What America’s Founding Fathers Had to Say About Gifted Education

In the U.S., people always place a lot of importance on what the founding fathers said. My first reaction is – why? It was over 200 years ago and much has changed since then. This is especially true in the field of education. And … the concept of gifted education didn’t even exist back then. Or did it?

I decided to do a little research on the subject and lo and behold, there was Thomas Jefferson advocating gifted education. He didn’t call it ‘gifted education’, but he did talk about it in terms that anyone connected to the field today would recognize.

In 1779, Jefferson introduced the Bill of General Diffusion of Knowledge. I liked that. Diffusing knowledge – what a novel idea! His intention was to provide free public education to all children for 3 years and then from a pool of the most talented students, provide further free education to develop those talents. He reasoned that the brightest students were destined to become future leaders. Of course, the bill failed; just as it would today. It seems the American colonists were fearful of higher education leading to the establishment of an aristocracy in a young nation which had been created in part as a reaction to this very thing. Sound familiar? Myth #87: gifted education promotes elitism!

In true political correctness, pretty much everybody opposed Jefferson’s idea. Horace Mann believed it would be the downfall of society as they knew it. Universal education – homogenizing instruction that everyone can understand – became the bedrock of education in America. And so it is to this day. Annual yearly progress. Everyone on the same page. Don’t read ahead. Stay with the class.

This brings me back to the founding fathers. How did they get to be the leaders of a new nation? Many of them received what would today be considered a ‘gifted education’. Jefferson had a private tutor for most of his early youth and then attended the College of William and Mary to study law. Alexander Hamilton studied at King’s College – one of today’s most ivy of ivy-league institutions; Columbia University. James Madison attended Princeton University; then known as the College of New Jersey. All were expected to master Latin and Greek. All were expected to be ‘well read’, i.e., Virgil, Plato, and Herodotus. Could you imagine a high school senior being required to be that prepared for college today?

So … at least one founding father had something to say about gifted education. And no one listened to him. Funny how some things never change.


  1. Absolutely Brilliant... what else can be said...

    Your a star writer yes you are!!

  2. Fascinating, Lisa! I'm already looking forward to your next post. Here's to igniting change!


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