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Jefferson’s Blog

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Thomas Jefferson writes on the issues of his day, and ours.

April 12, 2012

Do American schools produce well-rounded people?

“Be assiduous in learning, take much exercise for your health, and practice much virtue. Health, learning and virtue will ensure your happiness; they will give you a quiet conscience, private esteem, and public honor.”

–Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr, 1788

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  1. I suppose the question we’re pushed to is really “Do schools teach health and virtue.” The answer is no, but the real question is, why should they? The government can not tell us how to eat or act.

  2. We all agree that kids need basic proficiency in math, history, and literacy. How is health and social courtesy any less important?

  3. Unfortunately, if today’s schools are to be analyzed using a traditional Jeffersonian model, the sad reality in an answer is no. Today’s schools are designed for the acquisition of knowledge rather than the development of the analytical and problem solving skills necessary for twenty-first century succcess.
    The most disturbing development, though, is our emphasis on science and technology (STEM). While Mr. Jefferson would delight in the promotion of scientific discovery, I feel certain that he would be appalled at the near abandonment of history, government, and economics instruction. When was the last time you heard of a school promoting civics education?
    A nation which does not understand its own history is destined to repeat it. As a scholar of ancient civilizations, Mr. Jefferson understood this completely. He would be very disappointed in our efforts in this arena.

  4. Today’s public education institution exemplifies not the best, but among the worst of government programs this nation offers. You parents, when was the last time your high school child spent 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 4 continuous weeks in school being formally educated. Not sports, not plays, not clubs, not band, orchestra, or other after (before) school activities but in a formal classroom setting? First and foremost, education takes time.
    Further, public education must cease its pursuit of the well rounded individual education and rather focus on structured learning programs; the sciences, english, history, civics, economics, culture. Do not presume that my focus is too restrictive. Rather, the educational system should strive to teach learning while it impresses the fundamentals. Too many subjects mean that our children learn nothing; only a jumble of half finished thoughts without connection that provides no foundation for living and thinking. Focus on the fundamentals by rote, while teaching the underlying basis of the fundamentals and how the disciplines intertwine and interact.


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