Thomas Jefferson

Today we reviewed a history of South Carolina and the education system as a whole. As with everything done by TFA, there was an appropriately branded PowerPoint to accompany the morning’s activity. To kick off our discussion of America’s public education system, they displayed a few quotes by Thomas Jefferson. I have a love of the University of Virginia and its architecture, so TJ has a special place in my heart. 

What was displayed on the screen was as follows (okay I think I don’t have photographic memory)- Thomas Jefferson believed in a two-tier education system, separating “the laboring and the learned,” so that, “the geniuses can be raked from the rubbish.” Then, as with everything done by TFA, they asked us to Think Pair Share. Think about what how it makes you feel, pair up with a neighbor to talk about it, then a few people will share out their reactions to the group. As you can imagine, the group was outraged. How dare we as a society revere who had such discriminatory beliefs. This is the fault of the our education system- this is what it was founded on! One girl took the microphone and called him out: “Thomas Jefferson is a dick.”

I, however, refused to give up on my Monticello main man. So I did some googling. Let’s evaluate a few other quotes of Jefferson’s.

“A system of general instruction, which shall reach every description of our citizens from the richest to the poorest, as it was the earliest, so will it be the latest of all the public concerns in which I shall permit myself to take an interest.” TJ, 1818

“It is highly interesting to our country, and it is the duty of its functionaries, to provide that every citizen in it should receive an education proportion to the condition and pursuits of his life.” TJ, 1814

There’s more too. 

Okay, so I know Thomas Jefferson wasn’t perfect. He was probably an elitist, sexist, and/or racist asshole. He probably was a dick. However, as someone else so eloquently shared out, why are we, in 2014, taking what someone said TWO HUNDRED years ago, and evaluating it like he said it yesterday? That is what’s wrong with our education system. We take words out of context in order to manipulate perspectives. We look at history with a modern lens and make judgements. Like calling Thomas Jefferson a dick based on four words on a PowerPoint. 


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