In ‘his’ blog, Jefferson lays out his visionary thoughts on education
A visitor to the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. takes a photo of the statue of Thomas Jefferson.
July 3rd, 2012
06:10 AM ET

In ‘his’ blog, Jefferson lays out his visionary thoughts on education

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.


Bill Barker has been interpreting Thomas Jefferson for more than 20 years.

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.


This Gilbert Stuart portrait of Thomas Jefferson hangs in the Colonial Capitol in Williamsburg, Virginia.

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.

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soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. pagan1gov

    wow the comments, so many my activity is frozen.
    So I regret to say sorry if I have not replied.
    I am just having nothing but trouble

    July 5, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  2. Larry Moniz

    One of the best examples of how deeply Jefferson believed in education was omitted. Jefferson founded the the University of Virginia and designed its original buildings.

    July 5, 2012 at 7:23 am |
  3. mmi16

    If Jefferson was 'wowed' by the progress he observed in his lifetime – imagine if he observed the technology of today. I am also certain he would be 'wowed' and sickened by the political mess that Congeress has devolved to.

    Jefferson was a man of the ages and a intellect beyond his age!

    July 5, 2012 at 1:42 am |
  4. A Reasoner

    Taxation to create and maintain an educated electorate, support scientific endeavor, defense and commerce for the common good? No, no, taxes should go to religious schools, and theocratic rule the way _________ (insert your personal favorite god here) intended.

    July 4, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
  5. Saturn still sucks

    This POS story can be classified under, Masonic propaganda. Too bad the education system likes you dumb as the dirt they plan to lay you in after you die.

    July 4, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
    • Jeff Chastain

      Are you dumb? Just what part of Jefferson's words were "masonic"? I think your comment is Moronic.

      July 5, 2012 at 2:44 am |
    • Larry Moniz

      What have you two guys been smoking? Neither of you makes a lick of sense.

      July 5, 2012 at 7:26 am |
  6. Sherri

    I don't mind paying taxes for public schools, even though I don't have kids. Childless couples paid their taxes so that I could go to school. Besides, it is the children who are going to be running things when I'm old and decrepit. I WANT them to get a good education. In spite of what their parents may be like. Even because of what their parents may do. There are many things that we pay for and don't use. I really don't have a problem with that. I pay taxes. I drive on the roads that my taxes take care of. I use the public library. I use city parks, or state parks. But there are things that I use that other pay for and never use.

    July 4, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
  7. rp1588

    It is important to recall, that despite some rhetoric to the contrary, Jefferson acted to both to perpetuate and expand slavery, and carry out ethnic cleansing and genocide of Americans.

    July 4, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • Chris

      Where are you getting your information? Thomas Jefferson introduced several pieces of legislation attempting to abolish slavery. He owned slaves, but by inheritance and he was known for treating them fairly well. Jefferson also defended slaves in court, despite that not being socially acceptable. He took their cases pro bono, since he knew they would not be able to pay him.

      July 4, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
      • Reasongal

        Could it be from....pseudohistorian and hack David Barton? I would not be surprised...

        July 4, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
      • Larry Moniz

        Reading some of these comments, I can't help but wonder why so many of you failed to get beyond a sixth grade education - talk about moronic comments.

        July 5, 2012 at 7:28 am |
    • robert.preston

      Make sure you vote for Obama again, dummy.

      July 13, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
  8. ohio

    Jefferson does not get enough attention. And i think he'd be horrified by the tea party's efforts

    July 4, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  9. bardfast

    On higher education

    Spot the difference:

    “Students should get as much education as they can afford.”
    -Mitt Romney, 6/27/2012.

    “Higher education cannot be a luxury reserved for the privileged few. It is an economic necessity.”
    -President Obama, 6/21/2012

    July 4, 2012 at 11:03 am |
  10. Mike

    Jefferson raped his slave and fathered a child with her. Look it up if you don't believe me.

    July 4, 2012 at 1:12 am |
    • Chris

      Thomas Jefferson didn't rape a slave. Her name was Sally Hemings and they had a love affair. She could have left Thomas Jefferson when she and her brother were in France since there was no slavery there, but she chose not to. They had 6 children together.

      July 4, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
      • CC

        There is absolutely no evidence of this claim. It was started by a man that felt slighted by Jefferson. The DNA testing showed that Sally's children were fathered by one of 54 possible men in the area. Most likely it was Jefferson's half brother who was known to spend large amounts of time with them. Sally, who was the half sister to Jefferson's wife, did go to France with him and did return pregnant but that bloodline was shown to not have Jefferson DNA. Nobody that had daily contact with Jefferson ever witnessed him showing the slightest interest in Sally. The only reason this story persists is because it is not interesting to say "my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was Thomas Jefferson's eccentric half-brother"

        July 5, 2012 at 2:14 am |
  11. Solo

    No one can "interpret" Thomas Jefferson.

