This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Alan Taylor, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Professor of History at the University of Virginia, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, and author of the book, Thomas Jefferson’s Education. Professor Taylor shares some highlights of Jefferson’s career, his views on the importance of primary and higher public education in serving the political aspirations of his state and region, and Jefferson’s role as the architect of the University of Virginia, whose buildings embody his Neoclassical outlook. Professor Taylor reviews Virginia’s complex, 18th-century history as the most politically influential, populous, and wealthiest state, but one that was heavily dependent on agriculture and slavery. The interview concludes with Professor Taylor reading from his book on Jefferson.
Stories of the Week: A Washington Post column raises concerns about data showing that we are under-educating our children through low academic expectations, especially those from low-income and minority backgrounds. In Wisconsin, Act 31 requires that K-12 public schools instruct students in the history of the state’s Native Americans – but some estimate that less than half of the schools are implementing it.
Alan Taylor is the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Professor of History at the University of Virginia. He taught previously at the University of California, Davis and Boston University. Taylor has authored eleven books, including in 2019 Thomas Jefferson’s Education and The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia: 1772-1832, which was a National Book Award for Nonfiction finalist in 2013 and won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in History. His book William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic won the 1996 Bancroft, Beveridge, and Pulitzer prizes. Taylor is a graduate of Colby College and received his Ph.D. from Brandeis University.
The next episode will air on Weds., August 31st, with Angel Adams Parham, Associate Professor of Sociology and senior fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture (IASC) at the University of Virginia, and the author of The Black Intellectual Tradition: Reading Freedom in Classical Literature.
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See the lineup: https://t.co/GzI75180qR
— National Association of Scholars (@NASorg) August 18, 2022
Why won’t schools challenge their students? – The Washington Post
Wisconsin schools are not meeting state mandate on Native American education
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Read a Transcript of This Episode
Please excuse typos.
[00:00:00] Cara: Gerard Robinson. I am so happy to be back with you in these waning days of summer. And I have to say I know that you got to spend some absolute QT. It’s always QT when you’re with the wonderful Charlie Chieppo, who is a fan favorite, but I just wanna emphasize Gerard that I am indeed more fetching than Chieppo.
[00:00:25] GR: that has been confirmed by a long time friend and former department of education, executive in Massachusetts. So it’s been confirmed and affirmed, but I will always say it’s good to have him to be here who, because he’s chipper, you know, Chieppo’s chipper. But Cara’s always conscious. Cool. And.
[00:00:45] Cara: and Gerard knows how to alliterate. So, I mean, we’ve got it all going here on the learning curve and shout out to our friend, that department, that former department of education, charter school authorizing official. I appreciate getting the inside track Gerard.[00:01:00] Wow.
[00:01:00] We’ve got a lot going on. I’m sure we could. take all of this half hour, just to talk about primaries, just to talk about, I don’t know, it’s still like a huge heat wave here in Massachusetts. I’m grateful that you and Charlie were able to, take the show last week as I was traveling, I had the great pleasure.
[00:01:19] I have to say of being face to face. With some of my very dear colleagues from Excel and ad, which happens about twice a year and felt very important. And that’s why I wasn’t here. I was in Dallas, Texas. Let me tell you something. It was hot. It was very, very hot yeah. Mm-hmm the camaraderie made it all worth it.
[00:01:38] , but Jordan, I am so curious. You and I were talking at the front of the show. My kids are yet to be back in school because here we go back after labor day, which you know, allows me. So much more lovely QT with my children while I work during the day. And they’re not in camp anymore. But what’s going on in your world are your kids back to school.
[00:01:57] I’m also really curious Gerard as to what you’re [00:02:00] reading and all of these, still lots of primaries going on. We are in, election season here. I’m wondering what’s on your radar.
[00:02:07] GR: So for the children part, my kids, uh, daughters are returning to. This week. And so we’ve had a great summer camps, vacations, vacations I think we’ve got one more sleepover to go and that, you know, that would pretty much put a bow on the end of summer.
[00:02:23] So, it’s been pretty productive for us, but they’re gonna go back. So if you’re waiting for labor day, yeah. You’ve definitely got more time than us. And that varies, you know, we’ve got one in the public
[00:02:31] Cara: that’s with a bit of Sean and Freud in’s voice.
[00:02:33] GR: He’s like, you’ve got one. Yeah, we got, you know, we got one in private, one in public.
[00:02:37] And so, it depends on the schedule, but they’re both going back. So we’re, pretty excited about that. And, they love learning. They love their teachers. So, it’ll be a, good handoff in terms of the primaries, you know, I’m still watching, what’s taking place. Who’s one who lost one that I’ve particular interest on and that won’t really kick off until November is The push for a new state chief in Georgia.
[00:02:59] So I’m taking a [00:03:00] look at that.
