Thomas Jefferson’s Education

Norton. Oct. 2019. 448p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780393652420. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393652437. HIST
Pulitzer Prize–winning author Taylor (history, Univ. of Virginia; The Internal Enemy) explores Thomas Jefferson’s life through the lens of what his own education meant to him and how he tried, often unsuccessfully, to improve education in Virginia. One of Jefferson’s crucial political defeats was the refusal of the Virginia legislature to pass a bill to provide funds for building local schools across the state. Taylor explains how Jefferson’s effort to create the University of Virginia was a pet project designed to provide an alternative to the College of William & Mary, his own struggling alma mater. His goal was to educate a Virginia elite to govern toward a fairer form of democracy by abolishing slavery—but the university itself by design seemed to foster inequality, a contradiction it still struggles with today. Unfortunately, this sprawling work veers off course into tangents about Jefferson’s life that have little to do with education and would have benefited from analysis about the effects of this legacy on the present condition of education in the state.
VERDICT Recommended only for readers of Jeffersonian history and those curious about the history of the University of Virginia and College of William & Mary.
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