Volume 3 Issue 6
Home Schools: The Hope of America
Dr. Oliver DeMille
Dr. Oliver DeMille is the founder and Provost of George Wythe College, the only college in America specifically designed to train statesmen using the methods which educated Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Washington and other American Founding Fathers. Dr. DeMille affirms that “our society desperately needs leadership. We need statesmen, which in the old sense was more than just a governmental leader. A statesman is a man or woman of virtue, wisdom, diplomacy and courage who inspires greatness in others and moves the cause of liberty.” In this article, Dr. DeMille explains the differences between three major types of education and identifies the skills needed to succeed in the careers of the future. In a follow up article in the next issue of The Link, he will show how to use the mentor system and the classics in your home school to train statesmanlike leaders.On the first day of school, the little boy waved to his mother and turned to run down the bright hallway to class. His teacher smiled and pointed out his desk. “This is going to be great,” he thought. “I love to learn new things.” After a few fun stories, the teacher handed out crayons and paper and announced that it was time to draw a picture. The little boy enthusiastically grabbed the crayons and began to imagine all the things he could draw: mountains, lakes, airplanes, his family, his dog, the ocean, the stars at night.
Hundreds of ideas raced through his creative little mind.
His teacher, seeing that he had started drawing, stopped him and said that today the class would be drawing flowers. The boy’s mind again ran wild: daisies, daffodils, roses, carnations, violets, lilacs, pansies, mixed bouquets, green gardens full of a rainbow of colors.
The teacher again interrupted, informing the class that today they would be drawing a certain kind of flower.
Taking colored chalk, the teacher went to the board and drew a green stem, with two leaves, and four identical pink petals. The little boy, eager to please, dutifully copied the teacher’s drawing.
After several attempts, his drawing looked exactly like hers. The teacher congratulated him for doing such good work.
As the school year passed, the little boy became a very good student, he learned to listen, obey instructions and get the right answers on tests. His parents were very proud of him, and his teacher was impressed with his excellent progress.
When the next school year arrived, the boy had done so well in his classes that he was enrolled in a gifted and talented program. During the first week of class, the teacher handed out crayons and paper and announced that is was time to draw a picture. The little boy, still in love with art, enthusiastically picked up his crayons and waited for instructions.
After several minutes the teacher noticed the little boy wasn’t drawing. “Why haven’t you started?” she asked. “Don’t you like to draw?”
“I love to draw,” responded the little boy, “but I was waiting for you to tell us what the assignment is.”
“Just draw whatever you want,” the teacher smiled and left the little boy to his creativity.
The little boy sat for a long time, watching the minutes tick off the clock and wondering what he should draw. Nothing came to mind.
Finally, in a burst of creative inspiration, he picked up his crayons and began to draw.
A green stem, with two leaves, and four identical pink petals.
The author of this story is unknown,, but its message is indicative of an entire generation of American education. Fortunately, the tragedy is not complete because many parents across the nation are reaffirming their role in educating their children.
A major revolution is coming to American education, and homeschoolers are uniquely positioned to take advantage of it. In history, and today, there are three major types of education: (1) public education which tries to prepare everyone for a job, any job, by teaching them what to think; (2) professional education - from apprenticeship and trade schools to law, medical and MBA programs - which creates specialists by teaching them when to think; and (3) leadership education, which trains students how to think and prepares them to be the leader-statesmen of families, business and organizations of the future. Each of the three major educational systems has its own goals, methods and curricula, and each prepares its students for certain types of careers and lifestyles.
The Public System
The first type of education is the public system. The primary goal of public schools, the reason they were instituted in the first place, is to educate the poor so they can get a job. The middle class already had private schools and apprenticeships, and the upper class had home mentors.
Public schools teach students “what to think”, to follow orders. This is done through a curriculum designed by “experts”, lectures delivered by “experts”, tests on how well you agree with the views of the “experts”, grading by “experts” who tell you where you stand, and credits, diplomas, and degrees awarded by “experts” who certify that you think the way you were taught. And it is under pinned by requiring the “experts” themselves to be “certified” by other “experts” who are both certified and tenured.
