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Farewell, for Now

Posted on: June 24th, 2014 by Lifetime Learning 1 Comment

By John Ragosta

ragostaI think that I am still recovering from the 2014 Summer Jefferson Symposium. While it was all great fun, speaking for myself, the intense mental focus for several days on Thomas Jefferson’s personal relationships, and how they help us to understand him and the politics of the early republic, was mentally very tiring. To unwind, I spent some time Sunday afternoon in one of my favorite pastimes: wild black raspberry picking – a relatively mindless activity with great ancillary benefits.

Over the course of several days, I learned a lot, and as I suggested on Thursday evening, I think that the learning has just begun. The topic – Thomas Jefferson: Family, Friends, and Foes – is so broad, that we will never exhaust the insights that it provides. Not only can we use his interactions with those around him to see more clearly who Jefferson was and what he hoped to accomplish, but as we think about the developing American political system in the early republic we can gain insights by recognizing the central role of the politics of the personal, a discussion which pervaded our discussions during the symposium. As Joanne Freeman writes, “The political significance of friendship sheds light on the question of Jefferson’s political involvement…. If Jefferson’s active socializing is recognized as ‘subterranean’ political activity, then Jefferson was indeed more political than previously believed….” Each of the persons whom we explored tells us something new and interesting not only about Jefferson’s relationships, but about how he was constantly and consistently working to manage relationships – whether in France, in the nation’s capital, or atop Monticello – as part of a broader agenda of fighting monarchy and promoting a free republic, religious freedom, and liberal education.

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We can often understand political figures better through their “conversations;” the dialectic of human interaction can be a far more effective tool to comprehend the past, even when those actions may be infused with posturing.

This, though, is to repeat myself from Thursday and Saturday. I write, however, because of another discussion that several of us shared Saturday evening.

When I teach college students, I “cold-call” on people who have not raised their hands and insist that they all participate in the discussion. I acknowledge on the first day of class that this is very uncomfortable for many people, but it seems to me that it is an essential element of a liberal arts education. We cannot sit by and simply observe – otherwise we could replace the lecture hall with MOOCs (massive online open-enrollment classes); we must engage with our colleagues and become part of the intellectual exchange. This is part of becoming not only an educated individual, but a participant in our society, our nation, and our world.

Conversation – listening to hear what others are saying and responding appropriately, and respectfully – is a skill and habit that is needed today more than ever. While Jefferson was no demi-god, and had personal animosities and political enemies – and could throw an insult with the best of them, he never stopped participating in the dialogue. By encouraging a liberal arts education, and fighting “every form of tyranny over the mind of man,” he promoted the type of civil engagement that our nation continues to need. Programs like the Summer Jefferson Symposium, more than educating us about a long dead Founder, albeit one who contributed to our nation and world greatly, are intended to do the same.

Thank you all for participating in our conversation.

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Lessons of Civil Rights Movement Still Relevant

Posted on: May 23rd, 2014 by Lifetime Learning 1 Comment

by Alberta Phillips

Posted in the Austin-American Statesman Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Over the years, I’ve studied the civil rights movement, reading such books as Taylor Branch’s “Parting the Waters” and watching documentaries such as “Eyes on the Prize.” And last month, I was fortunate to hear from some of the heroes of the movement during the Civil Rights Summit hosted by the LBJ Presidential Library to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Next year will be another milestone for LBJ’s legacy, when the nation commemorates the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

I’ve observed history through many portals. But nothing prepared me for a weeklong civil rights tour, from Atlanta to Montgomery by way of Birmingham and Selma. During the tour that ended last week, I along with 27 other participants witnessed history that startled and amazed, hurt and inspired. Talks with people who participated in those events at the very places in which they occurred brought to life ghosts of the South.

