The Principles of Great Education Matter

by Oliver DeMille

Some things work, and some things don’t. If you are trying to help a young person, or any person, get a truly great education, you’d better allow him—or, even better, help him—to fall in love with learning.

And you’d better help him learn how to be a superb self-educator. Without these things, great education just won’t occur. These principles are essential to leadership education.

Consider several quotes on this that cut straight to the heart of the matter:

First, Edward Bulwer-Lytton said: “The best teacher is the one who suggests rather than dogmatizes, and inspires his listener with the wish to teach himself.” Note that Bulwer-Lytton is also the person who coined the famous proverb that “the pen is mightier than the sword.”

Second, great Sufi leader and teacher Hazrat Inayat Khan said: “The teacher, however great, can never give his knowledge to the pupils … although … he can kindle the light if the oil is in the lamp …”

Our move away from these principles (that effective teachers must inspire; that love of learning is essential to a great education; that to become leaders and fulfill their innate potential students must become effective and engaged self-learners) during the conveyor-belt era of education has hurt great education and emphasized Follower Training rather than Leadership Education.

This has been bad for our modern nations—on many levels from the obvious economic and political realities to the struggles of relationships and family life. Albert Einstein got it right when he said, “It is nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry …” If students aren’t inspired to fall deeply in love with learning, the quality of education decreases. Period.

Another vital principle of great education is that everyone has genius inside them. Every parent and teacher must know this truth and approach their role of educator with the understanding that their primary objective is to help each young person discover, develop and polish her own areas of inner genius. This is the prime directive of quality education.

Laura Ann Huber put it this way: “There is no such thing as the ‘average student.’ That is why so many kids do better with one-on-one attention.” In this quote, Huber brings out yet another crucial principle of great leadership education: personalized mentoring.

Here is another from the same author: “One regret I have about my early homeschooling days is that I was so intent on teaching my little kindergarten son phonics and math, I didn’t focus on what he was interested in.”

Great education emphasizes individualized interest and passion for learning instead of focusing on requiring a young person to drop her interests and do the curriculum adults assure themselves is necessary.

Note that all the quotes cited so far in this article are also found on pages 57-60 in the book The ABC’s of Homeschooling by Laura Ann Huber. The rest of this enjoyable book teaches a number of other central principles of quality education. I think every homeschooler will find this book a helpful and inspiring read!

Calvin Coolidge summarized many of the problems with modern education when he said that, “Highly trained intelligence, combined with disregard of fundamental virtues, is a menace.” Einstein put it this way: “Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem to characterize our age.”

In short, for far too long (especially since the 1930s) we moderns have emphasized job training without a truly broad and deep leadership education for our youth, and the consequence is a nation that is highly trained but poorly educated.

Allan Bloom wrote an entire bestselling book – The Closing of the American Mind – on this topic.

The principles of quality, great, leadership education really do work, and they are found throughout our history and literature. When we ignore such principles, the quality of our education suffers. When we apply one or more of these principles, we see an immediate increase in the quality and success of our teaching.

When I outlined and summarized these principles in my book A Thomas Jefferson Education, I hoped to see them catch on in homes, private and public schools and other institutions of learning from business to professional and adult continuing education. It has been wonderful to watch this occur.

But more is needed. We need more people to read (and write) more books like The ABC’s of Homeschooling, The Closing of the American Mind and others.  Great education impacts all facets of our lives, individually and as a society.

And each of us must choose to engage such learning, or not. The future of our families and our nations will depend upon what we decide. The principles are real, and we all need to give them more attention.

To learn more about The ABC’s of Homeschooling, click here >>

About the Author:

Rachel is the co-author of Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning and the audio series Core and Love of Learning: A Recipe for Success, and the author of the award-winning educational resource, This Week in History. She is an accomplished musician, writer, literary editor, public speaker, consultant and momschool organizer.


  1. Kent Simon February 15, 2012 at 9:52 am - Reply

    I don’t know who will receive this e-mail but I hope that it will get to Oliver DeMille. I absolutley loathe the new social media (something I may have to get over I know), so I don’t have a facebook or twitter account.

    I cannot communicate the level of frustration and angst that the book “A Thomas Jefferson Education” has introduced into my life. I am a graduate of Wake Forest University (just barely really I also played football while there), and was exposed to the remnant of the little of a classical style of education that is left to their version of a liberal arts education. I recognized this in hind-sight, having attended both Catholic School from grades 1 – 4 and public school through grade 12.

    My wife and I made the decision to home school our children in the classical style of education, but due to financial difficulty we have been unable to continue. My son is now attending the local public school in the 9th grade level and my daughter is in the 5th.

    Towards the end of sorting out our financial difficulty, I was introduced to your book. I can’t tell you how many different streams of thought (political, educational, theological, social etc.) seemed to collide in my mind as I read. I have, as I’m sure many of your adherents do, deep convictions in all of these areas that I am deeply concerned may not be adeqautely passed on to my children. After his fisrt year in public school in the 8th grade, my son noted the difference between the educational philosophies he had experienced. He said, “In public school they are teaching me what to think; at home you guys were trying to teach me how to think.”

    I want so badly to mentor my children through the methodology outlined in your book. I am planning to pick a classic and lead them both through it over the summer, but might even try doing it while they are in school.

    Do you have any advice regarding book choices (I saw the list in the book but I don’t think my son will go for reading through “Ann of Green Gables”), or anything else I might be able to employ in my effort to train my children as leaders and not followers.

    I live in Kennett Square, Pa and don’t believe there is a group in my area pursuing your methodology. I really am desperate to keep this material in front of my children, and appreciate and advice or help you might offer.

    Best Regards,

    Kent Simon

    • Oliver DeMille February 15, 2012 at 11:21 am - Reply

      Kent, I would urge you to have your son read Thomas Jefferson Education for Teens. It’s not a dumbed-down version of the original book, but entirely new content designed to speak to our youth – and to anyone ready to take on the education they wish they’d gotten in their youth. Also, have a look at our lists of classics here and our suggestions for family reading here. Don’t be discouraged! It sounds like you’ve got some great kids! ~Oliver

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