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Featured Article:

Rediscovering Simplicity: For Advanced TJEd’ers

by Oliver DeMille

Note from the author: Please forward this article to everyone you know who uses TJEd. Times are shifting and we are due for a major upgrade in the way we all apply Leadership Education.
Here it is…

I wouldn’t give a fig for simplicity this side of complexity…
but I’d give my right arm for simplicity on the other side of complexity.
~Oliver Wendell Holmes

I.               A New Era

When TJEd is new to a person, The 7 Keys of Great Teaching are the focus. Then, over time, most of us emphasize other things that help us re-arrange our thinking and get off the conveyor belt. These include:

All of these can be very helpful in applying Leadership Education.

At a certain stage, once you have been applying The 7 Keys and also many of these other principles and methods, you reach a vital point where a re-emphasis on The 7 Keys is essential.

We are seeing a lot of people at this point right now. This is a very exciting development! This means that thousands of people are ready to take the next step in great Leadership Education.


II.              The Hidden Secret of TJEd

What does this step look like?

When you make The 7 Keys the focus, but with all the background of study and experience gained from years of doing TJEd, The 7 Keys are a whole new level of breadth and depth. And this focus shines new light on everything else.

For example, consider the Phases. Many people unwittingly put the Phases above The 7 Keys. The Phases follow a chronological pattern like the conveyor belt, and they are thus an easier fit for most people in a society where schooling and learning are chronologically determined. The phases are also vitally important in their own right, since children and youth at different stages of spiritual, social, intellectual and physical development need different educational processes to most effectively progress.

But sometimes emphasis on the phases leads some of us to try to fit the children/students into one of the phases—based on their age—rather than making the phases fit the individual needs of the student.

This is a subtle difference, perhaps, but it has huge impact. Too many people want their kids to race ahead of the regular age ranges. For example: “But my son was ready for deeper math and science at age 8, so TJEd didn’t really work for him.” “But I really wanted more structure for my 6 year old,” or, proudly, “My daughter was ready for Scholar Phase at age 9!”

The result of such thinking is an unconscious return to the conveyor belt, however well meaning the parent may be.

Such primacy of the phases isn’t really the intent of TJEd at all.

TJEd is centered on The 7 Keys.

TJEd affirms that individual learners progress through the Phases in order, and that there are some general age guidelines, but that every individual progresses at his or her own pace. Always! Thus there are some 6- or 8-year-olds ready for Transition to Scholar and some 40-year-olds who need Core Phase.

A lot of adults hold themselves in core phase when they are actually ready for Love of Learning, or in Love of Learning when they’re ready for scholar phase. Others push themselves into Scholar Phase even though their Love of Learning is weak. Some parents do this to themselves—but even more do it with their children.

Putting The 7 Keys first naturally fixes such mistakes.

If you have the Phases without The 7 Keys, you don’t have Leadership Education—no classics, mentors, focus on inspiring, etc. But if you have The 7 Keys without the Phases, you’ll still end up using Phases even without knowing them.

For example, if you are trying to apply “Structure Time” to a 5-year-old, an 11-year-old, and a 16-year-old in your home, you will naturally learn to structure different amounts of time and types of study for each student in order to help each individual fully succeed.

Likewise, “Inspire” will take very different approaches as you work with each of these students. The classics you use will be different, or at the very least the discussions about them will vary widely for students of such different ages. The Phases are an outgrowth—an application, even—of The 7 Keys.

It is important for parent-mentors to always keep this in mind.

The 7 Keys are the focus; the Phases flow naturally out of applying The 7 Keys.

Of course, the Phases are an extremely important part of Leadership Education. But let’s be clear: the Phases are only effective when parent mentors put The 7 Keys first.

Most educational models require the student to fit into the system, but TJEd builds the education (curriculum, methods, structure, hours, assignments, activities, details, etc.) to the needs of each individual student. If a child needs more structure during Core or Love of Learning, TJEd mentors provide it because they are focused on “Mentoring.”

If a youth needs more traditional styles of math and science, a TJEd mentor provides it because she is focused on “Quality.” But if a student needs less structure, more freedom and room for creativity, TJEd mentors provide this while many (most!) other systems resort to structure, force or textbooks—often for the benefit of the parents or teachers, rather than the child. A focus on The 7 Keys naturally overcomes these problems.

There are many other examples, and the main point is that by emphasizing The 7 Keys any mentor will learn to apply the 4 phases, the 5 environments, the 55 ingredients, and other tools and techniques as needed by individual students.

III.            Simplicity on the Far Side of Complexity

Re-learning The 7 Keys after one has experience in Leadership Education is incredibly powerful. When Rachel and I find ourselves struggling with the education of one of our own children, we pull out A Thomas Jefferson Education and Leadership Education and re-read the sections on The 7 Keys—with the specific child in mind.

We have done this many times, and it always works. As parents we struggle as everyone does to know how to optimize and individualize our approach to the progress and education of each of our eight children, and even though we wrote these words, somehow re-reading them is extremely helpful. Somewhere in the basic overviews of The 7 Keys we find the perfect solution to whatever difficulty our child faces.