The Professional System
The second type of education is the professional system. Private school arose from the apprenticeship tradition of training youth for specific trades or professions. From kindergarten through the 12th grade the purpose is to get students into college; then it is to get them into law schools, CPA or MBA programs, medical schools, etc. This is done by teaching them when to think. The law student is trained to effectively handle legal issues, or if he or she is to be a doctor, a medical situation, or a manager, a business concern. Students are trained to be creative, to pull together information and use it effectively to make decisions, to marshal the talents and resources under their stewardship; in short, to be an expert in their field. But they are also trained to rely on “experts” outside their field. That’s what the professional system is designed to do - create expertise. And if you need a doctor, a lawyer or a manager for your business, you are glad they are well prepared. The professional system has been very effective in achieving its goals, but it is not a substitute for leadership training.
The Leadership System
The third educational system is the leader system, which as three primary goals. First, to train statesmen - individuals with the character, competence and capacity to do the right thing and do it well in business, government, church, school, the family and other organizations. The second goal is to perpetuate freedom, to prepare people who know what freedom is, what is required to maintain it, and how to do what is required. These two goals are accomplished by the third: teaching them how to think. Those who know how to think are able to lead effectively and are able to help society remain free and prosperous. Those who know only what to think or when, no matter how valuable their contributions to society, are not capable of maintaining freedom or leading us to real progress without additional leadership training. The success and perpetuity of our society depend upon leadership education.
The Conveyor Belt
Not only are the goals of each system very different, so are the methods. Public schools use the “Soviet conveyor belt” method. They are set up like a factory: everyone in the class gets the same education at the same age from the same textbooks, and they are tested the same and graded based upon the same scale regardless of their individual interests, talents or goals. The goal is to give them the same ideas, and to grade and rank them according to their conformity with these ideas. In this system you do down the factory line, first grade, second grade, third grade, with a factory worker (teacher) at each station, being assembled with certain parts (the curriculum) at a certain point in a certain way from a certain book or manual. And of course all of the products (students) are fitted with the same parts (called “education”) as everyone else on the conveyer belt. When you finish 12th grade you get a stamp (diploma) on your forehead signifying that you are a finished product ready to be sold to the job market.
What’s the Soviet part of it? Well, the goal is to make everybody get through it, so by necessity the standards are defined by the lowest 25% of the population. Grade levels are defined at a low enough level that basically everybody can get through and be a finished product. What happens if you try to get ahead? A factory worker moves you back into place. What if you get behind? A “special” worker pulls you up to speed. Each of us who has gone through this system can name notable exceptions to this model - usually great teachers. For all the good these wonderful educators do in individual lives, the system is still a factory which idealizes social and intellectual conformity.
The methodology of the professional system is similar, but it is competitive; the standards are set by the highest 19-15%. In other words, if you want to make it into law school, medical school, the premier MBA programs at the most prestigious Ivy League schools, you have to be in that percentile. But once you’re in that percentile, once you make it and say “Wow, I’m at Harvard,” you are required to get on the conveyor belt for several years until they stamp another diploma on your forehead. You say, “But I want to think; I want to be a leader.” The institutional response in academia is that there is time for that later, after you have graduated; for now you need to focus on your conveyer belt studies. Of course, this type of focus is necessary in order to really learn the profession. But when and where does the leadership training come? Where are the schools which offer it?
The Leadership Crisis
If you go back through history, you will find that these same three systems have existed for a long time, and that free and prosperous nations have always had a strong leader education system. When I teach this, people often say at this point, “well, in our society we just go to public school. That’s how everybody does it, that’s how the system has worked for a long time.” In fact, our modern system is a fairly recent development. Only in the last 70 years has it become the predominant system. In the history of education the current American system is very non-traditional, very different from what has been done in past generations. Almost everybody in American is getting the kind of education that has typically been reserved for the poor and lower classes.
