The Myth of Inspire, Not Require

Even though I consider myself a TJEd fan, I have always had a hard time with the key of “inspire, not require.” (see If you have kids that never fulfill academic requirements but only produce when they feel inspired, you will have a child who is not ready for college at 18. 

I love my children to be home with me as much as the next mom, but by the time they are 18, I am wanting them to be totally self-governing, completely self-directed scholars who are ready to go to college. Call me conveyor-beltish. If they are not ready for college at 18, it becomes easier for them to drift away from college as the years go by. Doors can shut for them that would have stayed open had they worked harder when in the teen years. I want each of my children to have a college education. If you are wondering about the need for a college education, read Major Decisions for College by Henry J. Eyring. It will convince you. See

(It is written from an LDS Christian perspective but it has fantastic information that anyone can benefit from. Eyring makes many points that totally fit in with leadership education. You can get podcasts and excerpts from the book. I will definitely be listening to these and sharing them with my son who has been accepted into college for this coming fall.)

Oliver DeMille says that “inspire, not require” is one of the keys of great teaching and learning. If you listen to his talk on CD, “The Seven Keys of Great Learning” he says, however, that the keys are “phase specific.” This is a huge clarification! He then goes on to say the following:

For core phase, the key that applies is:

1. You, not them

For love of learning he says the next three keys apply:

2. Inspire, not require

3. Structure time not content

4. Simplicity, not complexity

He says that the others apply to scholar phase

5 Quality, not conformity

6. Mentors, not professors

7. Classics, not textbooks

Aha, so “inspire, not require” is not for scholar phase! It is OK to have requirements in scholar phase! I’ve been thinking about this a lot because some TJED youth and mentors talk about “inspirements” instead of “requirements.” The mentors say the youth don’t have to do the work. But then they feel frustrated or even mad when the youth don’t do the work. We have to be really clear here. Are we willing to let the youth fail, that is, not do the work, or do they absolutely have to (be required) to do the work? We can just throw the whole issue out when we see that Oliver says that “inspire, not require” is for  love of learning, not scholar phase. 

I just listened to a conference call Aneladee Milne did that discussed the issue. Aneladee is the cofounder with Tiffany Earl of Leadership Education Mentoring Institute or LEMI. She says that “inspire not require” is not a hard and fast rule set in stone (like one of the ten commandments). That’s good to know! In other words, Oliver is not a prophet, and what he says is not the gospel. (I have been guilty of thinking this, I admit.) She says there are different interpretations of “inspire, not require” in the TJED world. She admits that youth have to learn that yes, there are certain things you have to do, (requirements) if you are going to succeed in this world. Like taking a shower every day or getting up in the morning at a certain time.

 Aneladee explains that with LEMI scholar projects, the students have requirements that they must do, not to get a grade, but to attain the incentive. The incentive is different for each scholar project. For the Shakespeare Conquest scholar project, in the Commonwealth School that Aneladee has been involved with (also the one that I have been involved with, I’m on my third child) the students get a trip to the Shakespeare festival if they complete all the requirements. Different projects have different rewards.

In The Student Whisperer book, Oliver DeMille’s latest, which Tiffany co-wrote, Oliver declares that there are three types of education. Not conveyor belt, professional, and leadership, but stick, carrot, and love affair. Stick education is learning to avoid pain. Carrot education is learning to get a prize. Love affair education is learning because you love learning.

So I am thinking, wait a minute, so are these scholar projects that have prizes and requirements of the carrot education kind? Yes, they are. But that’s OK. Wait, I thought that by the time a child is doing scholar projects with LEMI that they are ready for scholar phase, that they have completed the love of learning and therefore they love learning for learning’s sake. Why do they need prizes?

It’s because, in reality, most children at the Commonwealth School age are still struggling to master love of learning. They need something to trick them into loving learning.  At the same time they are practicing scholar phase. The phases of learning have fuzzy edges. Aneladee said in the conference call that the Shakespeare and the Key of Liberty projects are for practice scholar. She should know, she wrote the classes/projects. Pyramid Project is the math and science practice scholar class. Then QUEST (formerly known as Thomas Jefferson Youth Certification/TJYC) is designed for the student to transform into self-directed scholars. These are the true scholars of scholar phase, the scholars Oliver DeMille is talking about who study 5-6 hours a day. Pyramid Project has a prize but TJYC doesn’t. Somewhere along the line, the student doesn’t need the carrot any more and realizes that learning is fun and hard and worth the pain. They push past obstacles and pay the price because they love learning.

I’ve seen it happen with my college-bound son and now I am seeing it happen with my 15 year-old daughter. My 13 year-old is just starting to choose the pain of learning. Yesterday he was doing math problems. He complained, “They take so much time. They are so annoying.” I commiserated with him, and told him that he is starting to see that learning sometimes does involve pain, and that’s part of scholar phase.

So requirements are OK. They help students to qualify for goals and prizes. They give a feeling of accomplishment. They help to trick students into seeing that learning is fun and hard and worth learning for learning’s sake.

The phases of learning are organic like the seasons. That means they aren’t clear-cut, they have messy edges. In Utah even though it’s spring, we are having winter weather. It has snowed or hailed or rained almost every day in April so far. With the phases, you have overlap as well. You have kids who say they want to be in scholar phase one day but they actually exhibit love of learning behavior. They need to be inspired by prizes to anesthetize the pain of learning. Eventually they taste the fruits of studying and don’t need the prizes. 

Requirements are OK in education. You have to be able to have some kind of verification or certification by examining with requirements to know that the student has learned what you what them to learn as a teacher or mentor. This is where the keys of scholar phase come in, one of which is “quality not conformity.”

In order to know the student has done quality work, you have to examine the work and be certain, or “certify” that it is quality. I think “quality, not conformity” is slightly misleading. They have to conform to some level in order for the work to be quality.

So let’s face it, you can’t escape requirements. But hopefully you can “require and inspire.”

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