Is TJEd Dead?

Somebody in one of my goodreads.com discussion groups brought up a question recently, asking “Is TJEd dead?”

TJEd, in case you are new to homeschooling, is an abbreviation for Thomas Jefferson Education. It is a philosophy of education outlined in a book by the same name written by Oliver DeMille, along with some subsequent books that also included the authorship of his wife, Rachel DeMille. I did hear Rachel or Oliver say once, however, that she helped Oliver write the TJEd book.

Oliver used to speak quite frequently at homeschool conventions in the late 1990s and 2000s in Utah and outlying states. I first heard him speak at an LDSHEA conference in 1997 or 1998, when my oldest children were just preschool age. With his speaking gigs, the TJEd philosophy spread like wildfire. Within a decade of Oliver first speaking, Utah saw the likes of children’s clubs, discussion groups, homeschool groups, and conferences all inspired by TJEd. Not to mention the flourishing of classes offered by the college that Oliver helped to found. Some of these things are still going strong, other things have scaled back, and some have died.

To answer the question, of “Is TJEd dead?” here’s my answer:

“Yes and No. Yes to the people who have been disillusioned by it. No to the people who haven’t been.” That may sound like a “duh” answer, so let me elaborate with some illustrations.

Some people live by its “keys,” or the “The Seven Keys of Great Teaching.” You can read about the keys in the first book of Oliver’s called A Thomas Jefferson Education. If you haven’t read it I suggest you do so. You can apply the ideas to your and your children’s education, whether you homeschool, or use a public or private school.

Other people feel misled by the philosophy. For example, one friend of mine, a homeschooling mom of ten, subscribed to the idea taught by Oliver that you should “inspire, not require” math. She applied this idea throughout the WHOLE of her daughter’s homeschooling career. She did not ask her daughter to do any math schoolwork and patiently waited for the daughter to show an interest. The daughter, now 21, actively pursued studies in drama, choir, and voice lessons in all of her teen years. She never did decide that she wanted to do math. When it was time to go to college, her ACT reflected a lack of much consistent study given to math. Instead of going to her dream college, she attended the local state university, where I’ve heard, they accept everyone who applies, as long as you have a pulse. The mom feels that following TJEd cost her daughter a scholarship to college.

I do have to ask, where are all the scholars that the TJEd philosophy has promised? I don’t see a ton of kids from my homeschooling community going off to college on scholarships, having excelled in their homeschooling high school years. I wonder if it’s perhaps the philosophy got misapplied with too much emphasis on the freedom aspect and not enough on the submission aspect that it teaches.

The TJEd philosophy still has value for me. It has been borne good fruit in my children’s homeschooling lives, as long as I judiciously or strictly applied it. It’s not unschooling. It’s not let the child study whatever he or she wants. It’s a balance between unschooling and forcing the child to study what you want them to study, as you see what would benefit them as the mentor. I call it Celestial Education, or Stewardship Education. It’s recognizing that God should be in control of your child’s education, and both you and the child should be praying for direction in the child’s studies.

Here’s my own experience with TJEd or “leadership education”:

If you listen very carefully to the CD that Oliver recorded called “The Seven Keys of Great Learning,” you will notice that he says that the keys are “phase specific.” That means that some of them apply to core and love of learning phases (ages 0 to 12, approximately),  and the rest to scholar phase. Specifically, “inspire not require” is for core and love of learning, but not scholar. Scholar phase is a time for requirements. It’s also a time to structure content. The key called “structure time, not content” applies more to core and love of learning, although, even that’s a bit misleading. I think it’s perfectly OK to give a “lesson” with structured content to my under 12 children, as long as the lesson is short.

I have two kids pretty much done with homeschooling, and 5 more I am working with. The oldest two have been accepted to at least two universities, including BYU Provo. #2 kid is in her last semester of homeschooling. Come the first week of January, we are driving her up to Idaho for BYU-I! Woo-hoo!