[00:03:01] Alan: That’s where I
[00:03:01] Cara: am. Yeah. I’m watching Georgia, watching Oklahoma, watching Arizona, lots of interesting stuff. And a lot of like, you know, we’ve talked about this before. We get really worked up about federal elections and they are important, but man, those state legislatures.
[00:03:17] Really where all the action is at whether we’d like to believe it or not. So it’s always important to watch state, legislature, state, chief races, all super, super interesting. Jared, my story of the week is from a guy who’s written so much about education that maybe he should be, could be a state chief.
[00:03:32] I don’t know what, what your take is, but we’ve had him on this show before it’s from Jane Matthews of the Washington post. man, this commentary from Jay. Called some kids need harder lessons than schools are willing to give them. Boy. Oh boy, did it hit home with me? And I gotta tell you, so this is, I don’t know how this makes me look as a parent, but after retreating in Dallas with my colleagues, I went back to Michigan where my kids were at grandma and [00:04:00] grandpa camp.
[00:04:00] And so my five year old. This, I swear, this is relevant to the story, but I have a five year old son. He’s my youngest. And you know, my other two, they were always really on it. They wanted to learn how to ride a bike. They wanted to like this five year old. When I tell you. He has no interest in such things like his poppy.
[00:04:17] And I will be like, okay, come on. That’s right. We’re going on a family bike ride. You should really learn how to ride. He says, no, thank you. We are at the pediatrician. The pediatrician said, so, , are you riding a bike yet? And he looked at her like she was nuts. And he said, I, have no interest in riding a bike was what his face said.
[00:04:32] And she said, well, a lot of kids, your age are learning how to ride bikes. And he said, I don’t need to, my mommy has a really nice seat on the back of her bike. And she said, well, how long do you think you could ride in that seat? And he. Until I’m about eight or nine. So that tells you so as a parent, I’m really eager for my kid to learn how to ride the bike we’re in Michigan.
[00:04:49] And my parents had ’em on a bike with training rails, and I said to my parents. Let’s take those training wheels off. Like he’s five, he’s big, he’s got balance. We can do this. And my mother we got in a little argument because my mother [00:05:00] said, no, he needs to have feel a sense of accomplishment and confidence.
[00:05:04] And my attitude was you need to throw this kid into the deep end and quit coddling him and he can rise to the occasion. Right? So I’m reading this article by Jay Matthews, which is basically the whole crux of it is he’s talking about this study that just came out by T NTP. and what it finds. It’s a study of reading instruction, and this won’t be surprising to you as a state chief, but it talks about how most kids in this country are just, they’re getting below grade level instruction in reading and the report outlines the report doesn’t claim to do anything, but like lay this out here like that they did, they surveyed all of these schools and school children, and they found that by and large kids, especially kids.
[00:05:45] Who live on the lower end of the socioeconomic status scale are being 65% of the time. Children who qualify for free and reduced price lunch are being given below grade level work. Now, when the exact same children are given above [00:06:00] grade level work, the study finds that they rise to the occasion that they’re able to do it, that they do better.
[00:06:04] So this begs the question, Jay is talking about the question of. Why is it that we continue to have this attitude that oof. let’s not challenge kids too much. Let’s not throw them in to the deep end. And boy, boy, this really resonated with me because as I’m sure will be unsurprising to all of our listeners, right?
[00:06:23] This has only gotten worse since the pandemic. This idea that, oh, let’s not, Challenge kids too much. I don’t know how you are. I think all kids are different Gerard, but I find that although sometimes there’s a little bit of initial pain when you take those training wheels off the kids, usually most kids enjoy being challenged and they can still gain a sense of self-efficacy.
[00:06:43] I mean, I’m not saying they should spend their whole lives in the deep end, , not knowing what to do, but this article, this, commentary from Jay Matthews, it also brought me back to. Thinking about just the pendulum swing that is education policy, because I know Gerard not to date you, but we both remember a [00:07:00] nation at risk.
[00:07:00] Right? I mean, I was, you know, in diapers, but we both remember, one of the big findings of that foundational report in the 1980s was basically that, like, remember the tide that if like a hostile Ford and power wanted to take over. The us, and this was, during the cold war that basically they’d totally be able to do so because our kids are like illiterate and can’t do math and it was, but the whole argument was like our standards.
[00:07:23] Where they exist are very low. And we went through this whole era right in the eighties where kids couldn’t even pass common basic competency tests. And so what did we do instead of teaching them more? We took the tests away until 2001 when we get no child left behind, which of course comes on the heels of some really important state efforts.
[00:07:42] But. This theme in American education for the past 40, 50 years has been like, let’s not challenge our kids. Let’s not raise standards. And I think we’re in now a period, certainly in the post, no child left behind, but even more so in the post pandemic era [00:08:00] where this is prevalent. So I really appreciate this T NTP report.