    July 3, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • Donna Krache, Exec. Producer

      Actually, in interviewing historians for this article, I learned that Bill Barker is indeed a Jefferson "interpreter." Google his name and 'interpreter' and you'll see how many stories reference that.

      July 4, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
  12. BloodShucker

    With three "Huzzahs!" for the great work of Bill Barker and Colonial Williamsburg, I must tell you there is ANOTHER Jefferson blog!
    Read it at
    Since the spring of 2011, Mr. Jefferson has blogged several times each week on a variety of topics, including education.
    Last weeks' posts were:
    – "Are rules made to be broken?"
    –"Have you walked 10,000 steps today?," and
    – "Is there a doctor in the house?"
    July 2, was "WWJD?" July 4 will feature something from Jefferson's notes on July 4, 1776.
    I enjoy putting it together. I hope you will enjoy reading it. Subscribers welcome!

    July 3, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
  13. truth

    In today's America...certain people would be calling Jefferson a socialist for his views on taxing people to pay for education even if you had no kids.

    Sad but true but that is how low this country has come

    July 3, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • Solo

      Well, let's see... I have no children but own a home – so, I'm paying not only for education for children in my voting district, but the garbage that arrives each school day on a bus from across the city, so that I can pay for them as well – and I have to pay for free breakfasts and lunches too! Oh, mommy doesn't work (she's on disability for her awful headaches) and she needs free cable T.V. to watch Judge Judy and a free cell phone to stay in touch with all of her other freeloader friends... plus, she needs food stamps to keep the cupboards stocked with Cheetos and Twinkies. And, she wants health insurance, so that's my responsibility too, right? Of course (thanks, Obama) I have to pay for the uninsured. I work and pay taxes and it's all part of my responsibility to educate, clothe and feed those who refuse to stand on their own two feet. Let the former President Jefferson say whatever he wants in the annals of history; today's taxpayer bears far too much burden.

      July 3, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
      • Steph

        While I agree that many social services are unfortunately abused in this country, the funding and focus on improving education is essential to a functional society. In fact it is education that taught you how to state such opinions. Its thanks to some teacher somewhere that you have the intelligence and eloquence to share your ideas.
        To refer to children (regardless of where they come from) as garbage is a slap in the face to every teacher that invested in your education, every adult that took an interest, and every person that advocates for fairness in modern society. I cannot stay silent when people demean others in such a way, especially innocent victims of misconceptions.
        Never rob a child of their needs (and yes, to be educated is a NEED) based on the stereotypes you fit their parents into. Regardless of those that abuse the many services given them, their children should not pay the price. I also work and pay taxes. Nonetheless, I do it knowing that my money is going toward the common welfare of this country. I'm not sure what you would consider "worthy" of your hard earned money, but supporting education is the core of progression and national success. I'll turn out my pockets for these any day.

        July 3, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
      • bardfast

        Education is 7% of GDP
        The Pentagon chews up 39% of GDP

        you still want to whine?

        July 4, 2012 at 11:07 am |
      • Cheese Wonton

        An educated population is the foundation of self government. James Madison points out in his 1822 letter to WT Barry that knowledge always rules ignorance and that an education is a fundamental necessity to a people who mean to be their own governors. In this way, everyone childless like me or not, benefits from a free public education.
        For those who have studied development economics you know that an educated population is absolutely essential for economic growth and prosperity. High wages are what creates a high standard of living and a large GDP. But if you want your citizens to make high wages, the jobs that pay them require an education. Firms offering high wage jobs are not investing in places with low levels of educational attainment. They require employees with knowledge and are willing to pay for them. If we allow the education of our people to decline, our wages and standard of living will likewise suffer. This affects you if you own a business or not, have children or not.

        July 4, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
      • vsaxena

        [So, I'm paying not only for education for children in my voting district, but the garbage that arrives each school day on a bus from across the city.]

        Garbage? Kids are garbage to you? Shut up and pay your dues, you slimeball, and be thankful we aren't in feudal times, because I'd chop your dumb head off.

        July 4, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
      • CC

        You are vastly overestimating how much tax you pay if you think you are paying a significant portion of anyone's education or insurance. I don't hear you whining about your share of the $3-4 trillion borrowed to pay for the Afgan and Iraq wars. I bet that $12K+ is a lot more than your portion going to the school district.

        I hate to further mess with your delusion but as much as you hate paying anything for anyone else, the cost to help someone is a lot cheaper than letting them fail and dealing with the mess later. Unless you are advocating extermination of anyone that can't "pull their own weight" society is going to have to pay a cost one way or another.

        July 5, 2012 at 2:30 am |
  14. bla

    "Jefferson also had faith in the future generations."

    Faith that was horribly misplaced.

    July 3, 2012 at 11:01 am |