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The Method of Education

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Published : April 05th, 2020
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We are still outlining some of the principles of our new college, before even getting to the question of content, or curriculum. I follow the Thomas Jefferson Education model of homeschooling, and many of the principles come from there, where there is also much more discussion. (tjed.org)

At the basic level, a college can simply be an extension of homeschooling. The main difference is that, while a typical homeschooling mom can handle K-12 education, it usually takes a Special Person to carry things beyond that — someone who has had the kind of education themselves that we wish to impart upon these young people. But, we can imagine this Special Man basically homeschooling his “college” students, be they one student or ten.

The basic guideline for a Breadth (“Scholar”) education, or what we are calling Liberal Arts, is: 5000-8000 hours of study. That is a lot. In four years, it is 1300-2000 hours per year. However, this includes high school. Some people complete this Scholar-level education in high school, but it requires tremendous focus. Since hardly any students at our college will have this background, in essence we are completing this Scholar-level education in college. The typical high-school graduate, it is estimated, has fulfilled about 1000 hours of this kind of education.

After this Breadth education comes a Depth education, which is an additional 5000-8000 hours in some specialized topic. Typically, this is vocational training, and often takes place on the job, as a person masters their chosen industry. But, it can also be in a nonvocational topic, such as Government and History. Today, this would be graduate school, such as four years of PhD study.

So, it is never a question of Breadth vs. Depth. It is always: Breadth first, then Depth.

If you have Depth without Breadth, then you get the typical ignorant specialist. This is very common today. People can be a whiz at chemical engineering, or medicine or corporate law, but know almost nothing meaningful about anything else. They think they are well educated, because they went to top universities and even graduate school, where they were surrounded by similar people who also told each other how well educated they were. But, actually they know almost nothing. Their minds are unfurnished. What they are is: intelligent. The admissions process of top universities selects for people with a lot of natural intelligence, and a background in basic high-school skills, with some discipline and focus. This intelligence is applied to a variety of vocational skills. But, they are not even well educated enough to know that this is not really an education, of the general Breadth type, or what has been known, since the days of Ancient Greece, as the Liberal Arts.

I graduated with highest honors … I was great at working the system but I was not educated. I could see my daughter doing the exact same thing, and I wanted more for her.
Ashley Slaten, 2017

Since nature abhors a vacuum, this vacuum is typically occupied by some Cultural Marxist Social Justice flotsam, until perhaps the person gets around to educating themselves sometime later in life.

Today’s industrial economy can’t function without specialists. If you made people completely dumb — we can imagine a dysfunctional country in West Africa — they would soon be taken over by someone else’s army of industrial specialists. (This is, perhaps, the plan for the lower 70% of public school students.) The Soviet Union had amazing aerospace engineers and nuclear physicists. But, the Ignorant Specialist has nothing else in his head but what has been put there by his masters to make him easy to control. Ignorant specialists are the bread and butter of the Cultural Marxist endgame.

The TJed model of homeschooling focuses on “mentors” not “tutors.” The idea of a “mentor” is that of a coach or guide. The teacher does not teach topics directly. They do not stand in a room and give lectures. They simply say: read this. The student reads it. For example, if a student wants to learn Calculus, the mentor may say: “Go to Khan Academy, and do the Calculus I course. Then, go take the CLEP Calculus I test.” It is much like a sports coach. The sports coach says: if you want to master soccer, then do this training exercise. The history coach says: if you want to master the Civil War, read this particularly good book about it. If you want to have lectures (they are no replacement for reading, but can serve as a nice summary and guide), then you can listen to the Great Courses series, from the best lecturers around. The mentor does not have to be a lecturer. Even just a good book list is a kind of “mentor.” Out of all the books in the world, these are the ones that we recommend. It is a guide as to what is valuable, and worth one’s time. It expresses certain values, goals and aspirations.

This “college-level homeschooling” process can take place with just one student. It would probably involve reading and writing papers. There may be some discussion with the mentor, brief or extended. But, the mentor’s primary purpose is to guide the student in the student’s own course of self-education. The mentor says: Out of all the things you could study, I think you should definitely take some time to master the principles behind the Constitution. These are the four core books I would recommend to begin your study of the principles of the Constitution. From there, the student may progress on to further study, again guided by the mentor, who presumably has experience in these things. The mentor may have a dozen students pursuing this somewhat independent-minded course, each student essentially doing their own thing independently.

Much of the mentor’s responsibility is Inspiration — to motivate the students to take their self-education seriously. Content is not so important here as time and effort, diligence and habit. A student can, voluntarily, set a goal and a habit of studying eight hours per day, Monday through Friday. This “study hole” is then filled with whatever seems most valuable and relevant at the time. (This is called “Structure Time not Content.”) This “voluntary goal” is undertaken somewhat in the spirit that a person today might undertake the goal of training for an Ironman Triathlon, or following a healthy vegan diet for six months. There is no external Carrot or Stick, only the thing itself, from which arises its own inherent benefits. Thomas Jefferson studied twelve hours a day, during his voluntary mentorship with George Wythe, ages 18-23.

One advantage of this method is that it could be done with one student. Another is, that the student can pursue a somewhat customized course, according to his own interests. Even if the books are the same, the student can approach the books in a personalized way, in terms of timing or interest. Or, the student may branch off into a more personalized direction. He may take a particular interest in World War II, and read a dozen books about it, while another student is more interested in the anthropology of primitive tribal societies.