[00:08:05] And I’m also taken back to. Jay talks about the founders of idea, the charter network in Texas in this report and how they challenged kids to be able to do math. And they showed that actually, when you put difficult math content in, front of children, they will rise to the occasion if they’re given the right tools and the right teachers and the right content.
[00:08:23] And I’m taken back to thinking about, our charter schools, some of the highest performing charter schools in this country. What we used to call, and it is no longer acceptable to say apparently no excuses schools. And now there might have been some policies associated with those schools that left a bad taste in mouths of parents.
[00:08:40] And I think that that’s really important to recognize, but at the same time, one of the things that no excuses schools proved was that kids who have not been challeng. When challenged are very capable, right? So these schools are schools that many of them were taking kids who would come in three, four grade levels behind in reading and math.
[00:08:59] And they would catch [00:09:00] them up in a year. So the kids could graduate high school and go to college. And many of them by the way, are still doing that today. So we know it’s possible, but it seems that this. Malaise, this don’t challenge. The kids is really endemic and I think Jay really puts his finger on it here.
[00:09:15] Now, I don’t know, you probably know more than I do about the answers. I can only speak to, taking my own kids’ training wheels off Gerard, but it seems to me like one of the great values in this report, if we can disseminate it, is that teachers need to know it because teachers might not know it.
[00:09:30] And teachers might not have. The autonomy. They might not have the right curriculum in their hands and they might not have the confidence to say I’m gonna, challenge kids even more than I otherwise would. Or even more than the state curriculum says. I mean, what does it take to get a high school diploma?
[00:09:46] In most states it takes barely passing. Eighth grade content on a math or literacy test. Massachusetts did just raise its standards, I will say, but I think that most parents, most even teachers in this country don’t [00:10:00] understand how remember when president Bush whose museum I got to visit in Dallas called this , the soft bigotry of low expectations.
[00:10:07] This is a big deal. I highly recommend this article. So again, that title is, some kids need harder lessons than schools are willing to give them. And there’s a great link in there to the TN TP, the new teacher project report that talks about these findings on low ball teaching when it comes to early literacy.
[00:10:24] So that is my story. The week it’s saying to me, Gerard. No, no. What are you.
[00:10:29] GR: no, you’ve hit some really, really good points. So let’s talk at the state level about competition. And also since you’ve just returned from an Excel and ed, I’m gonna use governor Jeb Bush in Florida. As an example, when he was governor of Florida, he was really clear that students had to compete, not for the sake of trying to create a hunger game type environ.
[00:10:50] For students, parents, and teachers. But to simply say, we’re going to raise the bar of expectation. We’re going to invest resources into the right spots, including reading [00:11:00] coaches and others. And once we do this over time, we’ll see a rise. Not only do Florida see a rise in student achievement on its FCAT over time, but they were doing it with students who people said simply could not learn.
[00:11:15] Of their zip code, where they lived because of gender, because of race, because of socioeconomic status, because of the education of their parents, because of the immigration status of their parents. I mean, when you look at Florida schools right now, still one of the top 10 states in the country, in terms of academic achievement, it’s a majority minority student population with roughly 50% of the students qualifying for free reduced price lunch.
[00:11:40] And when you look. Studies published in peer review journals studies published by think tank, whether it’s AAI, Brookings, everything in between. We see that. In fact, if you raise the standards, it’s going to help now, does it mean that some students are gonna fall through the cracks? Absolutely, but we’re having fewer students fall through the cracks by actually [00:12:00] trying to provide that.
[00:12:01] So there’s at least one state where the population that many students do not have, but they have pockets. And they’re having success. So that’s number one. Number two, when you look at a nation at risk Reagan’s in office, our friend Dr. Checker, Finn, also involved in the department of education. At that time, you had not only corporate executives, but you had governors, military personnel.
[00:12:22] Business leaders, teachers and families who said, we need to do a better job so that our schools aren’t at risk. This wasn’t solely coming from Republicans. It wasn’t solely coming from a playbook of Milton Friedman. it was a group of people, including libertarians as well. Who said, we need to do this.
[00:12:39] And I do think, and this is gonna sound, you know, harsh to some people, but I don’t really. Hm. I think that we have a lot of people who are making decisions about competition, who themselves, when they were in school, did participate in competi. Sports uh, amen. Did not participate in activities that really found whether you could compete outside of [00:13:00] academics, basically, meaning people who were in the library now, deciding because they’re in a position of power, which students can and cannot do.
[00:13:07] And so I think there’s a point where we should bring back the bullies and the jocks and the others who people said were the ones who bullied them into submission. Let’s bring them back and put them onto a panel and have a conversation about what competition looks like. I’m not saying I’m wanting want more bullying, but I’m saying that we can’t let one segment of the American elite decide who can and cannot compete, because I can tell you when I work with Dr.