Homeschooling the TJEd way has worked for us, as long as I insisted they keep up with their math. I insisted on a page a day, pretty much from the time they were between 6 and 8, when I felt they were ready for “put the pencil to the paper and write” schoolwork. So yes, I required even in core phase. More so with the older kids than the younger, and more so in the winter when it’s “pencil weather” time, than in summer. So maybe I am not a TJEd purist. That’s OK with me.  I let up on the requiring math for my third child, because I misunderstood the key of “inspire not require” and thought it applied to his whole homeschooling career. After listening to the CD that I mentioned above, I started requiring. At age 12, I feel kids should be doing more than adding and subtracting. Some may say that the “ghosts of my conveyor belt past” are haunting me, and I am OK with it. I disagree. It’s simply that I want my children to keep doors open for them to go to as many colleges as they want. If they don’t get a good ACT score, they can’t go to as many colleges. If you put off studying math until high school, that’s a long “road to hoe” to master a ton of math concepts so that you can quickly manipulate numbers for the ACT. You have to get a good ACT score to go to a great college, not to mention, earn a scholarship. And in this family, my kids have to pay their own way, so scholarships are much welcome! For some families, college is not viewed as the be-all, end-all of homeschoolng, and I respect that.  You can be successful without going to college, as evidenced by a variety of people.

Here’s what I love about TJEd: I love the permission I felt after learning about it that I didn’t have to follow a curriculum for all subjects for all my kids. I love knowing that I won’t mess up my children if they don’t learn things like science, language arts, or even history in a certain order. (Math does require a certain order.) I love not feeling tied down to Year 1, Year 2, Year 3 of XXXX and YYYY homeschooling plans. With more than 1 or 2 kids, that is a recipe for burn out, unless you are super organized, which I am not, or you want a life outside of homeschooling, which I do. I remember running into a friend that I hadn’t seen in over a year. I knew she had been doing the Noah plan/FACE homeschooling curriculum with her 6 or 8 children the previous year. I asked her how that was going. She replied, “They are all in public school now! I couldn’t keep up the pace. I was up every night preparing lesson plans and burned out.” If you can do such a thing with lots of kids, go for it, but, it’s not for me, and TJEd was the thing that “gave me permission” to accept that. None of the books came out and said “don’t use XXXX or YYYY curriculum” they just gave me a much broader vision of what education is and how it can be accomplished with simple classics and discussion and play and motivation from a variety of sources, including mentors besides me, classes besides mine, momschools, and our Commonwealth school with the LEMI projects.

I also love that TJEd promotes a way of life, a family culture, that is all about learning. The TJEd books teach you how to set up your whole life, meaning your time, your family chores, your media choices, and the flow of your family life, to support education in the home.

I have loved the great fruits my children have received from us being immersed in TJEd (as long as I kept insisting they do math even when they didn’t really want to). TJEd taught that it’s really OK, not just OK, but very important that my younger children do a lot of the housework. I haven’t done many dishes, washed clothes, or vacuumed or scrubbed a toilet in years, because my children do it. The younger ones do more of the dishes to support the older ones in scholar phase. This past summer I got “promoted” to being off fixing lunch and dinner, because now the oldest three and my husband fix all the dinners. I love that I haven’t felt compelled to do a spelling program or a unit on poetry or a workbook on grammar because my kids haven’t wanted any of those.

TJEd allowed me to let my children find their passions. For my oldest child, that was computers. He listened to a TON of podcasts on technology and read books and stuff on the Internet and taught himself programming, so that he was recruited his first year of college to go work for a software company. When he comes back from his mission, this company will give him his job back and he will be able to work part time and go to school full-time, fully supporting himself. My second child, my oldest daughter, has shown an interest in dance. She works part-time and pays for her own ballet lessons that she attends three times a week. This is after she took a dance hiatus for 5 years or more because we couldn’t pay for them. TJEd taught me that kids don’t have to be taking dance lessons for years when they are little to be good at it, that it’s best for kids to be intense about such things when they are older.

in summary, TJEd is very much alive, although some are disillusioned by it. Most of us who like it probably don’t practice it 100%. It seems kind of easy when it is first laid out to you, as it seems like it is saying “just make your kids do housework with you and play the rest of the time and study if they want to,” but it’s actually more complicated than that. The scholar phase is pretty intense, and most people don’t actually do it, because it’s hard to mentor scholar phase on your own without outside help. Especially if you have never had one yourself. I did have a scholar phase, and it was still hard to mentor my kids scholar phase while tending to my younger kids and babies. I am soooo grateful for the help I’ve received from my Commonwealth school and Williamsburg Academy for helping my older kids have a scholar phase.  I am part of a Family Commonwealth School completely inspired by TJEd that has classes twice a week for homeschoolers, including one day a week that is all day for all ages. The leaders of this school are producing new materials, specifically projects for core and love of learning phases, which are being tested by our school, and be released to the public after the bugs are worked out.  I don’t hesitate to say that despite the problems and misinterpretations of TJEd, the best is yet to be as new ideas and applications come from it!

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