Thomas Jefferson, Part 3

Posted by Mary Elizabeth Sings on the “Get Schooled” blog of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on November 25, 2016:

My response to Ed Johnson on November 28, 2016:


My reasons for continuing to support President Obama, even with his not standing up to choice advocates more decidedly, are the following:

(1) He is a politician and statesman who has to keep in balance many different constituencies. He is not a MLK, Jr. who can wholeheartedly work in the course of his life for one overriding philosophy. (Obama mentions this in his Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech.)

Here are links that see Obama differently in relation to his stand on continuing public education. The names of these publications reveal their differing vantage points:

(2) Obama has actually tried to change the trajectory of the world with his collaborative vision for this world’s future. (Donald Trump has a completely opposite worldview.) Please read Obama’s words below (Cairo, Egypt, 2009):

“That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.

This is a difficult responsibility to embrace. For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes subjugating one another to serve their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners of it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; progress must be shared.”

(3) Jefferson was seemingly lukewarm toward freeing slaves, later in his political career, because he said if – in his Age of history – he tried to advance the freeing of slaves more than the populace could absorb at that time in history, he would have lost his prestige in being able to sway public opinion in other areas of his interest because the public would reject him altogether. I believe Obama has been caught in the same dilemma relative to public education. He is looking for the world’s change of trajectory toward collaboration, not just education.

(4) Here is an educational model in which I can see competition and collaboration working in harmony: Charter schools would remain within the satellite of traditional public school’s jurisdiction. However, these innovative charter schools would “compete” with the educational ideas and delivery presently housed in traditional public school settings, not trying to destroy traditional public schools, but to make them better. They would be laboratories in which ideas could compete in a collaborative way, if you will.
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My 2nd Response to Ed Johnson on November 28, 2016:

Thank you, Ed, for more interesting thought about Obama. I think he is the antithesis of Donald Trump, and our nation will suffer greatly under Trump because Trump mainly is going to look after himself. Obama, on the other hand, has truly tried to help the nation, not simply himself.

We must remember that President Obama was never a student of educational delivery, as we have been, so that his perceptions relative to how to improve education will have their limitations. He was a student of law and of social justice so that I believe we must keep ourselves from broad sweeping his thinking and merit simply because he does not see the light in educational delivery based on a collaborative model as we do. Please read his Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech in full.

It is always a pleasure to debate and discuss with you. That more than anything should demonstrate the value of a collaborative spirit within our public schools more than a competitive one, for readers of this blog.


Ed, you had asked me yesterday: “What light might you shed on a Jeffersonian competitive approach to education versus a Jeffersonian cooperative approach to education?” I have given your in-depth question the thought that it deserves. Here is my thinking, at this time, regarding my answer as succinctly as a blog post will allow:

Jefferson had a brilliant mind, in part, because his mind refused to separate paradoxical thought which average minds would unthinkingly do. Two examples: In the PBS DVD entitled “Thomas Jefferson,” it is pointed out by journalist George Will that Jefferson’s profound declaration, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” holds paradoxical thought in that men cannot be both free and equal at the same time, yet Jefferson made those concepts abstract enough through his words that both concepts could be accepted by all men and women into perpetuity. That was the genius of Thomas Jefferson. The other paradoxes, which Jefferson combined, are shown in Jefferson’s life. Jefferson sincerely fought against slavery in America in his youth, but he gave up after pursuing that goal later in his life because he realized that he was of an Age in which the evolution of humankind would not accept what he knew to be an eternal truth – that no man has the right to own the body and soul another. Though a kindly master of slaves, Jefferson, nevertheless, owned slaves his entire life, demonstrating how he could juxtapose paradox within in own life.

I encouraged my students to think for themselves with nuance, degree, and with the ability to contain paradoxical ideas within their minds, simultaneously, because I believe that, in that educated or enlightened way of seeing the world, people would be able closer to find eternal truths, as Jefferson had sought and tried to implement in his own life.

Jefferson also wrote: “I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

With that thought of Jefferson’s in mind (which is engraved above Jefferson statue in his Washington D.C. Memorial), it is my opinion that Jefferson would have had a higher allegiance to the mental freedom of a single individual to think for himself than for a single individual to comply with the thoughts of his peers, even though Jefferson also recognized that man was made to be a social being. (In that way of thinking he was similar to Henry David Thoreau.) However, competition in regard to education was not something Jefferson pondered, in my opinion, unless that competition was simply a competition within himself as a student, and not with others. However, I actually believe that Jefferson did not pursue learning to be in competition with himself but simply because he had a thirst for learning. The sensibility involving competition with himself, in his own mind, to pursue greater learning would not have been consistent with the refined sensibilities of Jefferson’s mind. However, the simple love of learning and curiosity about the world did contain those refined sensibilities within his mind, imo.

I believe that Jefferson knew that we must work together as a human race to continue the evolution of the better angels of our natures and, for that reason among others, Jefferson was a social being. He also loved to be among people in a quiet and reserved way. I believe that Jefferson would have found a way to have combined competition and collaboration in public education for the good of all Americans with collaboration taking ultimate priority so that the uniqueness of thinking of any one person on Earth would forever be sustained because competition, misused and taken to the extreme, can create fear and the quest for ephemeral goals, only, in the mind of man – which is capable of so much more insight than those more limited emotions would allow. For example, I am most certain that Thomas Jefferson would be appalled at the idea of education designed primarily as a business endeavor for profit for individuals, which too often does take competition between people to a cruel and extreme degree within society.

(For more, please see the link, below, to my blog, which was originally written in 2012 as a result of our conversation at that time on the subject of competition vs. cooperation. I have added an addendum to that link, in 2015, which you may not have yet read.)

Addendum to my essay above: Ed, I must write, also, that Thomas Jefferson was highly competitive for the soul of America as he demonstrated in the presidential election of 1800. Jefferson knew that it was essential for this nation’s democratic tenets to be sustained as perceived by him and by those who thought like him in the Democratic-Republican Party (which later became the Democratic Party of Andrew Jackson).

Jefferson was in battle against the Federalists in the 1800 election – whose more royalist views included those of Washington, Adams, and Hamilton – for a more egalitarian society than the royalists were pursuing in America. Ironically, in the end, Alexander Hamilton threw his support in the U. S. Congress (where that election was decided) for Jefferson over Aaron Burr, after the Jefferson/Burr ticket had defeated the Federalists but one in which Burr and Jefferson both had received 73 electoral college votes. Said Hamilton (paraphrased): I may disagree with the ideas of Thomas Jefferson, but I know that he cares deeply about the viability and continuation of America, as I do, and I believe that Aaron Burr cares mainly about the success of Aaron Burr rather than America.

Quotes by Thomas Jefferson:

“I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”

Read more at:


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