Jefferson’s Plan for Education

by | Feb 7, 2021 | Articles, Legislative

by John Carey, CHEWV’s Legislative Liaison

Consider this startling quote from Thomas Jefferson, author of West Virginia’s Religious Freedom Clause:

It is better to tolerate the rare instance of a parent refusing to let his child be educated, than to shock the common feelings and ideas by the forcible transportation and education of the infant against the will of the father.

Let that sink in.

In Notes on the State of Virginia (1781), Jefferson summarized his educational plan as follows:

This bill proposes to lay off every county into small districts of five or six miles square, called hundreds, and in each of them to establish a school for teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic . . .

While Jefferson’s bill to create common schools (now called public schools) was not popular in the Virginia Assembly, many historians claim it as evidence of his support for the common school movement that took off during the late 1830s under the leadership of Horace Mann. However, Jefferson’s vision for public school was quite different than Mann’s.

Jefferson’s plan called for a highly decentralized system in which these “districts of five or six miles square” would establish and control their own schools. He did not want a state government to “take this business [of elementary education] into its own hands.”

To suppose that schools would be better managed by “any authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward,” he added, “is a belief against all experience.” Clearly, Jefferson believed that parents, not governments, should control the education of their own children.

Jefferson also warned of the consequences of usurping parental control of education:

What has destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government which has ever existed under the sun? The generalizing and concentrating all cares and powers into one body . . .

Jefferson also questioned society’s responsibility toward children. He wrote,

A question of some doubt might be raised…as to the rights and duties of society towards its members, infant and adult. Is it a right or a duty in society to take care of their infant Members in opposition to the will of the parent? How far does this right and duty extend? — to guard the life of the infant, his property, his instruction, his morals?

In Jefferson’s view, “It is better to tolerate the rare instance of a parent refusing to let his child be educated, than to shock the common feelings and ideas by the forcible transportation and education of the infant against the will of the father.”

Clearly Jefferson would be a strong supporter of homeschooling. He understood the preeminence of parents in the life of a child. This is reflected both in his support for Religious Liberty and Parental Rights.

We live in a time when the individual is seen as “the problem” that requires regulation. Consequently, legislators are encouraged to pass laws that takes away individual liberty. Instead, let us retain the founders’ vision for this country – one that respects the parents’ right to choose what is best for the children they treasure and love.

On Wednesday, February 10th, the West Virginia Regular Session will convene and then continue its 60 days — until Saturday, April 10th at midnight. CHEWV will be working with HSLDA to ensure that homeschooling freedoms are protected. From all indications, this session will move very quickly from the first strike of the gavel.

Click here to view the West Virginia Senate and House Districts. Then click on the map to connect with your legislator via email or phone.

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