By Donna Krache, CNN
(CNN) Scholar, inventor, statesman, author of the Declaration of Independence … blogger?
Only in recent years has the third president of the United States added that achievement to his many credits.
To mark the 250th anniversary of Thomas Jefferson’s completion of studies at the College of William and Mary, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation decided it was time to take his views on education into the blogosphere.
“We have our own Thomas Jefferson, Bill Barker, who’s been interpreting Jefferson for more than 20 years,” said Robyn Eoff, director of the Internet for Colonial Williamsburg. Barker gives visitors a chance to hear from and see this multitalented Founding Father.
Eoff told CNN that Jefferson is “so popular with visitors that we decided to put up his quotes.”
The foundation launched its first Thomas Jefferson blog ahead of the 2008 presidential election. Back then, Jefferson “blogged” about all things political. This summer, the focus of Jefferson’s Blog is education.
Jefferson came from a very literate family of eight children, and his mother and older sister were the only women in their county who owned their own books at that time, says history professor and author Susan Kern. Jefferson’s father, she says, set aside money for his daughters’ education.
The man who would author the Declaration of Independence received the liberal arts education of his time - including Greek, Latin, religion, science, and philosophy, among other subjects. He had an appetite for learning that continued throughout his life, and he had a lot to say about how we should prepare future generations for their role in the republic he helped to establish.
“Jefferson considered education to be among the most important elements to contribute to a free society. He tied being a capable citizen to education,” said Kern, author of “The Jeffersons at Shadwell.”
Kern told CNN that Jefferson believed education was so important to the young United States that he supported free public education for both boys and girls, especially for “the most talented minds,” whether or not their families could afford it.
As for taxing citizens to finance public education, Jefferson’s blog cites a letter he wrote to fellow Founding Father and Virginian George Wythe in 1786:
“I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. … Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils [tyranny, oppression, etc.] and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance,” Jefferson wrote.
It’s the Founding Father’s original version of the modern bumper sticker “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”
Kern says that in many letters to relatives and colleagues, as well as in legislation he helped to write and sponsor, Jefferson was adamant about the importance of acquiring knowledge. He firmly believed that education would ensure the success of the young United States and move it forward.
“If a nation expects to be ignorant & free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be,” Jefferson wrote in 1816.
What subjects did he expect students to study?
“A broad liberal arts education is what he was prescribing,” Kern told CNN. His blog quotes him on the university’s role in teaching students reading, writing, business and personal rights and responsibilities.
Some of Jefferson’s remarks seem almost prophetic, Kern said. In a letter to his nephew, he wrote that while the study of classical languages, like Latin and Greek, was necessary, he believed that “Spanish will probably be important” in the future.
Jefferson also had faith in the future generations. His blog notes that in 1818 he said, “When I contemplate the immense advances in science and discoveries in the arts which have been made within the period of my life, I look forward with confidence to equal advances by the present generation, and have no doubt they will consequently be as much wiser than we have been as we than our fathers were, and they than the burners of witches.”
So there’s something young and old can take away from the writings on his blog, and from Jefferson’s life and love of education.
You can read Jefferson’s Blog here.