… concerning the College of Wm. & Mary … [I] prepared three bills for the Revisal, proposing three distinct grades of education, reaching all classes. 1. Elementary schools for all children generally, rich and poor. 2. Colleges for a middle degree of instruction, calculated for the common purposes of life, and such as would be desirable for all who were in easy circumstances. And 3d. an ultimate grade for teaching the sciences generally, & in their highest degree.
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders will provide for an educated citizenry.
Jefferson proposed three education bills. The first of those three is described above, with three levels of instruction:
- Elementary schools for all children, regardless of circumstances – The curriculum would be what every person needed to know, how to read and write and perform basic arithmetic. These would be established in each county, within walking distance for each child.
- Colleges for advanced education and learning a specific skill – These would benefit those with the drive to get ahead and please those of financial means, for whom further education was a given. Colleges would be in 24 districts throughout the state, all within one day’s horse ride for the residents of the district.
- A university where the highest levels of the sciences would be taught
“All children generally” did not include slave children. It did include poor children and girls, both radical provisions in a time when only white males born to parents of means were educated.
More than 15 years passed before the Virginia legislature enacted only the elementary school provision. They then gutted its effectiveness by leaving it up to each county when to establish their own school. Jefferson’s vision was to establish them all at once.