Jefferson and Public Education

The Steel Soapbox … Jefferson and Public Education

We have our public school system thanks to our forefathers… Thomas Jefferson in particular was an advocate of the system. He believed the natural rights of man should include being education since that was the crux to a nation not just limping along but growing into a great nation. In order to achieve this stature, Americans would need to be educated so they could select qualified leaders and push the government forward.

Jefferson saw that education, intelligence, and the internal well-being went hand in hand, a man well educated was a prime directive to enjoying life more than one uneducated, less intelligence. Thus the key to making America a great nation was education, not praising the uneducated but pushing for more education.

In 1779, he advocated for a three year period free education funded by tax-payers to be granted for all free-born children both male and female. For Virginia he proposed that every county in Virginia should provide an elementary school. (A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge)

Three years may not seem much today, but it was a major issue then, plus females were included.

Jefferson also understood that America would need both those in the professional realms and tradesmen (vocations) in order for a nation to go forward. He also strongly believed that both homemakers and men with vocational training needed to be educated to have the ability to be informed of current events, politics, and important issues that may arise, judge those item in a rational manner, and come to a fair and equitable conclusion. Thus giving back a decision that was right for all Americans not just themselves.

Think about that, this is a major idea…. that the common man was to have education that gave him the power to make decision that affected all. This was not taken lightly nor was it abused for the ‘me me me me’ attitude. This idea has come back again and again in America, most famously by Kennedy with his famous quote: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

In the recent election how many times did you see people say: I am voting for because I want, I need, I, I, me, me, me…… seems we have lost that idea of doing what is right for the whole in favor of ourselves.

Okay back on tract ….

In 1817 Jefferson reworded his proposal in an outline for Virginia. The outline was worked in three stages. Elementary school, where all children received those three years of schooling. After that time, females were to learn homemaking skills and the males to learn a vocation.

Intermediate schools where for those families with money could then continue to send their sons (no females allowed) that excelled at the elementary level. And then the university where of course parents paid.

These schools would teach the following: math, reading, writing, basic geography, and Western civilization history (Greek, Roman, European and of course American)

Here, it is of interest to stop and look at the reasoning for the history. Jefferson wrote:

“History by apprising them of the past will enable them to judge of the future; it will avail them of the experience of other times and other nations; it will qualify them as judges of the actions and designs of men; it will enable them to know ambition under every disguise it may assume; and knowing it, to defeat its views.” (Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia)

By knowing your history and how it affects you will make you a better judge of man and what events you need to participate in for the growth of the nation. This is important even today, for how many times have we seen in the recently history forgotten or attempt to revise with erroneous errors.

Unlike many who today scoff at education and speak how they love the uneducated, our forefathers who laid out this nation new the importance of this. It is through education that ignorance is defeated, and ignorance breeds contempt and hate that destroys a nation, not builds it up.

Jefferson stressed that everyone needs the basic education, this concept is still important today, though the time period has increased to what we consider basic. Personally I would extend that 12 year span by 2 years preferably at a community college as a base education for all Americans. College tends to expand how one looks at the world and critically thinks. At one time these skills were incorporated into the 12 year schooling but the practice has been lost in recent years.

We are seeing a push today to include religion into public schools. Jefferson was strongly pushed for what he referred to as “separation of state and religion” in order to ensure freedom of religion.

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties. (January 1, 1802 letter by Thomas Jefferson, addressed to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut, and published in a Massachusetts newspaper

This idea is further enhanced by Article Six

“no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

Madison echoed the separation of state and religion in his journal entry of August 15, 1789:

“Mr. Madison said he apprehended the meaning of the words to be, that Congress should not establish a religion, and enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any manner contrary to their conscience. …” (House of Representatives, Amendments to the Constitution)

So what about the teaching of religion in schools… this is now where it becomes interesting.

“The first stage of this education being the schools of the hundreds, wherein the great mass of the people will receive their instruction, the principal foundations of future order will be laid here. Instead therefore of putting the Bible and Testament into the hands of the children, at an age when their judgments are not sufficiently matured for religious enquiries, their memories may here be stored with the most useful facts from Grecian, Roman, European and American history.” (Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia)

Thomas Jefferson pushed for facts over the Bible for students, leaving their religious education for later in life and with their own institutions. He praises science and history over the Bible for basic education…. That is truly amazing considering the era.
He goes on to state:

“The first elements of morality too may be instilled into their minds; such as, when further developed as their judgments advance in strength, may teach them how to work out their own greatest happiness, by shewing them that it does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed them, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits.”

For Jefferson the morality learned from history will strengthen their own life’s happiness factor, i.e. education and intelligence far outweighs the uneducated. Again think on this… incredible the thought and progressive thoughts.

Thus education was important to Jefferson for all therefore a public school system, one we should be holding at higher standards today.

So what has gone wrong… why are we now seeing education as bad, smart people as evil, intelligence as a mockery, academia ridiculed, and any though beyond what is to be controlled a danger… what has happened to the educational push in America and why are we stepping back, going back never equals greatness only ignorance and control.

And just for a nice ending.. how did Jefferson see others than his own white heritage as to speak? Well here is one example…
Jefferson had a radically idea back then to restructure the College of William and Mary from the religious direction of missionary indoctrination of the Native American populations and instead instruct the missionary to follow along secular lines to obtain anthropological data… shocking…

“The said Professors shall likewise appoint, from time to time, a missionary, of approved veracity, to the several tribes of Indians, whose business shall be to investigate their laws, customs, religions, traditions, and more particularly their languages, constructing grammars thereof, as well as may be, and copious vocabularies, and, on oath, to communicate, [from time to time to the said president and professors the materials he collects to be by them laid up and preserved in their library, for which trouble the said missionary shall be allowed a salary at the discretion of the visitors out of the revenues of the college.” (A Bill for Amending the Constitution of the College of William and Mary, and Substituting More Certain Revenues for Its Support)

Our forefathers may not have been perfect, our government may not be perfect… however we can work on those imperfection not by hiding our eyes to where we are today, how certain ideas have been allowed to fester ….. We need to make sure our great experiment does not fail in the next 4 years by staying vigilance and opposing control, regression, hate, and supremacy ideologies


Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists The Final Letter, as Sent
Epilogue: Securing the Republic (Chapter 18 Thomas Jefferson,

Notes on the State of Virginia, Queries 14 AND 19, 146–49, 164—65)…/documents/v1ch18s16.html

House of Representatives, Amendments to the Constitution 15, 17 , 20 Aug. 1789Annals 1:729–31, 755, 766…/do…/amendI_religions53.html

A Bill for Amending the Constitution of the College of William and Mary, and Substituting More Certain Revenues for Its Support, 18 June 1779…/Jeff…/01-02-02-0132-0004-0080

About jasterling

One part of my life is in the science of anthropology and archaeology where I did comparative work. My other life that I am now pursuing is writing along the lines of fantasy/sci fi fictional writing as my one way to stay sane in this other insane world. Please enjoy the selections you will find in my blog.
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