They were eye-opening experiences, which filled in many of the gaps left out of history books. Doors were opened for us because, after all, it was Julian Bond, himself a civil rights legend, who led our tour organized by the University of Virginia. In reliving those tragedies and triumphs, we gained a deeper knowledge of a past that still is shaping the present. In a world of instant gratification and abundance, it was humbling to see close-up the sacrifices made by ordinary people — black and white — to advance equality. They leaned in, even as they marched into a burning house.

I asked people such as Joanne Bland and Georgia Congressman John Lewis, both survivors of Bloody Sunday, how they summoned the courage to brave dogs, nightsticks and water hoses. It was their faith in God and their cause that steeled their nerves. Indeed, the black church was the center of the movement throughout the South. And four churches in particular stood out: Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, led by a then 25-year-old Martin Luther King Jr., was the focal point for the Montgomery bus boycott; First Baptist Church, led by Ralph Abernathy, founded in 1867, two years after the Civil War ended, became a refuge in Montgomery for the 1960s freedom riders; Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma was ground zero for the voting rights marches from Selma to Montgomery; and Trinity Lutheran Church in Montgomery, whose black congregation was led by a white pastor, Robert Graetz. Graetz was the secretary of the Montgomery Improvement Association, founded to support the bus boycott. He told our group that his skin color did not shield him from a violent white backlash: His home, like those of King and Abernathy, was bombed.

In Atlanta we visited the King Center, which houses the King Library and Archives, chronicling the life of King and other major civil rights leaders and events. A crypt that houses the bodies of King and his wife, Coretta, sits in a reflection pool next to the old Ebenezer Baptist Church, an historic site and museum. The King family home is a short walk away. We attended Sunday services at the new Ebenezer across from King’s gravesite. To our delight, King’s sister, Christine King Farris, chatted with us about growing up a King.

The first thing you see when you enter downtown Birmingham’s Kelly Ingram Park is a bronze sculpture of four girls. One kneels behind another as she ties the bow on her friend’s dress. Another is seated on a bench reading the Bible. One girl, dressed in her Sunday best, stands behind the bench. A pair of shoes stands nearby. It is Sunday, Sept. 15, 1963. The girls are preparing for a youth program at church. That image of innocence is shattered in the pews of 16th Street Baptist Church, as a church member recounts the bombing by KKK members that killed Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley.

Justice was delayed, but not denied. Birmingham lawyer Doug Jones provided a riveting account of how he, as U.S. attorney, led the team, which reopened the case and won convictions of two former KKK members in the murders of the four girls — some 38 years later.

In Selma and Montgomery, we experienced the daily indignities blacks faced as recently as the 1960s because of Jim Crow codes. We knew about segregated water fountains. But we were stunned to learn that separate Bibles were used in courtrooms to prevent white people from soiling their hands on Bibles touched by blacks.

It’s easy to forget how young much of the movement was, until you are confronted by photographs of the many hopeful faces of “freedom riders,” students of all races who boarded interstate buses across the country to go south to help register voters. Consider that Lewis was 25 in 1965, when he led 600 orderly protesters across Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge. Bland was 11. Lewis still bears the physical scars from the beating on the bridge by Alabama state troopers.

Today, we complain about long lines at the polls. Today, young people are apathetic about voting. Today, many states, including Texas, have resurrected barriers to the ballot box. That all seems immoral, given the price so many paid to win the vote. As Lewis told us, “We gave a little blood on that bridge.”

They didn’t make excuses. And we shouldn’t either. Cast your ballot.

Christine King Farris and Julian Bond

Learn more about the U.Va. Lifetime Learning Civil Rights South Seminar 2014 and view event photos.

Virginia Connections

Posted on: May 22nd, 2014 by jragosta No Comments

thomas-jefferson-quotes-i-never-considered-a-difference-of-opinion-in-politics-in-religion-in-philosophy-as-a-cause-for-withdrawing-from-a-friendby John Ragosta

Thomas Jefferson, on his way to college at William and Mary, first met Patrick Henry at a holiday party in 1759 at the home of Nathaniel West Dandridge. (The home, known as Oldfields, still stands.) Henry, six years older than the aspiring student, was already married with several children. Yet, with good food, charming company, and a lot of fiddle playing, one suspects that they both enjoyed the festivities a great deal.

