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Mr. Jefferson and Lifelong Learning


I hope you all enjoyed a nice long weekend thanks to President’s Day!

I’m contractually obligated, since I attended the University of Virginia, to claim Thomas Jefferson as my favorite president. Did you know that Jefferson didn’t list his presidential status on his gravestone? Instead it proclaims his two proudest accomplishments: writer of the Declaration of Independence and founder of the University of Virginia.

UVa students are indoctrinated in both subtle and direct ways to revere the man simply, affectionately, and respectfully known as Mr. Jefferson. The brainwashing hit home my first year when I was in the AFC (Aquatic and Fitness Center), a huge, sleek, state of the art facility, where a Jefferson quote was etched into a granite slab: “Give about two [hours] every day to exercise . . . “ My internal monologue went “OK, yes. How will I find those two hours? I really need to hit the gym more. ::record scratch:: Whoa, wait. I’m treating TJ’s words like holy script here. ::shakes head like cartoon:: Give it a little more critical thought, Jos.” (On the other hand, as this blogger points out, who am I not to take Teej’s advice about the two hour walk?)

Despite my coerced fondness for Mr. Jefferson, I could stand to learn more about him. One thing I know I’d like to embrace was his devotion to lifelong learning. That’s why at The University we were known as First Years instead of freshman, all the way up to Fourth Years instead of seniors—because no one is senior to another in learning.

In that spirit, you can take a bona fide University course about our illustrious third president, online and free, called The Age of Jefferson. It’s a massive open online course (or MOOC–catchy!) that you can access through Coursera or iTunes. No grades, but you can get a certificate. There was a writeup in the Washington Post this weekend.

Back in the day, I took a class with the course’s professor, Peter Onuf, called “American Wests” (yes, Wests was plural, because we were complex thinkers). Professor Onuf was a fabulously mustachioed Wyatt Earp-like character, but I hate to tell you that I don’t remember very much of the course . . . I do remember that it gave my friend Scott and me the unshakeable urge to watch Legends of the Fall. So we did. And it was worthwhile.

Myself, I’m not going to enroll in the MOOC, because I know that Age of Jefferson is not one of my priorities these days. But I love the idea of continuing education. After college, my continuing ed has consisted of an interior design class through Corcoran (loved it, use it), and a more ad-hoc effort to learn Spanish—a combination of travel, relationships, Rosetta Stone, children’s books, and one actual class I got through a Groupon. Not surprisingly, an actual class with an actual instructor provided some very helpful structure and motivation, and it was where I improved the quickest (though I already had a foundation through the other means).

I’m not an expert, but I think the higher education bubble will burst in the mid-range future, and these online and individual courses will be much more prevalent and available. Overall, I think that’s good news. Even until then, a motivated individual could learn more than I did to acquire my degree by heading to the library. And so, only one question will remain for the new democratic and decentralized education system to take hold fully: how ever will we replace interaction with fabulously mustachioed professors?


4 thoughts on “Mr. Jefferson and Lifelong Learning

  1. As a Tennesseean, you might also remember that President Andrew Jackson’s tombstone does not mention his presidency, either. I believe that it just says General Andrew Jackson along with his birth and death dates. We know a retired physician and his wife who took a course at U of M every semester until they died; they believed that it kept their brains exercised and made them feel younger!

  2. I love the idea of continuing to take classes in whatever interests us at the time. We were randomly looking over my transcript a few days ago, and the hubs joked me about taking a riveting course called “History of UVA” during my first semester. I have absolutely no memory of what it entailed. Also, I think I remember more of your professors and their stories than mine :).

  3. Pingback: Costume Contest | tell me a story

  4. Nice one.. Made me recollect this quote: All of the biggest technological inventions created by man – the airplane, the automobile, the computer – says little about his intelligence, but speaks volumes about his laziness.-Mark Kennedy

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