What happens when a society does not prepare leaders? We get managers and professionals leading in areas they know nothing about and have no training for, and we get a nation of followers who see no problem with that because they have no experience with anything else. And eventually the result is widespread specialization complemented by arrogance, pride and general ignorance. In the past, the wealthy, the aristocracy, have always been “homeschooled” with mentors and tutors. And there’s a reason for that: the mentor system creates statesmen. Without such a system, you just don’t get the same caliber of leaders. And when a few do emerge, you will almost certainly find that they have a leader education background. Of course, in America we don’t have an aristocracy and don’t want one, so leaders must come from all classes, including the lower and the middle - what Jefferson called the “natural aristocracy”. But if they are to be real statesmen, they must be trained as statesmen by the curriculum used to train leaders all down through history.
The actual curriculum of the public school system is about 75% social and 25% skills. When I present this to public school teachers, and I’ve taught it to a lot, many of them raise their hands and say something like, “75% is low on that. It’s at least 85% and probably more.” The real goals of public school are social more than academic (see “The Seven Lesson Schoolteacher” in Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto). If you doubt that, just pull your kids out of school and see what your friends and family say. I’ll bet you won’t be asked, “Hey, what about their academics?” But I guarantee you someone will ask, “But what about their social?” And socialization for leadership is the key to home schooling.
Most homeschooling parents were themselves public schooled, so when they decide to home school they set it up the only way they know how - like a public school. They leave the public system for some reason - academic, social, religious, whatever - and try to set up a little public school at home, a little conveyor belt. They say, “okay, at 8:00 o’clock we’re going to do math, and at 8:50 we’re going to do English, and at 9:40 history,” etc. But they can never hope to teach students “what to think” as well as the public conveyor belt with its hallways, lockers, credits, grade levels and bells. And if their goal is teaching them how to think, they need to do it the leadership way.
The Two Keys to Leadership Education
The leadership curriculum is individualized. Find a great leader in history and you will find two central elements of their education - classics and mentors. From Lincoln, Jefferson and Washington to Gandhi, Mohammed, Moses, Buddha and Jesus Christ, from Newton to John Locke to Abigail Adams and Joan of Arc - great men and women of history studied other great men and women. Whatever your culture, look at its greatest leaders and you will find that they were guided by at least one mentor and made a lifetime study of classic works.
A good mentor is someone of high moral character who is more advanced than you and can guide your learning. The mentor says: “What do you want to become? What do you want to create? What do you want to be in the world? And based on that, let’s create a curriculum. Based on that, let’s design assignments. Based on that, let’s set up a system for you to become.” Leadership education says, “What do you want to do?” and then sets out to help the student gain the skills and knowledge to do it.
One thing all leaders need is an understanding of human nature. Leaders must know how people act, react, and think, in order to lead them effectively. Leaders must also have integrity, courage and insight along with character, competence and capacity. And perhaps the quickest and surest place to learn this information is in the classics. A classic is a book which is worth reading many times, and from which you learn more key lessons each time. And good mentors will suggest the classics and other materials, experiences and ideas which will prepare you to accomplish your goals.
In the history of the world, the combination of classics and mentors has been the method of obtaining all of these necessary traits and skills. Classics and mentors are the foundation of statesmanship education, which is the best preparation for professional training and for life itself.
In the next 30 years certain people will have successful careers and certain people will not. The most important factor determining which type of career you will have is education. Notice that I didn’t say “diplomas” or “degrees” or “pieces of paper,” but rather “education”. Your education will literally determine your future. And the public, professional and leadership systems train you for very different things.
The economy is changing. And most of the experts are saying things like, “In 15 years, there will be these kinds of jobs, in 20 years there will be those kinds of jobs.” And there’s enough variance among experts that we don’t really have an exact picture. But there is enough similarity in the research that we can get some general ideas. And those general ideas say basically this: Those who are public schooled will tend to spend their working years in moderate to low-income production, service and government jobs.
Professional graduates will naturally tend to be in management and the professions. But there will be less jobs in these fields in the coming years: mid-level management is being down sized and the professions are changing from the independent, lucrative fields they once were to managed, institutionalized, bureaucratic systems with less financial or social rewards.