The party is noteworthy, though, for another reason: it shows how closely-knit the various personal communities were in colonial Virginia. Dandridge was not only a Hanover County neighbor of Henry’s, but he was married to Dorothea Spotswood, the daughter of the former governor, Alexander Spotswood. Much later, Henry’s second wife would be the daughter of Nathaniel and Dorothea, another Dorothea, although she was only a toddler at the time of the 1759 party. Another Dandridge daughter, Elizabeth, married Philip Payne who, again, much later, comes to live near Patrick Henry at Red Hill in Charlotte County and becomes one of the executors of Henry’s will.

I was thinking about this party this week when looking into the Reverend John Thompson, long-serving minister at Little Fork Church in Culpeper County, who married Butler Brayne Spotswood, the governor’s widow. Initially the Widow Spotswood resisted Thompson’s advances, believing that the position of a rector’s wife was below her station. A rather emphatic letter from Thompson, though, insisted that there was no calling above that of minister and that being a minister’s wife was a highly respected position (both in heaven and on earth). Their marriage produced several children, half-siblings to the Dandridge matron.

Dandridge was also a first cousin of Martha Washington (although there is no indication that George and Martha, married early in 1759, attended the Christmas festivities in 1759) and brother-in-law of John Campbell of Williamsburg, who married Mary Dandridge Spotswood, the widowed daughter-in-law of Governor Spotswood.

This litany of relations could easily be expanded, but you can certainly be excused if all of this is starting to cause your head to spin. While genealogists revel in these connections, they can often contribute to a certain glazing-over of the eyes.

There is, though, in all of this, another example of an important lesson: in colonial Virginia, and in the early republic, many of the leaders were intimately connected by a web of family and personal relationships. How these relationships grew and faced strains often became topics of more than personal interest. Political relationships moved along these same webs.

These type of relationships, and their influence on Thomas Jefferson, will be the subject of the 2014 Summer Jefferson SymposiumThomas Jefferson: Family, Friends and Foes – on June 19-22. The festivities should produce a good deal of fun, but fiddling is not expected.

Morven, the University of Virginia, and the Summer Jefferson Symposium

Posted on: March 10th, 2014 by Lifetime Learning No Comments

By John Ragosta

Earlier this week, Althea Brooks from Lifetime Learning in Alumni and Parent Engagement sent me an article concerning Morven, the 3,000 acre property which John W. Kluge donated to the University of Virginia, most of which had in its time been purchased by Thomas Jefferson for his secretary, William Short. Those that had the opportunity to attend the Summer Jefferson Symposium in 2012 will remember a delightful evening exploring the grounds and buildings at Morven before a wonderful dinner and lecture concerning William Short’s plans to emancipate his slaves and experiment with tenant farmers.

The article is about a team of architects who are trying to re-imagine how UVA can best use Morven to connect UVA to the world, consistent with the bequest. Morven Article. Kluge saw the property, with its extraordinary grounds, buildings, and gardens as a place that would serve to gather thinkers and innovators in Charlottesville who would “bring their ideas, their culture.” The UVA Foundation website describes it as “A venue for critical thinking and creative problem solving.” A quick perusal of the website shows that scores of interesting conferences, programs, and visits are hosted at Morven each year. Still, one gets the sense from the architects’ project that while the possibilities are endless, how best to use the property is still up in the air.

I don’t mean to be critical, and I don’t envy them their task. Still, while absolutely clueless as to what their report will suggest, I am confident that it will be an exciting opportunity for UVA, the region, and beyond.