[00:13:33] Fuller as a fellow at the Institute for the transformation of learning at Marquette university, that I worked in Milwaukee, tough city with tough challenges, but tough problems were exacerbated in part because of that language that students can’t compete, I actually saw students compete in something called get this.
[00:13:50] Academic Olympics, where they had to compete against other students. Someone lost someone didn’t win the goal. Someone didn’t win the bronze, [00:14:00] but you had to compete. Life is about. Our competition, the human race, as we know it had to get here because of the four S and I won’t say all four of those, but one F I want to add is the frenzy of simply being weak.
[00:14:14] The frenzy of simply not want to take a stand and the frenzy of not wanting to say, suck it up. When it comes time to do it because we somehow seem to do well for our own children and behind the closed doors, we put them into competitive environments, but when it comes to children or what our friend and her award winning book called other people’s children.
[00:14:37] Cara: I love it. And just real quick, before we get to your story of the week, I have to say, you say, let’s bring all the jocks and, put them together on a panel and the bullies. I’m just picturing the breakfast club.
[00:14:46] Like we could bring yeah, that be right, put ’em in detention. Let ’em hash it out. I wanna hear what, they have to come up with anyway, on to yours, my friend. Cause I know you’ve been thinking about something cool.
[00:14:57] GR: Well, thinking about back to school. And [00:15:00] we think about the more than, , 55 million public schools, students who are returning to school in person, we’re looking at, you know, more than 8 million students who are going to private schools.
[00:15:08] A lot more students are gonna go to the homeschooling sector. And we think about schooling. We often don’t think about all the populations and we say people of color. It’s often black and Hispanic, often overlooks , Asian Americans, but one group we often over. Our native Americans. We have it here on the learning curve.
[00:15:25] We’ve actually had a leader in a native American community come to talk about his work. So my story is really going to focus on native American students. And this is written by Terrence Falk in the Wisconsin example. Seminar and Terrance has basically given us an idea of schools, not meeting state mandates for native Americans in the state.
[00:15:43] Now on August 18th there were a group of people who were involved with the Wisconsin. Indian education association. They held a meeting. What he called a celebration to the state’s commitment to native American education under act 31 and act 31 is a piece of legislation [00:16:00] passed in the 1980s to require that primary and secondary public schools in Wisconsin provide.
[00:16:07] Instruction to students and to educators about the history, culture and treaty rights of Wisconsin’s native American population. Now this legislation did not grow of , good feelings to say, we should do this. In fact, in the 1980s, there were protests and conflicts between white fishermen and Wisconsin and native American spirit, fishermen and women over tree rights and who had rights to do it.
[00:16:30] And so as with, you know, with. Thing with, let’s say battles. You had to figure out well, who are the right players and what are the right outcomes? Well, trying to identify fishing rights with one part of dealing with years of segregation, years of delegation, of native American history and culture, someone.
[00:16:46] Said, well, one thing we could also do is strengthen the education, not only of native Americans, but all students in Wisconsin about the native American history their contribution and others to our state. And so governor Tommy Thompson[00:17:00] who also, as we know, was the champion of the first urban based voucher program in the country.
[00:17:04] In 1989, he signed act 31 into law. And there is a professor at university of Wisconsin green bay who actually wrote a book called the history of act 21. And JP Larry really just outlined. Why this matters today and why is it? It’s a matter historically now to put this in context, I took a look at a 2015 report put together by the Wisconsin department of education and it’s called American education in Wisconsin.
[00:17:34] And one of the first major laws passed in that state to deal with native American education. In fact was Wisconsin 31, but it’s also worth noting that Wisconsin in 1989. Was one of a small group of states who said, we’re gonna require instruction in history, culture, and tribal sovereignty in our, our state.
[00:17:51] And they said, not only are we gonna do that, we’re gonna make sure that public school district are required to provide instruction. At least twice in the elementary grades, at least once in high school, but get this all [00:18:00] Wisconsin teachers, including pre-service teachers and teachers certified outside of Wisconsin are required to receive college level instruction.
[00:18:08] In the history, culture and tribal sovereignty of the state. And so the author of the article took a look and said that the results to date have been mixed. First of all, there’s some school systems who are using it, some aren’t. And one of the reasons, many school systems aren’t using it as much as they should, according to the author is the fact that they’re just simply aren’t enough department of educational officials and consultants.
[00:18:30] Who can dedicate time to do so. Back when the law was signed in 1989 and a few years moving forward, you had several people who would go throughout the district, looking at approximately 10% of the school districts and taking a look to see, are you doing it? And what can we do? Well, fast forward that numbers began to drop because of either budget cuts because of focus.
