Jefferson Education the Influence of Research Paper

  • Length: 15 pages
  • Sources: 15
  • Subject: American History
  • Type: Research Paper
  • Paper: #19038120

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5-8). This demonstrates that while Jefferson highly prized his collection of books and his ownership of them, he also did not see education and access to it as a luxury afforded to the rich, or as a means of demonstrating wealth.

Early Adulthood

Following the death of his father, Thomas Jefferson was left the large estate on which he was born, and would eventually build his famous house Monticello on the same grounds (Hayes 2008; Schouler 2005; Malone 1986, pp. 11). There was a lot of life he had ahead of him before his grand estate was completed, however, and a great deal of education ahead of him as well. His upbringing to this point had provided him with a solid grounding as well as the beginnings of the philosophy towards education that would continue to develop and come to light for the rest of his life; the next stage in his life would solidify this philosophy.

Immediately following the death of his father, Thomas Jefferson ended his tutelage with the Scottish-born Mr. Douglas, who was not a "correct classical scholar" in the young man's estimation, and he took up studies with a Mr. Maury to perfect his Latin and truly learn Greek, as well as engage in the study of various other topics of interest (Jefferson 1821, par. 3). He continued his studies with Mr. Maury for two more years, and in the spring of 1760, after a holiday season spent rather frivolously travelling to various friend's homes -- a time when he first met Patrick Henry, who like Jefferson would grow into a famed Virginian statesman and an impassioned and radical orator on the topic of American independence -- he entered William and Mary College where he would study for another two years (Jefferson 1821, par. 3; Parton 1874, pp. 13). This marked the completion of Jefferson's formal schooling, which would have been quite considerably more than the standard education received in the required years of education in today's world, and was hugely more than the average person and even many of the higher classes received in Jefferson's own day.

Unfortunately, a fire in 1770 destroyed Jefferson's library at the Shadwell home where he was born and where he and other family members still made their home at the time, and any correspondence that had been saved by Jefferson from this period was either destroyed in this fire or deliberately destructed at another time (Brodie 1974, pp. 51). For this reason, very few details are known about Jefferson or the formative events of his life in this period. It is safe to assume that he did well in his studies, however, and he certainly wasted little time putting his education to use.

Immediately after leaving William and Mary College, he began an apprenticeship with George Wythe, a Virginian jurist that had been one of Jefferson's teachers and a key mentor of the young man during his time at the college (Bordie 1974, pp. 61). Though his formal education was finished, this was a time of intensive learning for Jefferson, and in fact he studied law under his mentor for five years -- far longer than most peopled studied law in those days (Brodie 1974, pp. 61). It is during this period that Jefferson and others that knew him recalled his voracious appetite for reading developing, and while he did not really express a great deal of enjoyment for either the study or the practice of law at any point in his life -- though he would work as a lawyer for seven years after completing his apprenticeship before giving up his practice to become a politician and statesman -- he certainly developed an appreciation for having a great quantity of books at his disposal, and from this point onward he was seldom anywhere without several in his immediate possession (McLaughin 1988, pp. 47; Malone 1986). Along with gardening and music, reading of any sort so long as the material were of a certain caliber became Jefferson's great passion (Brodie 1974).

The breadth of his interests and the voracity with which he approached them all gives very clear insight into Jefferson's views on education. For him personally, the ability to go on learning was as essential as air, yet he devoted himself to agricultural pursuits, music, and problems of engineering and the sciences with a zeal equal to his direct book learning (Hayes 2008). Jefferson was the true Renaissance man of the Revolution.

The importance of this variety of activities and areas of learning in Jefferson's personal life would extend to his philosophies on education during his years as a statesman, and though they would not all directly be noted in his educational policies they certainly influenced his philosophy on the subject. Even more important, perhaps, was the availability of this breadth of learning and knowledge; Jefferson could not have escaped the fact that he was extraordinarily privileged to have access to the amount of books, the quality of instructor, and the sheer time involved in his pursuit of learning when compared to the average man of his day. While there are no writings from the time to confirm this conjecture, it seems quite likely that given his position of advantage and his evidenced need for learning that he quickly came to abhor the notion that such learning was not possible at all levels of society, and that many with minds as eager as his must be suffocated by practical restraints against their pursuit of education and learning in a similar fashion.

Political Career: Part I

Though only working as a lawyer for a relatively brief period, Thomas Jefferson's knowledge of the law and the workings of the legal system were never in any question due both to his years of study and the expertise and aptitude he demonstrated while practicing (Malone 1986). This reputation, not to mention his family's high standing amongst Virginian gentry and the fact that he was friends and/or relatives with the majority of the other aristocratic families, made it easy for him to transition into politics while still in his early thirties.

Before the American Revolution and the idea of a national government had even really been fully conceived, Jefferson began his political career in the only place that such a career could really exist: in the various positions that existed in the government of the colony of Virginia. He served as the first governor of the colony after it had gained its independence along with the other colonies that had been party to the Revolutionary War, but during the years that intervened between his election to the governorship in 1779 and the end of his legal practice in 1774 (and actually starting somewhat before he officially took down his shingle as a practicing lawyer) he served as a magistrate in his home region of Virginia, a county supervisor in the same region, and as a member in the House of Burgesses -- Virginia's legislature -- also representing his home community (Malone 1986). Jefferson is one of very few Americans, even in his day and age, that could boast of having been born, lived most of his life, and eventually died on the same basic piece of property (Parton 1874, pp. 3).

Though little direct action was taken by Jefferson in regards to instituting a system of public education in the colony of Virginia during his various pre-Revolutionary positions there -- such action was not really under the purview of the offices he held -- there is evidence of his views on education in certain documents published later. His "Notes on the State of Virginia," for example, though published in 1781-2, demonstrate that his ruminations on education in this state began when it was still a colony. There is obvious dismay in his tone when he notes the William and Mary College is the only institution of higher learning in the state, and that its service to schoolchildren in Latin and Greek rendered it undesirable to many older students hoping to attend programs in mathematics or the sciences (Jefferson 1781-2).

Jefferson published this at a time when the newly independent State of Virginia was actually capable of instituting a system of public education, and he quite explicitly argues for at least an expansion of the educational offerings at William and Mary College. Yet although he did not push for this expansion in surviving writings until his service as governor of the state had commenced, this document clearly implies that his thoughts regarding the lack of available education in the state began to form in his own years of attendance at the college and even more so during his time in the government of the colony (Jefferson 1781-2). William and Mary College still primarily (if not exclusively) served the aristocratic families of Virginia, however, and thus his…

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