Seven Keys

by Rachel Keppner

A number of years ago I helped found George Wythe College, and one of my first responsibilities was researching just how Wythe mentored Jefferson. From that intensive research, and years of additional reading and studying, I found Seven Keys of Great Teaching which form the core of great mentoring.
Oliver Van DeMille, A Thomas Jefferson Education, 2nd Edition, pages 39

Classics, Not Textbooks

“As students become familiar with and eventually conversant with the great ideas of humanity, they learn how to think, how to lead, and how to become great. The classics, by introducing the young mind to the greatest achievements of mankind and the spiritual teachings of inspired individuals, prepare children to become successful human beings, parents and leaders in their own time.”
Oliver Van DeMille, A Thomas Jefferson Education, 2nd Edition, page 40

Mentors, Not Professors

“A good mentor is someone of high moral character who is more advanced than the student and can guide his or her learning. Parents are the natural mentors of children. …Teachers, professors, coaches, music instructors, employers, neighbors and community leaders can also be good mentors. [George Wythe, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the first law professor in America, was the mentor of Thomas Jefferson.] …None of George Wythe’s students had quite the same curriculum; each student had a personalized program designed to fit his needs and interests.”
Oliver Van DeMille, A Thomas Jefferson Education, 2nd Edition, pages 39, 41-42

Inspire, Not Require

“If the purpose is to train leaders, it’s important not to force the young person through their learning experiences. Force in learning kills the spirit, dampens the passion and destroys the zest and life of learning. Force trains followers, not leaders. …Inspiring, in contrast to ignoring and forcing, means finding out what the students need and then creatively encouraging them to engage it on their own—with excitement and interest.”
Oliver Van DeMille, A Thomas Jefferson Education, 2nd Edition, pages 41-43

Structure Time, Not Content

“We need structure in order to give adequate time and attention to learning, but the key is to structure the time, not the content. …Different things work for different students. Remember that the purpose of the structure is simply to ensure that students have sufficient time to study. The mentor doesn’t have to be there the whole time, but should interact often, and the students should be given great freedom to read and study and experiment according to their own interests. Always remember the Phases; this type of structure is usually detrimental before the young student is truly ready for intense study.”
Oliver Van DeMille, A Thomas Jefferson Education, 2nd Edition, pages 45-46

Quality, Not Conformity

“When Scholars do an assignment, either say “great work” or “do it again.” You can help them, but have them do most of the work and never accept a low quality submission or performance. Wythe was very demanding this way with Jefferson. Note that we’re talking here about more mature students, usually at least 12 and older, not of toddlers or children.”
Oliver Van DeMille, A Thomas Jefferson Education, 2nd Edition, page 46

Simplicity, Not Complexity

“To achieve truly excellent education, keep it simple: Read, Write, do Projects and Discuss. The more complex our national curriculum has become, the less educated our society. …George Wythe structured Jefferson’s curriculum around these simple items: classics, discussion, projects, writing. Nearly the whole Founding generation did the same, and the further we have moved from this simple formula, the worse our education has become. What we need to improve education is not more curriculum, but better education, and that comes from classics and mentors.”
Oliver Van DeMille, A Thomas Jefferson Education, 2nd Edition, pages 48-49

You, Not Them

“Set the example. The best mentors are continually learning and pushing themselves. Read the classics. Study hard. This allows you to take the ‘agency’ approach to teaching, to let your students have a say in what they study next. …George Wythe studied as hard as Jefferson, and Jefferson contacted home with questions and for help through his life until he passed away. The mentor must lead the way, by reading what the student reads, discussing it with him and requiring quality work. …Children tend to rise to the educational level of their parents, and maybe a little above if their parents have shown them that this is important. The most effective way to ensure the quality of their education is to consistently improve your own.”
Oliver Van DeMille, A Thomas Jefferson Education, 2nd Edition, pages 52-53

The NEW 8th Key—Secure, Not Stressed

The pull of the conveyor belt is very strong for parents who were schooled in that system—which is most parents today. When the temptation to return to requiring, textbooks, canned curriculum, and even public school arises, we as parents must go back to those feelings present when we first felt that TJEd was right for our family. We can trust that desire to give our children a chance to become truly educated, great men and women of character who will someday change the world. Our children have important missions to fulfill, And parents are equipped to help them live up to those missions. But we have to trust our hearts, our feelings, those whisperings from God.

Trusting the process yields the best results for a true Leadership Education. Just keep moving forward on the path you have chosen.