When we focus our attention on ideas, culture, problem solving, and critical thinking, we cannot help but to advance the effort. What effort? That of a liberal arts education. Of course, it is hard to define what exactly that is, but, to paraphrase a Supreme Court opinion in a very different area, “I know it when I see it.” One of the best definitions, one that I think of often when I am teaching, is to promote a life well-lived. To give vision, meaning, advancement to the human condition. To serve, because certainly service is an essential part of a life well-lived. Jefferson once described William Short upon returning from an exploratory and research trip to Italy: He was “charged, like a bee, with the honey of wisdom, a blessing to his country and honour and comfort to his friends.” Not a bad description of lifetime learning (and I always appreciate references to bees).

So, we wish the architects the best in their endeavors and look forward to their report.

What does this have to do with the Summer Jefferson Symposium? I think much.

Why come to Charlottesville for several days to learn about Jefferson, Madison, Henry, Burr and other “dead white males” (and a few dead females as well)? It is all part of continuing to learn and explore and think. Mind you, I do not mean to suggest that we should or can take eighteenth century wisdom and apply it uncritically to twenty-first century problems. Any good historian would eschew that. Yet, history does teach us about the human condition, in this case, how one of America’s greatest thinkers and politicians worked with, struggled with, family, friends, and foes. Even more fundamentally, simply the chance to learn, relax, think, and enjoy in Charlottesville and the Piedmont can nurture ideas and culture, critical thinking and problem solving. I don’t mean to be Pollyannaish, but I think that is what we’re doing in a symposium like this. In June, scholars from Monticello, Montpelier, UVA, and Louisiana State University will gather for a few days to think about Jefferson and his relationships with those around him and to try to have a conversation about that with visitors from around the country. For those of us in the academy, it is a chance, as John Kluge sought, to connect with the broader world.

Hope to see you this June at Summer Jefferson Symposium!

Sex and Monticello: Jefferson, France and the politics of secrets.

Posted on: March 6th, 2014 by Lifetime Learning No Comments

By Andrew Burstein

Source: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/02/thomas-jefferson-france-lafayette-monticello-103303.html#.UvoWw7RDVCM

In the final years of Thomas’s Jefferson’s life, America’s best friend in Europe was also the last surviving commander of Continental Army forces. The Marquis de Lafayette was a fatherless French aristocrat, inspired by the Declaration of Independence, who outfitted a vessel and sailed the Atlantic to commit to the American cause. Widely identified as General Washington’s “adoptive son,” Lafayette survived not one, but two revolutions (our nation’s and his). After an absence of four decades, he returned to the United States in 1824, accompanied by his son, George Washington Lafayette.Throughout the marquis’ triumphal tour, newspapers reported his every move, his every speech, as he symbolically set foot on the soil of each of the 24 states–nearly drowning when the boat his party was traveling on up the Ohio River went down in the middle of the night. All a person had to say was “the Nation’s Guest,” and everyone knew who was meant. Lafayette was so beloved that multiple cities and counties were named after him. For extended moments, France loved America, America loved France. On Nov. 4, 1824, Lafayette’s coach arrived at Monticello, to the accompaniment of trumpets. Jefferson emerged from the house and the two men embraced. Eyewitnesses wept. Jefferson’s nephew arrived late: “I would have given my best coat to have witnessed the meeting,” he said. No one will marvel at the sublime when Francois Hollande is received Monday at Jefferson’s villa, but the French president undoubtedly knows of the “special relationship” our two countries enjoyed at the time America’s moral identity was being forged. Hollande’s visit to the mountaintop with President Obama will conjure warm feelings and reveal familiar artifacts. Jefferson was a noted connoisseur of French wines, which he continued to import for decades after his tenure as U.S. minister to France ended in 1789. Monticello’s signature dome was copied from the Parisian architecture he had lovingly inspected. When Jefferson was in office, a French chef ran the kitchen at what was then called the President’s House. As to that moral identity, which Jefferson helped to forge with his rich patriotic script and French Enlightenment influence, much can be said. Jefferson has always been freedom’s philosopher, but over the past half-century, his position along America’s political spectrum has shifted from one end to the other. From the New Deal through the 1960s, he was plainly a champion of liberal government. The patrician Franklin Delano Roosevelt saw Jefferson as he saw himself, “a great gentleman … a great commoner.” In combating the conservatives who regarded his programs as a government takeover, FDR insisted: “Jefferson realized that the government must intervene … not to destroy individualism, but to protect it.” Yet no president loved Thomas Jefferson more than Ronald Reagan, who collected Jefferson quotes, peppered numerous speeches with them and was thoroughly convinced that the third president was, like himself, a champion of small government. At the Jefferson Memorial, on July 3, 1987, he said: “Jefferson so fervently believed that limited government was vital to the preservation of liberty that he used his influence to see to it that the Constitution included a Bill of Rights, 10 amendments that spelled out specific governmental limitations.”

