Quoting Thomas Jefferson: Public School Snob?

“The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.” *

What a snob. What an elitist! What a Republican… wait. Oops. He was a Democrat, wasn’t he? I was looking through some quotes from President Jefferson, because I had been hearing way too much about how Jefferson was the master planner of the modern public school system, and how he wanted every child to be educated at the expense of the state. If Jefferson is your hero in this regard, please read on.

But if you want to remain ignorant to the fact that Thomas Jefferson was an education snob that really couldn’t imagine the idea that all children should complete their education and go on to college… maybe you should move on.

Let’s take a look at what I found! We’ll warm up with several quotes that make Sara Palin seem like a moderate:

Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson: Education Snob

“It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world.”

“I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”

Holy cow! Jefferson was a Tea Party hate monger!

“My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.”

“The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government. The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

“To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”

Now this is where we get into the subject of Government Run, Taxpayer Funded Schooling. Taxpayers are subsidizing the propagation of ideas they find abhorrent. They have been doing so for generations. And now it’s time to think about going back to the type of public schools Jefferson really wanted.

At BigEye.com, in a post called, Thomas Jefferson’s plan for “Public” Schooling, Albert Jay Nock was quoted extensively. Nock gives us a different–and probably more accurate–perspective of how Jefferson thought public education should work: [emphasis added]

For some reason that I have never been able to discover, Mr. Jefferson seems to be regarded as a great democrat; on public occasions he is regularly invoked as such by gentlemen who have some sort of political axe to grind, so possibly that view of him arose in this way. The fact is that he was not even a doctrinaire republican, as his relation to the French Revolution clearly shows. When Mr. Jefferson was revising the Virginia Statutes in 1797, he drew up a comprehensive plan for public education.

Each ward should have a primary school for the three R’s, open to all. Each year the best pupil in each school should be sent to the grade-school, of which there were to be twenty, conveniently situated in various parts of the state. They should be kept there one year or two years, according to results shown, and then all dismissed but one, who should be continued six years. “By this means,” said the good old man, “twenty of the best geniuses will be raked from the rubbish annually” — a most unfortunate expression for a democrat to use! At the end of six years, the best ten out of the twenty were to be sent to college, and the rest turned adrift.

(Read Nock’s entire essay at the Ludwig von Mises Instutute)

Well! I am certainly all for Jefferson’s plan for educating the youth of America! I’ll fill you in on all the particulars next time you get all excited about how Jefferson wanted our schools to be just like they are now.


* Special thanks to the first person to comment on this article for the clarification of the first quote attributed to Jefferson. The actual quote, found here, says pretty much the same thing, only with a lot more words. But since the quote I found above is getting enough traction to warrant an “official” site to make the corrections… I thought I’d let it stand.

6 thoughts on “Quoting Thomas Jefferson: Public School Snob?

  1. Anyone who takes small bits of Jefferson’s writing and try’s to act like he was for having the government taking of anything….is almost always wrong. There are only a few situations where this would be the case, and schooling would not be one of them. The easiest way for a government to gain more power is through the youth, government control of their flow of knowledge would be out of the question for sure, and even the opportunity would surely be out of the question.
    Jefferson also believed that all governments would eventually reach a point of tyranny regardless, “The Tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” I’d say he’d want the government out of education as much as possible. People can find anything they want in any quote if they refuse to see who the person was that said it.

    1. I know this is really… really late in replying… but I just read this again and I would like to know: So, does this mean you AGREE with my post? Because what you wrote, was my point. Jefferson would NOT have wanted the version of public schooling that we have today. The one simple idea of culling only the top few students in any one district would have him brought up on charges of destroying the self-esteem of millions of children.

      Can’t have that!

  2. http://wiki.monticello.org/mediawiki/index.php/The_democracy_will_cease_to_exist

    The opening quote is not to be found in any of the papers of Thomas Jefferson in existence today. However, there is a quote which makes a similar point about the depravity of taking from those who do to provide for those who won’t.

    I bring this up only because this quote is gaining traction and those who would like to ignore the reality of the message are attempting to discredit that message by saying that the quote is entirely fabricated. The link provides a bona fide TJ quote to which one can point and say, “See, he *did* say it after all. ” :)

    1. Ummm. Anyone who has read this blog more than a couple of times would know that the whole point of most of the posts is to point out how we can survive WITHOUT government schooling. That’s why I posted these words by Jefferson. People think Jefferson wanted public schooling like we have today. He didn’t.

      Obviously, since he was mainly interested in only sending a few kids to college and sending the rest home to their vocations, he would be considered a snob by today’s standards.

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