[00:18:48] Well, either way, that’s one thing where the Wisconsin Indian association say we gotta do a better job on the. Positive side. They said that there are actually more students in the state, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, native American and other who said, [00:19:00] they’ve actually learned more about the culture and have come to appreciate it.
[00:19:03] But given the course, the times we live in right now, this issue of native American education happens to fall into a broader conversation now about critical race theory and naturally, and understandably. We would think we’re talking about black education, but guess what? Native American education in fact has found its way into , the debate.
[00:19:21] Do you know that in 2021 some black students were forced to cut their dreadlocks or to move hair? Yes in order to participate in athletics. And guess what? Native Americans in fact were forced, particularly the boys they were forced because of their hair braiding. So in 2021 the Wisconsin Indian education solicitation, pastor resolution in support of protecting expressions of cultural identity, such as wearing braids or Eagle feathers on graduation caps.
[00:19:50] In 2021 the national Indian education association replaces resolution rejecting any legislation or action to limit the full inclusive [00:20:00] teaching of history in the United States, especially as it relates to American Indians, Alaskan natives and native Hawaiians. And so this resolution of course, is in part to the broader conversation of teaching American history and what the native American said.
[00:20:13] It’s tough to teach American history and not talk about genocide that was placed upon natives, but also to not talk about the role native people have played in helping to create America as we know it today. So for me, as I think about back to school, I want to at least give some support to what’s taking place in Wisconsin and for all of us to.
[00:20:33] So we’re talking about students. Let’s not forget
[00:20:35] Alan: the native American population.
[00:20:37] Cara: Ah thank you. Thank you. And you know, I have to say uh, we mentioned Lisa Delt. earlier talking about BI segment and she also that her work, other people’s children and work that came after, came out of working with native populations, right in like in Alaska.
[00:20:52] And this is something, this is just. Part of the general conversation. I thank you for bringing it to [00:21:00] our knowledge that, you know, when we talk about critical race theory, and we talk about some of these more controversial things that have really robbed us of actual conversation. I think deep conversation in the past few years that most people do not have in their mind that this involves American peoples and how they would like, or how they.
[00:21:17] have history taught in their own schools. Many of their schools many indigenous people are still of a generation where they remember schools where they were taken away where children were taken away from their parents. Mm-hmm right. I mean, this is my mentor, Charlie Glen has written about this and the, history of The oppression of native American peoples.
[00:21:35] it’s so amazing how blind most of us are to it. I think that if you ask most people to like draw a picture or provide a photo of what a native American person looks like, they would still probably because of what we are taught in schools draw something that looked like a textbook drawing of like the Mayflower, right.
[00:21:54] I mean, it’s just, and tonsil. Yeah, this is just an issue that needs to be [00:22:00] discussed, needs to be brought to the fore. We talk a lot. Folks who’ve been oppressed in this country and native American people are just all too often left out of that conversation. And their voices are all too often, just not at all a part of the conversation about schools and what’s happening in schools.
[00:22:16] And what’s being taught in schools and in schools that should be run, by native peoples and in which native people have a say. it’s a really important topic and thank you for bringing to our attention. And so note to our producers. Let’s do a little bit more on this because our last guest on the topic was phenomenal.
[00:22:33] And speaking of guests, we’ve got one waiting in the wings, Gerard, so we are gonna be talking next with Allen Taylor, professor Allen Taylor. He is the Thomas Jefferson Memorial foundation professor of history in your neck of the woods at the university of Virginia. So that’ll be coming up right after this.[00:23:00]
[00:23:38] We are back with Alan Taylor. He is the Thomas Jefferson Memorial foundation professor of history at the university of Virginia, right in Gerard’s hometown backyard. He taught previously at the university of California Davis and Boston university, where I also taught for a short stint. Taylor has authored 11 books, including in [00:24:00] 2019, Thomas Jefferson’s educat.
[00:24:03] And the internal enemy slavery and the war in Virginia, which was a national book award for non-fiction finalist in 2013 and won the 2014 Pulitzer prize in history. His book, William Cooperstown, power and persuasion on the frontier of the early American Republic won the 1996 Vanko beverage and pu prizes.
[00:24:25] Taylor is a graduate of Colby college. And received his PhD right in my backyard from Brandeis university, Professor Taylor, welcome to the learning curve.
[00:24:34] Alan: Well, thank you very much for having me on.
[00:24:36] Cara: Yeah, we’re excited to have you. So we wanna talk about one of our founding fathers, perhaps one of our most multifaceted founding fathers who in his own time, and today is Well complicated and, certainly in recent years, much more controversial, I think.
[00:24:53] So could you share with our listeners some of the highlights of Jefferson’s career? I know that’s probably not an [00:25:00] easy thing to do, but also let’s talk a little bit, given the nature of our audience about his view of the importance of primary public education and his founding of course of UVA. .