Of course, production, service, government, management and professional fields all need leadership, and this will tend to be supplied by those who have learned how to think: analysts, entrepreneurs, decision-makers, statesmen.
Success in any field requires training - formal or informal - in the central principles which govern it. How many successful attorneys are there who never went to law school? Or dentists who never studied dentistry? Or entrepreneurs who never learned the principles of entrepreneurship? Or successful statesmen who never learned statesmanship? The successful principles of entrepreneurship and statesmanship are the lessons taught in a leadership education system, from the classics and mentors, and of course from the practical application and experience which good mentors always demand.
Some of you may be thinking, “But my Mary is just not a leader. She is a good girl, yes, but not a leader. Don’t give in to that mind set. It comes from our public socialization and the false idea that a leader is someone with smooth charisma and a TV personality. Baloney! Joan of Arc was from a poor family in a po-dunk little rural town. Jefferson hated to speak in public and hardly ever did. Madison was sickly, shy and quiet. John Adams was annoying and abrasive. Lincoln was homely and lost many more elections than he won. Columbus couldn’t convince anybody for years and years. Leadership isn’t something that just happens to you; it is a choice, a choice to pay the price to be great. And it isn’t a certain set of talents, but rather a choice to develop your own talents, to use classics and mentors and hard work and faith to become great. Of course your Mary, your Bobby, your Kimberly are not leaders, they haven’t earned it. But they can. Anyone can if they will pay the price.
Your Career Plan
Considering these three systems (public, private, leadership) and the careers they prepare one for (low income, professional, decision-maker) which one do you want your kids to prepare for? You can answer that any way you want. If you want your child to be in a low-income, production, service, or government job, your child is already in the wrong place. They ought to be in school. Because that’s what it will prepare them for and it will do it effectively. And that is good, because the whole nation benefits when schools are available for all and there is a general level of literacy.
But if you want more for your child, you get into another system. Of course, people can use one system to move to another; if your child does well in the public school, they can get scholarships and other opportunities in the professional system. But if you want your child to get a leadership education, you will need to find a mentor and get into the classics. And the impact of this decision on your child’s career future is tremendous.
The best place to start is to find a mentor, and for a young person the best mentor is likely a parent. Then somewhere around age 12 - 15, the child and parent should start looking together for additional mentors to take the child further. And when it comes time for college or even a professional school (after the child has a great leadership education), you find those schools where classics and mentors are emphasized.
For your children to really learn how to think and to become leader-statesmen, they need to master several key skills. The first ten come from the Harvard School of Government:
1. The ability to define problems without a guide. When was the last
time you saw that rewarded in a public school setting, or even in your
home school? Picture it: the teacher hands out a history exam. Johnny raises
his hand and says, “There’s a problem with the question. You assume in
the question that Napoleon was motivated by ...”
2. The ability to ask hard questions which challenge prevailing assumptions.
Can you imagine that being rewarded in a math class? The geometry teacher
declares, “this right angle is ...”
3. The ability to quickly assimilate needed data from masses of irrelevant information. This is absolutely essential in the information age. We are inundated with information, but most of it does us very little good. As Thoreau once put it: “We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas...have nothing important to communicate.” Only the relevant, important information is of value, and it takes thinking to separate the important from the rest. And textbooks are one of the worst places to learn relevance, since most of them seem committed to spouting reams of disconnected data. The classics, on the other hand, are the seed bed of the important, the relevant, the enduring.
4. The ability to work in teams without guidance. There are five of you. No appointed leader. No structure. But a major problem to solve. What do you do? How do you get the others to cooperate? How do you make the best use of everyone’s ideas, talents and skills? First, define the problem. Second, coalesce the team. Third, incentivize creativity. Fourth, decide together. Fifth, make an action plan based on integrity and volunteerism. Sixth, synergize and achieve. Seventh, define the next problem. The order changes based on what the problem is, so you have to experience this. Books aren’t enough. And home school is great for these activities. You probably don’t have the racial and cultural diversity of public schools, so include the neighbors and other home schoolers. You do have one thing the public schools almost never have: age diversity, which is much closer to real life situations than segregated age groups. So put your children in these situations - vicariously through the classics, in planned scenarios you create, and in real life situations such as work, a family business, a political campaign or local cause. Then openly discuss lessons learned, mistakes and their correctives, ideas for future action, etc.