But, as the number of students increases, we can introduce the possibility of things that the students can do together — basically, things like discussion, debate or presentations. This requires some coordination. We want all the students to read the same book at the same time, so they can discuss it together. Thus, our curriculum becomes more fixed, compared to the somewhat flexible and open-ended approach of the “homeschool” one-on-one model. There are ways to combine both elements. In a semester, students can read ten books together, and eight books independently, with different books for each student.

One of the TJed principles is “Inspire, not Require.” Basically, we want the students to be motivated by the idea of achieving a goal, and this goal is something they want to do; not fulfilling the minimum requirements of something they want to do as little of as possible, so they can then go do what they really want to do, such as drinking and chasing girls, or getting a good job at a good company. This is common in sports. Sports teams are voluntary. Nobody is required to be part of the varsity basketball team. But, once on the team, the players are inspired by some goal — to get a high standing in the leage rankings, or even to win the State Championship. Much effort goes into this, and it is all voluntary. The players Do More to achieve their voluntary goals. They do not try to get by doing as little as possible.

Much existing education takes place via the Carrot and the Stick. The carrot is some kind of reward, that is actually unrelated to education itself. Get into a good college and get a good job. Do we care about what we have to learn to do this? Do we care if we don’t actually learn much at all, but simply achieve some kind of external standard such as “getting good grades” and working the system? The Stick is, of course a series of punishments or negative outcomes that happen if we do not meet these standards. Like the Carrots, these too are external to the process of education itself.

This does not take place in voluntary activities motivated by inspiration. Nobody cares if you quit the Varsity basketball team. There is no Stick. Although playing high-level sports can be a plus for things such as getting into a good university, for the most part, there is not much external benefit for all the work involved, besides the enjoyment of the process itself. In a similar way, we want students to learn because they love to learn, in much the way that other young people enjoy playing basketball at a high level. Unlike basketball, the benefits of this education persist throughout one’s lifetime, and really can produce advantages in terms of career.

This may seem like pie in the sky, but many people do this after leaving college. I am in the process of reading the entire fifty volumes of the Harvard Classics. Why? Because I was inspired to do so. Nobody is making me do it. Nobody cares if I am successful, or if I quit. Other people may have a similar enthusiasm for some other topic, which they study, or simply the idea of study in general. They have a goal, for example, of reading twenty good books a year. (“Structure Time not Content.”) This is very common. In the past, many Americans did this, working on the farm or in the factory, and then coming home to read Marcus Aurelius or Ludwig von Mises. Probably, these people at some point wished they could just have some time off to read all the time. Maybe they structure their vacations around this principle: they find a place with a pool or a beach, and get to work on that big book they have been thinking about. This college is basically four years of full-time study of that sort — an amount of study that, if you tried to do it in evenings and weekends, might take fifteen years; and many people don’t have the discipline or energy to do that, on top of all the obligations of career and family.

There are no grades, in the college I envision. There is only: Good Job, Do It Over, or It Is Time For You To Leave Us. This is much like a homeschool Mom and her homeschooled child. Homeschoolers don’t give grades. This can work because the Teacher (Mentor) and the student(s) have a close personal relationship. The Teacher is well aware of the student’s abilities, and whether they gave it a good effort or were slacking off. If a student continues to work far below their abilities, and is generally lazy, then the student will ultimately be dismissed from the school. But, even that is a failure more of the Teacher, for failing to sufficiently Inspire the student, in the context of their close personal relationship. In general, the Teacher’s goal is for each Student to work at close to the limits of their personal abilities, and to develop their natural potential. If the Students do this, it does not matter if this Student happens to be more talented than that one, and produces more impressive results. The important thing is that each Student is doing what they are capable of, and, in the process, increasing what they are capable of. They are achieving their potential.

There is one more characteristic of my ideal college: it is for men only. Unfortunately, universities have become anti-male spaces today, and men need a refuge from this toxic environment. Also, it is more important for men to get this kind of high-level education, than it is for women to get it. I believe that men, in general, would benefit more from it. There is a certain dynamic that takes place, in a discussion for example, when only men are involved, compared to when there is mixed company. You can also have mixed-gender colleges, or women-only colleges. Go right ahead and set that up if you want, but that is not what I would set up. The immediate need that I see is for a college for men only. It was only a little while ago — before 1970 — that the top colleges in the U.S., including Harvard, Princeton and Yale, were for men only.

If you have been following along, we have thrown out nearly all the features of college education today. We have no definite campus; we have no classes; we have no departments; we have no lectures; we have no specialist professors; we have no grades. We have discussions, debates and presentations; we have a close personal relationship between Teacher and Student; we have a unified curriculum, expressing certain Values and aimed at certain Goals; we have Teachers who embody, and are capable of teaching, the entire curriculum; we have Mentors instead of Professors; we have Students motivated by Inspiration rather than carrots and sticks. As alien as this may sound, these are also the basic principles of college education before the Prussian University model arose in the 1880s; and, they are the functional principles of K-12 homeschooling today. We have come a long way already, but there is yet more to do.

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Nathan Lewis was formerly the chief international economist of a firm that provided investment research for institutions. He now works for an asset management company based in New York. Lewis has written for the Financial Times, Asian Wall Street Journal, Japan Times, Pravda, and other publications. He has appeared on financial television in the United States, Japan, and the Middle East.
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