[00:25:12] Alan: Well, Jefferson, as you mentioned, is perhaps the most versatile of the founding fathers in that he had talents as an architect as a writer, as a political writer, thinker, statesman. He was a diplomat. He served as the first secretary of state in the Washington administration. He became vice president and then he became president and he’s associated of course, with the acquisition of the Louisiana purchase.
[00:25:39] but when he came to inscribe on his tombstone, what he saw as his greatest accomplishment they did not include any of his political accomplishment. Or his political offices, I should say, but instead they emphasized his out of the university of Virginia and his role in separating church and state [00:26:00] through the Virginia statute of religious freedom of 1786.
[00:26:04] and these two things were connected. For Jefferson, he saw one of the great accomplishments of the American revolution was to separate church and state to end the favorable treatment of one church by the government, the colonial government. And that was the Anglican or Episcopal church, which was established.
[00:26:23] And that meant that it received. Money. And by law, people were supposed to attend that church unless they went through some sort of complicated opt out. So Jefferson and other revolutionaries in Virginia were out to end that favorite treatment. And when they did that it also ended up eliminating The parish schools that were generally run by these tax supported ministers. And so for Jefferson, a key part of realizing the revolution is to have an alternative system, a publicly funded secular [00:27:00] school system. Unfortunately, that costs money. And most Virginians just wanted to cut their taxes. And so Jefferson gets half of what he wants out of the revolution by ending the establishment of the Anglican church, but he doesn’t get the substitution of a secular public education system.
[00:27:20] He kept pushing for it and he really got nowhere. So that after he retired as president, he decided he would reduce his ambitions and try to achieve the one element that he thought was more doable. And that was to found a university. He figured that would cost less money than establishing a system of primary education through the many counties of a very large.
[00:27:47] And that it would have more support from the leaders of Virginia, who could imagine sending their children to a university, but who were not keen about taxing themselves to educate more [00:28:00] common Virginian. And so , that’s the primary thing that, that I would emphasize in Jefferson’s commitment to education is that he’s forced to compromise and he’s forced to compromise by focusing on creating the university of Virginia, the 18 teams.
[00:28:17] Cara: That’s amazing. And of course, a compromise that results in , something huge putting the United States, you know, placing us as a 4runner. I would say in the world when it comes to higher education and the quality of higher education, we can probably say something different today about the quality of our publicly funded primary education, unfortunately, in too many places.
[00:28:39] But I have to say as somebody. Studied education for 20 years now, I was not aware of the important role that Jefferson played or of his views on the importance of publicly funded primary education. So thank you for that. I wanna ask you a little bit about how Jefferson thought about higher [00:29:00] education as an expression of federalism.
[00:29:02] I mean, I think that unfortunately I will. I don’t think that I was the beneficiary of an excellent history education in secondary school. And so a lot of my education about Thomas Jefferson embarrassingly, this might be true for quite a few Americans at this point, came from Hamilton, the, popular mm-hmm Broadway show.
[00:29:19] Right. But, so talk to us about this relationship between how he saw education. And federalism and how it would serve very specifically his home state and what he referred to as my country, Virginia.
[00:29:35] Alan: Well, federalism meant a different thing in Jefferson’s time than it means today. Until recent years, we’ve kind of had a consensus that federalism means that there are certain areas that are reserved for the state, but overall, the federal government has sovereignty for a nation, but that’s an idea that really emerged in a big way during the American civil war.
[00:29:59] And [00:30:00] so if we go before the civil war, we find people like Jefferson insisted on keeping the federal government limited and Jefferson early and often would say things like Virginia is my nation. So he imagined the federal government is really a coordinating body for a variety of sovereign states of which the most important for Jefferson was.
[00:30:28] So Jefferson did not cooperate with George Washington’s efforts to establish a national university in Washington, DC. Instead, Jefferson tried to divert Washington’s assets that he wanted to invest in such a university into a what he called a national university, but it would be the national university of.
[00:30:49] Jefferson had you know, he first and foremost, a Patriot of Virginia who was willing to cooperate with other Americans in the United States to achieve the American [00:31:00] revolution. And also then to try to keep the peace among the different states thereafter. But the university of Virginia is not the first public university established in the country.
[00:31:11] It’s. The others were also in the south. So the university of North Carolina and South Carolina and Georgia all older, a bit older from the 1790s. And it is interesting that the Southern states take the lead in founding public universities. And it’s in part because they were far behind in private.
[00:31:32] Universities just about all the private universities like Harvard or Yale or Princeton or Columbia, they were Northern institutions. And there was some concern or considerable concern by the leaders of the south that their children going to Northern institution might learn the wrong ideas and bring them back home.
[00:31:55] So there was an effort to use. Funding in order to establish Southern [00:32:00] universities, that would be just as good as those Northern private institutions.