5. The ability to work absolutely alone. Not just quietly, but actually alone, with nobody to help. This means giving them responsibility instead of just tasks. Students need to learn to direct their own education, always with the guidance of the mentor, and to analyze the level of quality and rework it until it is truly excellent. And the mentor ensures that there is open discussion and honest feedback afterwards in order to increase the learning, retention, and application of lessons learned.
6. The ability to persuade others that your course is the right one.
Communication, written and spoken, is essential to leadership. And these
skills come from reading great writing and listening to great speaking,
then critiquing and discussing it, and finally practicing it. Mentoring
is like coaching (in fact, when you think about it, the places where public
schools achieve excellence are where one-on-one mentoring takes place -
athletics, theater, music, etc.); the student writes, you critique it together
and he rewrites, over and over and over until it is high quality work.
7. The ability to conceptualize and reorganize information into new
patterns. Leader-statesmen learn from the past and have a vision of the
future, but they live in the present. So students must learn to see how
information fits, how it can be reshaped in a given situation, how it can
be used to answer questions and influence outcomes. Connection is the key
to leadership, and where public and private schools separate academic subjects
and focus on specialization, home school and leadership colleges correlate
subjects and help students become specialists in thinking, communicating
9-10. The ability to think inductively, deductively and dialectically. Student-statesmen must learn to draw specific conclusions based on a wide body of evidence, and also to induce and project based on minimal data, small trends. Both scholarly precision and trust of intuition are essential to effective statesmanship. Students must also learn to fully explore both sides of a debate in order to arrive at truth, and then to see all the other sides of the same argument, including the possible results of every potential decision.
Eight More Skills
As a teacher at George Wythe College, I asked a team of students to
look over these 10 skills and respond. (Define problems, Ask hard questions,
Challenge prevailing assumptions.)
11. The ability to understand human nature and lead accordingly.
It should be obvious by now that home schooling is ideal for leadership education. Parents can never hope to train workers to follow orders as well as the public school conveyor belt already does. Nor do most parents have the advanced expertise or resources to provide quality legal, medical or other professional training. But parents can offer students something the other systems don’t - leadership training. Parents are the first and most natural mentors. And their central religious texts, whatever their religion, and their most important family books are a start for classical learning. Parents are uniquely qualified to give the one-on-one, time-intensive and caring instruction which trains students to think, to create, to question, to cooperate, to stand alone, to adapt, to lead. As the students mature, parents guide them to mentors in the community and when they go to college parents direct them to schools based on mentors and classics which will continue their leadership preparation. Or if students go to a trade or technical school, or to a professional school after college, parents again counsel and mentor in order to help students accomplish their specific goals.
The leadership education of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, George Washington, and the Founding generation helped make America great. And as great changes and challenges come in the 1st century, somewhere there must be those who are prepared to step forward and lead. Since leaders in history are always trained by mentors and classics, I believe home schooling will be the place which will nurture, train and prepare those much needed statesmen of the 1st Century. But this will only occur if home schools put the conveyer belt behind them and turn to classics and mentoring.
Of course, much more needs to be said about how to mentor and how to use the classics, and that will be the focus of my next article in the Link. But don’t wait. Most parents are well-equipped to teach their children and need not feel intimidated by the term “classics”. Just start with one you know or have heard about and dive in. As both you and the child are reading it, discuss it together and you will start upgrading the leadership content of your school.
Some Beginning Classics
Ages 15 and above
*A more extensive list, including non-fiction classics, will be provided in the next issue of the Link.
*Articles based on a lecture series Dr. DeMille delivered at the Link Homeschool Conference at Westlake Village, California on June 13, 1998.Copyright © 2006 Modern Media