When we think of Thomas Jefferson, we remember him as President Jefferson and think of the many great accomplishments he had while he was leading our young country. Some of his other accomplishments are just as important yet not as easily remembered. Such things that may fall into this category are his views and influence on the educational system and the importance of the right and freedom to an education.
Jefferson was born in Albemarle County, Virginia on April 13, 1743. He emerged as one of the great revolutionary leaders of our country. At the Second Continental Congress in June of 1776, he headed a committee of five that created the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson was the primary author of this document. After this, he returned to Virginia and served in the House of Delegates as part of the General Assembly of Virginia. While in the Assembly, he introduced a bill that would have created a free system of tax-supported elementary education for all except slaves. This bill was defeated along with another bill he enacted that would have created a public library and updated the curriculum of the College of William and Mary. Among the revisions were these topics: ethics, law, history, natural science, and ancient languages. He wanted to give the school a more modern and bold approach to education that had not been known until then.
He was a great political leader but his greatest accomplishment in the field of education took place after his political career was finished. After his presidency, the last years of his life were spent creating the University of Virginia at Charlottesville. This school was to be a visionary new school that was to introduce America's youth to the new ideas about government and equality. He realized that different students have different academic needs and allowed for these differences by electives in his curriculum. Jefferson designed every aspect of this University. It was created as a place where both students and faculty would be able to enjoy the freedom and the ability to learn. He not only had the idea for this university, he surveyed the site, planned the buildings and was a supervisor during the construction process. Thanks to his efforts and determination, the university opened in March of 1825.
Jefferson helped push education ahead and allowed for a strong foundation for future universities and colleges. Jefferson's will and drive were there to protect the "unlimitable freedom of the human mind to explore and to expose every subject susceptible of its contemplation." If it were not for Thomas Jefferson, the educational system as we know it might not exist today. For this I think we owe him our eternal gratitude.
Prepared by Brad Lightcap