[00:32:05] GR: If I could just go a step further, you happen to mention that Georgia South Carolina in North Carolina had public universities before UVA. I’ve got friends at UNC and at Georgia, and they’re always debating who is the first public school.
[00:32:19] Do you have the answer to that? So I can figure out who’s right and who’s wrong.
[00:32:22] Alan: I think it’s UN UNC, but I am that’s off the top of my head, so I haven’t looked at it. These three institutions, other than UVA are all established during the 1790s,
[00:32:35] GR: as I understood. Well giving back to UVA and since UVA and UNC are in the uh, ACC, we’re still within the same theme.
[00:32:42] Jefferson decided that he wasn’t only going to focus on education, but on the architect and the original building of what he called his academical village, that he said education had to also encompass a look. And so can you talk about the architectural meaning symbolism and significance [00:33:00] of UVA’s buildings that Jefferson.
[00:33:03] Alan: Right. Well, I would say that Jefferson is very much a man of the enlightenment and the enlightenment believed that if you came up with just the right set of rules and the right set of buildings arranged in the right way, that people’s behavior would naturally shift toward a more natural expression of what should be proper.
[00:33:30] So people of the enlightenment believed that they needed to break down older institutions that were based on leadism of kind of inherited wealth and status and substitute more of a meritocracy. And Jefferson then rejected the traditional form of the college, which was one big building in which most of the students would live.
[00:33:57] They would take their classes and often faculty [00:34:00] members would live there. And this was the case in the college that he had attended the college of William and Mary and Williamsburg. Which essentially had one big building. And for Jefferson, this was just a den of strife and noise and distraction. And it did therefore bred the wrong kind of behavior.
[00:34:20] So Jefferson wanted to disperse people into many smaller buildings, and so he arranged his architecture. So there would be one focal point which would be the university library. And then there would be these wings of smaller buildings in which there would be the, student rooms they would not live in one big building, but they would live in many smaller buildings.
[00:34:47] And these would be interspersed with faculty pavilions, where the faculty member would live and would also conduct his courses. And then also what Jefferson called hotels. And these were [00:35:00] essentially places that would provide meals and also cleaning services for the students. And Jefferson believed that this kind of dispersion of the students and intermixing them with faculty and also with these hotel keepers and their families, that this would tend to make students more orderly.
[00:35:24] And so, yes, the point of the architecture also is to demonstrate neoclassical architecture in its various forms. But it’s also an exercise in social engineering that was especially important because universities at that time, colleges and universities were very disorderly places and they were especially disorderly in the south.
[00:35:49] Because the people who are going to these institutions are young men. And I use that loosely because a lot of them are 16, 17, 18 years [00:36:00] old. They’re young men, they’re from wealthy families, they’re families in which almost all of them own slaves and young men, white men are being trained to assert their personalities to be commanding presence.
[00:36:17] Because this is what they’re going to have to do if they’re gonna be running plantations in the future, which most of them will be doing. And so it by everybody’s account, including Jefferson’s these young white men of elite families in the south are UN governable and they riot frequently and make all sorts.
[00:36:37] Problems, including vandalism and attacking professors at their institutions. And so Jefferson says, this is the number one problem I have to solve in creating the university of Virginia is how can I get this particular body of young men to focus on their studies in a more disciplined way? And the architecture of UVA was designed to try to achieve that result.
[00:36:59] GR: Thank [00:37:00] you, keeping with the theme of slavery and. As many of our listeners know, Virginia was the largest wealthiest and most popular state producing four of the five earlier presidents. One of the five of course, coming from Massachusetts. When we discussed Jefferson today, there are many mixed views particularly on the fact that he was a man of the enlightenment who believed that all members free and yet himself own slaves.
[00:37:24] Could you talk about Jefferson and the issue of slavery and you’ve already begun to interweave how that relates to the university of Virginia and what that even means today.
[00:37:34] Alan: Well, you’re right. This is a very big and very complex question. Jefferson is first and foremost, a Virginia, and is a Virginian who is born into the wealthiest.
[00:37:46] Of slave owners. His father was the leading slave owner in Alba, Mar county. So Jefferson by his own account, his earliest memories are of living with slaves. Jefferson’s also a well educated man [00:38:00] who has read many of the great works of the enlightenment. And those works tended to be very critical of slavery as an ancient institution.
[00:38:10] That is of course, highly exploitated. So Jefferson is both of these at the same time. It doesn’t make him unique. Does it make him uniquely good or uniquely bad? It makes him a man of his generation and his class in his place. Jefferson is certainly better educated than almost well than I would say anybody else in Virginia of his time.
[00:38:35] And he’s very self-conscious that on the one hand he doesn’t wanna do anything. That’s gonna rock the boat in Virginia and cost him popularity. On the other hand, he wants to maintain his standing in intellectual circles outside of Virginia, including in France, but also in the Northern states where [00:39:00] people expected him to come out against slavery.
