I recently had the opportunity to visit the Library of Congress, and spent a good deal of time in the exhibit called “Thomas Jefferson’s Library”. It’s a recreation of part of his personal library, which was the largest personal collection of books in the world at the time. He eventually sold his library to the Library of Congress after the original collection of books was destroyed in the War of 1812.
It’s quite interesting to look at Jefferson’s library and see the direct, physical result of someone’s obvious love for learning. Almost every topic imaginable is there, and with the sheer size of Jefferson’s collection he had a Dewey-style system of organization to it. Seeing such a collection of books, particularly with the knowledge that Jefferson actually read them, as opposed to just keeping them for display, easily made me feel under-read and under-educated. I believe there are quite a few lessons that could be gleaned from Jefferson’s reading and learning habits, but one that I noticed was his clear interest in books on logic and rhetoric. He had huge collections of books all about communicating and persuading, which must have had some positive effect on his writings including the Declaration of Independence.
One takeaway is that people learn better when they are self-motivated. Jefferson had an immense self-motivation to learn, and we’d all be better off if we had that same drive. Another takeaway is that if Jefferson found it worth his time to actually read, study, and presumably practice rhetoric (both verbal and written) that students should do the same. Common Core is on the money when it emphasizes argumentative writing as the most critical form of writing for students to learn. I of course humbly submit Mootup as a method for teachers to provide an emphasis on argumentative writing and a forum for students to actually perform argumentative writing. Maybe we can train the next generation of Jeffersons.