In fact, we have created a document called “The 7 Keys Re-Boot” that puts the major commentary on The 7 Keys all in one place for easy reading and re-reading.

According to former Columbia University provost Jacques Barzun, education is a long series of difficulties. Businessmen and businesswomen often struggle to understand education because business thrives on solving a problem and then implementing systems that eradicate the problem for the future.

Not so in education. Each new student faces his or her own set of difficulties today, and when he overcomes these difficulties he’ll move on to a new set of difficulties next month and then next year.

For example, “I don’t know much about history” is a difficulty ripe with potential learning. And once it is no longer a difficulty, because the student has learned a lot about history, two new difficulties automatically present themselves:

1)     “I don’t know much about 15th Century German history,” or something akin to this,


2)     “I don’t know much about science,” or some other topic.

The first type of follow-up difficulty is lack of depth, the second is lack of breadth, and both arise as soon as you learn anything.

I repeat: Everything you learn will present these two kinds of further difficulties, which is why learning never ends—and also why the more you know the more you realize how much you don’t know.

Wise mentors learn to treat every learning difficulty as an exciting adventure to be embraced! This is one reason that love of learning is vital to getting an excellent education.

As Leadership Education mentors and parents, our challenge is to deal with these learning difficulties for our own personal education and concurrently with each student we mentor. Sometimes the way to deal with such difficulties is clear, but other times we are unsure how to proceed. I

In such struggles, the TJEd mentor has a great secret weapon: The 7 Keys.


IV.            Advanced TJEd

As a mentor re-reads the basic concepts of The 7 Keys with a specific mentee and her current learning challenges in mind, the magic occurs. This is deep, and profound. This is great student whispering. It is the crux of great mentoring. In fact, the mentoring questions outlined in the appendix of The Student Whisperer came from this exact process—re-reading the basic 7 Keys to find answers for specific mentees facing specific learning challenges.

This process is powerful. It is also “Simple”:

  • Take a notebook and pen
  • Write the student’s name at the top of a blank piece of paper
  • Re-read the segments on The 7 Keys in A Thomas Jefferson Education and Leadership Education, with the following question in mind: “How can I better help Johnny apply this key right now to succeed in his learning needs?”
  • Take the time to repeat this with each of The 7 Keys
  • Write your ideas in your notebook

Once this is complete, you’ll have a to-do list for yourself (not your mentee!) that will help your mentee succeed. Apply the things you come up with, and watch the magic happen.

This is a transformational process, and it works. The deepest and most advanced solutions are found in the basics. The 7 Keys work. They are profound and they are effective. Unfortunately, sometimes we give them too little attention, even when we’ve known them for years.

The 7 Keys are the answer. Advanced mentors in Leadership Education should spend more time than anyone else studying and re-studying the basic 7 Keys. They know that real magic comes from re-reading, pondering and applying The 7 Keys for a given student’s specific needs right now. This is “simplicity on the other side of complexity.”

It is this repeated process—and only this—that makes one an expert. You are the expert on your home and family precisely because you constantly rehash every old and new idea in the world based on how it impacts or could impact you and yours.

Those who are applying TJEd at the highest level spend much of their time re-reading The 7 Keys and searching out how they apply to a given child or student right now. This is the apex of great mentoring, the central 7 principles of the science of teaching, the indispensible action of Leadership Education.

Every successful education is based on The 7 Keys. Rachel and I didn’t invent these keys when we wrote TJEd; we simply found that they were the common themes in the education of the greatest leaders of history. So we put them together on a list.

All great teachers and schools are great to the extent that they apply The 7 Keys—even if they have never heard of TJEd. The 7 Keys work. They are the true principles of great teaching and great learning.

Education without any of The 7 Keys is lessened in depth, vibrancy and quality. We live in world where people want everything to be new, where experienced TJEd’ers hear the words “7 Keys” and are tempted to think, “Been there, done that. What’s new?” Hopefully we know better.

The 7 Keys are classic—you learn more each time you re-read them and even more each time you apply them to a specific student. This is the advanced level of TJEd.

If you want to apply TJEd at the highest levels, re-read the basics of The 7 Keys and apply them to each student’s current needs—and repeat this classic process over and over. As veteran TJEd’ers give more and more attention to The 7 Keys, we will see a whole new level of quality in Leadership Education!

In every field of human endeavor, from music and science to sports and education, the great masters become great because they focus on truly mastering the basics. The 7 Keys are the foundation of all great education, and all of us need to give them a lot more attention.

Now is the time for a new era in TJEd, an era where more of us truly, deeply and profoundly master The 7 Keys. As thousands become true masters of The 7 Keys, we will see a whole new level of quality and greatness in education.


Post Script: Again, please forward this to anyone you know who has used or is using TJEd. We want this important message to get out to everyone who has ever learned about TJEd.
Thank you,

Oliver DeMille