either UVA or William & Mary, as an American History major, so I imagine I will become old hat! Have you been to Mount Vernon in the fall? Don’t miss that either!

  7. Jane says:

    Umm, Mommy? “that Tom played the violin (a phrase I can only HERE in melody…” Here? That’s hear, as far as I know. 😉