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One thing has never changed. Jefferson’s is the first name Americans associate with representative democracy. He is the founding father whose political sentiments reverberate loudest. Here and around the world, he is democracy’s muse. When former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev visited Monticello in 1993, he remarked that he had conceived Russian reform by referring back to what he’d read in college about Jefferson’s political thought.Politicians gravitate to Jefferson for obvious reasons. His expressions of hope for the future of the republic—and republics abroad—remain integral to Americans’ collective sense of purpose. Over the years, he has provided an ennobling vocabulary that members of Congress draw upon when they seek support for anything from the latest farm bill to patent reform. He is an oracle of sorts, with near-biblical authority. In the mid-1990s, for example, Republican Bob Smith of New Hampshire rose in the Senate chamber, and proclaimed: “Lest there be any doubt where Thomas Jefferson would have stood on the balanced budget amendment, that doubt ought to be laid to rest by the following statement he made in 1798: ‘I wish it were possible to obtain a single amendment to our Constitution … an additional article taking from the federal government the power of borrowing.’”

But back then, the Democratic Party had a spokesperson with a special claim to the third president. It was right there in his middle name: William Jefferson Clinton. Speaking at the Jefferson Memorial on the occasion of Jefferson’s 250th birthday, President Clinton called attention to one of the panels inside the national shrine that resonated with model liberalism: “Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind…. Manners and opinions change. With the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times.” If Reagan’s Jefferson was a symbol of an admired past and a simpler, more manageable government system, Clinton’s Jefferson was sensitive, experimental and oriented toward the future. He was a protector of the environment, too.

Jefferson can sound thoroughly cautious and practical in his pronouncements, and usually does. But he also indulged in hyperbole. From France, some years before that nation plunged into the time of Terror, he wrote fatefully: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.” Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh wore a “blood of tyrants” T-shirt on the day he blew up the Murrah Federal Building.

Andrew Burstein is Manship professor of history at Louisiana State University. He is author of Jefferson’s Secrets, coauthor of Madison and Jefferson and will publish Democracy’s Muse: Thomas Jefferson and His Modern Fate next year.

As a unifier, Jefferson came into play after Sept. 11, 2001, when a number of congresspersons repeated the iconic phrase that encircles the inside of the Jefferson Memorial: “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” We would persevere whenever tyrannical threats loomed. And then flowed stern recollections of President Jefferson’s response to state-sponsored terrorism: In 1801, despite his policy of holding down the defense budget, he opted to defend the national honor by dispatching marines to “the shores of Tripoli,” where Islamic pirates kidnapped and demanded ransoms. In 2004, with leadership responsibilities front and center in that fraught election year, Time devoted its Independence Day cover story to Jefferson, the “philosopher-president.” Would he have invaded Iraq?, the editors asked.

How odd that an 18th-century man should retain such a hold on our political culture. What would cause a people to turn to him as often as they do, and on so may levels? How can he be at once the founder of the modern Democratic Party and the Tea Party’s darling? Everyone wants to claim him. Except when it comes to private behavior, that is.

