Sunday, September 26, 2010

Thomas Jefferson Education . . . and Waldorf???

September 24 and 25, I attended a 2-day seminar on Thomas Jefferson Education, entitled "Face to Face with Greatness."

Why does a self-described Waldorf home educator attend a seminar of a differing philosophy?

In the past several years, I have been exploring and researching other approaches to home education. Sometimes, this begins in a superficial way, but often, it becomes deeper.

What I have found, especially through reading Climbing Parnassus, is that much of what I am drawn to are simply different branches of Classical Education. By tracing the entire history of education from ancient times through Climbing Parnassus, I was able to see what was going on in the world of education, the great debate of the times, when Rudolf Steiner came on the scene. Similar to Charlotte Mason, much of Steiner's work was a response to the "deadening" of classical education. In Steiner's case, however, there was also a sort of bridging between the two camps at the time: those who advocated for classical and those who advocated for an emphasis on technical education. Steiner included both a rich exposure to high level literature, poetry and the arts, as well as an appreciation and application of woodworking and other technical crafts. This had to do with his understanding of the three-fold social order and the realization that the classics are "good" for the laborer, and appreciation of the laborer's work is needed by the professional, in order to create a more harmonious social life for all.

While Thomas Jefferson Education (TJed) seems to be new on the scene, it is actually rooted in the larger body of education, known as Classical Education. Its principles are based on the way our Founding Fathers were educated, which was basically classical. There is also an emphasis on Mentors. Again, this emphasis is not unique to TJed; it is, however, highlighted, as the masses are typically no longer educated through classics or mentors. By definition, the mentor-student relationship is typically a one-on-one experience which allows the student to learn in a more in-depth manner.

So how is TJed alike or different from Waldorf. To begin with, TJed is not so much a method as it is an over-arching view of education. It teaches the parent/educator about the different types of education in the broadest sense: conveyor belt (the method most of us grew up with and that has been adopted in nearly all U.S. schools, public and private); "professional" -- similar to "conveyor" but geared toward the top students for the production of lawyers, doctors and other professionals. Like conveyor belt education, the emphasis is on the end-product: getting a "good" job. Then there is "leadership" education, which TJed calls itself: education that aims at creating great leaders, not unlike the Founding Fathers of our country.

To take it a step further, I would say that one of the points of TJed is that the education transforms the person. Yet, others might argue that any other form of Classical Education has the same emphasis. This may be true. However, no matter what the approach, philosophy or method, there is a constant danger that it becomes dead, or dry for the student and ends up being another form of "conveyor belt" education. Along the way, most parent educators are confronted with the fact that their previous experiences with education may or may not work for their children. They often find themselves imitating some form of conveyor belt education simply because that is what they know and are familiar with.

This can even happen to parents who choose Waldorf as their main inspiration for home education. If they have previously been associated with a Waldorf school, they already have a long list of ideas and expectations in their minds which they tend to constantly compare themselves to. So even if they are not trying to measure up to the local public school, they may constantly being trying to measure up to their local Waldorf school.

So how can a Waldorf homeschooler intertwine the high ideals of TJed with that of Waldorf in a meaningful and productive way? Look for my next article for a practical application of the two philosophies working in harmony, and bringing out the best of each, for a truly free-ing education.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Lost Tools of Writing, Lesson 1, Modules 2 & 3

The last two weeks we covered Lesson 1, Module 2 (Arrangement) and Module 3 (Elocution).

Overall, these were very basic lessons for most of the students. The lesson on Arrangement was a very basic outline with 3 Roman numerals: I. Introduction, II. Proof in 3 statements and III. Conclusion. The Introduction included the Thesis statement and the Exposition. Some of the students were already familiar with the term "Thesis statement," but Exposition was new to all of them.

Then this past week, we simply converted the outline into an essay -- a very short, very boring, very repetitive essay! For some, this may have seemed boring and "too easy." For a few, it was a new process. However, they all needed to learn to do this in a very basic way. Subsequent lessons will build on this foundation.

Since we are a Waldorf-inspired group, I added in to our lessons an opening verse and a closing verse for each class meeting. We also finished reading the story of St. George, the Patron Saint of England, as we are soon approaching Michaelmas Day. Most of the students knew the story of St. George & the Dragon -- but this was a longer tale which told of the many adventures and other stories of St. George. (Available at

Next week, we will begin Lesson 2's first module which will introduce some new thinking tools for the Canon of Invention.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

The Lost Tools of Writing -- Intro & Lesson 1

The journey has begun . . . last week we did the Introductory Lesson. All of the kids participated enthusiastically. The Introductory Lesson starts by asking the students to talk, tell about their many problems with writing -- any and all. Well, actually, we did a couple of other things before getting into the lesson: some introductions and we spent a bit of time talking about writing in general. I let them come up with ideas on why writing might be a good skill to learn. I wrote down all of their ideas on the board.

We also spent a bit of time talking about working together and the role of a mentor. I wanted to establish a relationship with the students in that manner, and make sure everyone was "on board."

Then we got down to the problems. Based on ancient Rhetoric, LToW has the instructor list the many problems on 3 separate sheets or boards -- of course, the instructor knows what the 3 main problems are. After the students have exhausted their list, you then have them look at the 3 boards to see if they can determine how the items on each are alike. What you arrive at are the 3 canons of writing: Invention, Arrangement and Elocution (yes, Rhetoric actually has 5 -- be we leave out Memory and Delivery as they belong to speaking).

This week, with Lesson 1, we began with Invention. The program is very incremental, leading the students step-by-step, first helping them to recognize that they make decisions every day and that writing is also a decision-making process. They learned how to turn a question into an "issue" -- essentially a 'yes or no' question. From there, we generated an ANI chart with Affirmative, Negative and Interesting columns. So all of the 'pro' reasons go in the A column, the 'against' in the N column, and anything interesting in the I column. We did this together; then they did it individually, and now they will do it at home on their own.

Next week, we will take the data from the ANI chart and work on the canon of Arrangement.