Teaching Kids to Think!

The book, A Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver DeMille, offers an insightful perspective on education.  He suggests a ‘system’ of schooling known as Leadership Education where students are taught how to think and prepare them to be leaders in their homes and communities, entrepreneurs in business and statesmen in government.  This is different from traditional schooling, where the focus is more in teaching students ‘what’ to think in the way of teaching rudimentary skills for basic living, entry level jobs, or entry into a trade school or further training for a career. 

The foundational difference that sets Leadership Education apart from the others are three primary goals: train thinkers, perpetuate freedom, teaching students how to think. When someone knows how to think, they can lead effectively, helping society remain free and prosperous. This type of education is more individualized, the framework is designed around a mentor/student model, and through this model, students are inspired.  The focus here is inspiration. Students develop a love for learning that creates perseverance, resilience and student-led learning.  Through this gift of inspiration, students are taught:

There is so much to learn and it is so exciting! 

Learning is more fun than almost anything.

I can learn on my own, in a group, or with help from a teacher or parent.

All I need is a book and I can learn

I love learning!

If I do more than assigned, I’ll learn more and have more fun.  Assignments are just minimums.

My thoughts and ideas are as valuable as anybody else’s.

Unfortunately, most of us can develop the notion that if we aren’t forced to learn, we won’t do it.  In fact, force does teach lessons, but they are the wrong lessons.  When students are ‘forced’ with lessons they start to believe the following:

Do the bare minimum.

Learning means pleasing the authority figure.

Learning, schooling and studying are no fun.

Playing is when you don’t have to learn.

To be a good student I have to study somebody else’s interests.

If nobody is making me study, I’d rather be entertained than learn.

Oliver recommends teaching the classics.  The knowledge of human nature is key to strong leadership.  There are four basic instincts that all humans have; survival and security, social mobility, adventure/excitement, gain meaning of self, truth and God. The classics give us a glimpse into understanding these basic human instincts and studying them helps us understand more about ourselves. It challenges our thinking, our value system, our sense of morality and exposes us to much more than our own individual lives ever could.  Classics force us to think about the characters in the story, then about ourselves, our friends and family, and then humanity.  Classics make us struggle, search, ponder, wonder, seek, analyze, discover, reconsider. It is recommended you read these books with your student and discuss, study, analyze as you go! Reading these books will create a metamorphic experience in the reader, the student, as he or she redefines himself again and again with each book.

Reading the classics can be hard. It can be a struggle, at first.  Thinking is like exercise.  It requires rigor and consistency and determination.  It might be hard at first, but start with the easier, lighter reads and move into the more challenging ones with time.   For a list of recommended reading and classics to start with, see Oliver DeMille’s book, A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the Twenty-First Century.