The individual approach to education is the oldest form of education; it began in the home, before schools were ever created. For devout religious societies such as the Ancient Israelites, this kind of education was passed from parent to child within the home. Many great masters in the arts have been very successful with this approach. For most of history, individualized education was leadership education and how the elite ruling class raised their children. Leadership education took time and dedication to provide and when taken seriously has never been surpassed by mass public education and private professional education.
Ancient Israelites did not outsource their children’s education. For Israelites, this was part of their religious duty. God had told them through Moses to pass on their faith all day long in Deuteronomy 6:7
“And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.”
So, though neighboring nations had schools, Israel did not. Israelites passed to their children not only a rich faith, but literacy, history, entrepreneurship, and their entire culture. When parents were diligent in their faith, Israel enjoyed a golden age. When parents slackened in their faith and duties, they also passed those attitudes to their children, undermining their society. The Torah was their sacred canon and central classic. Their aim was to learn wisdom to know what was right. Their teaching was Socratic, asking questions that helped young scholars learn to think. The home was the basic unit of their civilization.
Hebrew thought, derived from the study of the Bible, had a profound influence on the liberty and laws established by the Puritans and later by the American founders.
Many great masters used the individual approach to passing on their knowledge and skill. A student working with a master one-on-one and shadowing that master can refine and focus on teaching the right skills.
Some great artists have used this method in their own homes. Historically, there have been a few father-son artists. A 20th century artist that was trained this way was Andrew Wyeth. Andrew’s father, N.C. Wythe, felt that no public school ever created a great artist. So, N. C. Wyeth home schooled his son, Andrew. Andrew became one of the best known American artists of the 20th century (died in 2009), and he was famous during his lifetime.
Doctors used this mentorial individualized method to pass on their skill. At least two United States medical schools still have country doctor mentorial programs, with a new doctor shadowing and being mentored by a master country doctor for two years. This is powerful!
An American Founder, George Wythe, taught and mentored students at William and Mary. Wythe for a time even had a small class of young scholars in his home. One of his William and Mary students was Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson would often eat lunch and join discussions with Wythe and other professors. After college graduation, Jefferson became a law clerk in Wythe’s office and Wythe mentored Jefferson for the bar exam. Though Jefferson, when young, attended a small family school taught by his cousin, much of his education was outside the classroom. He carried a commonplace book and writing instrument. He asked people what they were doing and how they did it, and took notes. So, though Jefferson attended school he learned to be self-taught. Although Jefferson had a formal education he also received a very customized and later a mentored education.
In the past, many of the ruling elite were either home schooled by parents, or privately tutored by the best tutors, and mentors that could be found. Nothing had proven better to prepare rulers and leaders. Alexander the Great was tutored and mentored by Aristotle until he was sixteen. Jefferson’s mentor, George Wythe, was born to wealth. His father died when he was three and his mother home schooled him and educated him in classical languages. He became America’s first professor of law. Theodore Roosevelt was from a wealthy family; he was mentored by his aunt and other tutors until he entered Harvard.
These forms of leadership education are being revived today. A new trend in individualized leadership education called a Thomas Jefferson Education (TJEd) by some and Leadership Education by others.