[00:39:03] so it means that Jefferson with the exception of the one low key publishes after the revolution, which is notes in the state of Virginia and the exception of that book, which was meant to circulate initially just in France there he’s quite clear in his denunciation of slavery, but in his public statements as a politician, In Virginia and in the United States in general, he does his best to avoid taking on the issue of slavery with the exception important exception of he does facilitate the end of the import slave trade of Africans into the United States.
[00:39:39] But that was a non-controversial position. It overwhelmingly passes when most Southern congressmen supported it from the conviction that there were already enough enslaved. In the United States for the needs of the economy. So Jefferson is a difficult person for us in our present time to understand[00:40:00] cuz we take him out of his context now to put him back in his context is, is not to justify slavery or to say that he couldn’t have made a different choice than he.
[00:40:11] But it’s to say that he is somebody who is responding very much to the incentives and the pressures of his class position, his racial position, his gender position in a state, in which the overwhelming majority of people supported the slave system.
[00:40:31] GR: Absolutely. I’d like to give you an opportunity to read a passage of your.
[00:40:36] Alan: I’d be happy to. I’m gonna read something that comes at the very start of the first chapter. And this particular reading does get into Jefferson’s own experience as a college student, late in life. Thomas Jefferson recalled quote the regular annual riots and battles between the students of William and Mary with the town voice before the Revolution.
[00:40:59] Then he added [00:41:00] the Latin phrase forum, par three, which means of which I was a part. So he is confessing. He participated in these riots, the colonial college’s most spectacular riot erupted in July, 1760 during Jefferson’s first year there. Some students gathered in the gallery of the Williamsburg church during services and spat and urinated on the townspeople.
[00:41:25] Those townspeople chased away. The students who rallied at the college and returned to counter attack led by two professors, both English, born, who carried cut lists and pistols anticipating that return the towns apprentices gathered in the main street, but broken sled upon seeing the weapons, a witness reported that quote, the exalting conquerors and quote returned to the college where they drank bubo and made.
[00:41:51] Shot off their pistols. Now this riot troubled Virginia’s leading colonists because it enlisted their [00:42:00] sons under the leadership of professors from Britain, colonial leaders in Virginia, worried that British influence might win over young men, drawn by the allure of a cosmopolitan empire to reject the ways of their colonial parents.
[00:42:14] Peyton Randolph had a special reason to worry for. He was a preeminent politician attentive to his young cousin, almost Jefferson, but the young man soon put his cousin fears to rest. After the briefest flirtation with college rioting, Jefferson became the best and brightest of young Virginia. During the 1770s, it would help lead the colonial resistance to the British empire and to the church and state establishment in Virginia.
[00:42:45] Cara: Well, Professor Alan Taylor, thank you so much for that reading and for this really enlightening interview, it was just lovely to spend time with you today. We appreciate it.
[00:42:54] Alan: Well, thank you very much. I enjoyed the interview as well.[00:43:00]
[00:43:43] Folks, we
[00:43:44] Cara: always close it out with a tweet of the week. I love anything that uses the word tinker in it. So here is our tweet from the national association of scholars didn’t know that existed. Maybe we should look into joining that Gerard, the American innovation webinar series celebrates [00:44:00] America’s legacy as a land of tinkerers and engineers by showcasing the American inventions and inventors that have shaped our everyday lives.
[00:44:09] I have to say real. I was listening to a podcast this past weekend. I think it was maybe Freakonomics. And they were talking about Titan loose cultures. The us being what we call a loose culture, which means you can get away with a lot, but apparently man, we’re pretty darn great on innovation. So you gotta sort of take your pick and the innovations, .
[00:44:29] The tinkering that led to COVID vaccines that have been now used around the world, I think are case and point of that. But folks who wanna read more about this can visit the national association of scholars, Twitter account it’s mobile, twitter.com at NAS org. And I think this is pretty cool stuff that we can get to see there.
[00:44:50] So Gerard. Next week, we as always have another phenomenal guest. We are gonna be speaking with professor angel Adams, par. [00:45:00] Maybe I’m saying that correctly. Maybe I’m not, but we’re gonna find out next week and oh, maybe you already know because professor parm is from the advanced studies in culture, senior Institute at the university of Virginia.
[00:45:13] Virginia going on , on the learning curve these days associate professor of sociology and senior fellow, of course, at the advanced studies and culture, the Institute for advanced studies and culture. Were you. Gerard spend a lot of your time, correct? Exactly. Ah, so this is a colleague of Gerard’s.
[00:45:29] We’re just gonna let him folks take the whole interview, cuz he’s better at it than not yet. Anyway, until then Gerard, I wish your family a wonderful return to school. And I as always will look forward to speaking with you next week. Sounds good. My friend, take care. Take care.