by Oliver DeMille

“[S]implicity has been difficult to implement in modern life
because it is against the spirit of a certain brand of people who seek
sophistication so they can justify their profession.”
—Nassim Taleb,

The Word

textbookThis quote certainly applies to education. I don’t mean that all teachers hold this view. Not at all. Some do, of course. But many of the very best teachers are excellent precisely because they understand the power of simplicity. They help their students flourish because they focus on the basics:

  • Inspiring students to love learning
  • Setting an example of real passion for knowledge, books, learning, service, and ideas
  • Reading the greatest books and classics, and talking about what they teach us
  • Showing young people respect by letting them have as much say as possible in their individual education (and, let’s be clear, a lot of individual autonomy in learning is possible, as proven over and over by great teachers!)
  • Refusing to push students into “the system” or “conveyor belt,” but rather personalizing their studies according to their goals, interests, talents, affinities, and dreams

This is great teaching, whether done in the school or at home.

As I noted in A Thomas Jefferson Education, “Simplicity, not Complexity” is one of the great keys to great education. What could be more simple, or excellent for that matter, than reading age-appropriate great classics with children and youth, and discussing them together?

The word for this is “mentoring,” and it is the most powerful kind of teaching.

Real Simple

Except, perhaps, for self-teaching. Self-education is a simplest form of learning. The person wants to learn, so he does. He reads, thinks, writes, draws, charts, maps, counts, calculates, rephrases, rethinks, discusses, debates, revises his views, researches more deeply, etc.—all because he’s interested.

In all this, he is helped by a special truth. In Taleb’s words: “books have a secret mission and ability to multiply…”

This is so true! If the child falls in love with books, she’ll seek an education because she loves learning. That’s simplicity in nutshell.

But how can a parent show his or her child how to embrace such simplicity? Answer: It’s easier than it sounds. Simply show him. Set the example. Read to him, and discuss what you’re reading. Read with him, and discuss what you’re both learning. As he matures, read the same books as him, and discuss them at length and in depth. Do this with all topics, over time.

Keep doing it for the long term, and a great education is guaranteed. Quit, and it isn’t…


But real.

How do you know if it’s working?

Just this week Rachel finished reading Little House in the Big Woods to Meri (11) and Abi (9). When she finished, Abi immediately ran to the bookshelf and returned with a copy of Little House on the Prairie. The look on the two girls’ faces was all we needed. They’re on track.

Of course, there is a lot more to it than this, but we don’t need complexities. They love learning. They do it every day for many hours.

Where It Starts

As they keep doing it, they’ll get the same level of education their older siblings got—or better, since they have the extra benefit of sibling mentoring. They’re learning so much, one exciting book, project, assignment, invention, experiment, audio, proof, and class at a time.

It starts with love. If they love learning, they do it. And they flourish.


Not complex.

Funny thing. Over the years we’ve learned an interesting truth:

Simple + Not Complex = Deep + Broad – Shallow

Books really do have a mission. They want to be read. They want to be studied, pondered. They want seeking minds to write thoughts in their margins. With the right mentoring, great books truly will do a lot of the work.


Need help putting the classics to work in your home? The TJEd Implementation Course, “Mentoring in the Classics,” is designed to help you find your fit with the classics, and bring the love, joy, and richness they contain into your home.