From Paris, in 1785, Jefferson wrote to a young Virginian to warn him of the temptations a male faced in France: “He is led by the strongest of all the human passions into a spirit for female intrigue destructive of his own and others happiness, or a passion for whores destructive of his health, and in both cases he learns to consider fidelity to the marriage bed as an ungentlemanly practice and inconsistent with happiness.” Given President Hollande’s ongoing tussle with the scandal sheets, Jefferson’s old advice is given new life. But, of course, Jefferson himself, who lacked the prescience to anticipate DNA, continues to endure a similar scrutiny over his sexual activity with Monticello house servant Sally Hemings.

As the French say, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” How romantically our two nations are intertwined! It was generally assumed, in 1824, that the 66-year-old French marquis was more than “just friends” with his traveling companion, the women’s rights activist and free love advocate Frances Wright. Jefferson’s prim and proper daughter Martha found Fanny Wright to be frightfully immoral.

When the “Nation’s Guest” was riding in the neighborhood of Monticello with the aged Jefferson, at the reins of their carriage sat Israel Jefferson, a slave, who was to be sold after Jefferson died in deep debt. Lafayette had been writing regularly to Jefferson over the years, decrying the persistence of American slavery, and Israel was eavesdropping on just such a conversation. The two leaders were so intimate that years later, during his final visit to the American patriarch’s home, Lafayette promised to send Jefferson a superior French “bougie,” or catheter, to assist the Virginian in treating an enlarged prostate.

Today, the eavesdropping on world leaders’ private conversations is quite another matter. Last summer, Hollande joined German Chancellor Angela Merkel in calling for the United States to stop eavesdropping on its allies. Presumably, Messieurs Obama and Hollande will guard their tongues and speak pleasantries at Monticello.

Presidents used to imagine they could keep their secrets–and build their legacies–without having to adjust for prying eyes. Freedom-loving Americans expressed shock at European liberties—those that were personal, yet exposed. And so Jefferson took his secrets to the grave. But we know the way these things go: Some years later, Israel Jefferson confirmed that his late master had been on “intimate terms” with his attractive biracial chambermaid. Sometimes the past reawakens. Reputations change.

As Hollande steps into Jefferson’s home, he will be mulling over a dismal 19 percent approval rating back in France. In that vein, it is curious that Jefferson the Francophile, though he adored Lafayette, also confided in James Madison that the pro-American marquis had one giant flaw. It wasn’t a taste for younger women, but a “canine appetite for popularity.” So it’s hard to know what Monsieur Hollande will obtain by channeling Jefferson. At least, he’ll get to see hanging in the parlor of Monticello the same portrait of Lafayette that the marquis himself saw when he last visited.

Andrew Burstein is Manship professor of history at Louisiana State University. He is author of Jefferson’s Secrets, coauthor of Madison and Jefferson and will publish Democracy’s Muse: Thomas Jefferson and His Modern Fate next year.

Learn more about Thomas Jefferson at the Summer Jefferson Symposium in Charlottesville, VA June 19 – 22, 2014.

Thomas Jefferson’s Friends, Family and Foes

Posted on: February 12th, 2014 by Lifetime Learning 1 Comment

Dear Alumni, Parents and Friends:

Every person tends to fit others into their own worldview. In our minds, we shape them to our own understanding. This tendency was particularly strong in Jefferson. Thus, when George Washington became concerned that Jefferson’s and Madison’s Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions threatened the union and convinced Patrick Henry to enter his last political campaign as a Federalist, Jefferson had to declare Henry an “apostate” to Republicanism – nothing else could explain Henry’s political opposition. Not only did Jefferson shape his own understanding of people, but he also tried to shape people themselves to his idealized understanding. He wrote letters to his daughters telling them that, to earn their father’s love, they needed to meet his exacting standards. The people around Jefferson were a palette on which he tried to paint, and a palette on which he can be read.

Jefferson’s vision of early America lived on after his death, not just in his political philosophy, but in those whom he had shaped and who helped to define what Jefferson’s world was and was not. Studying Jefferson through those around him – friends, family, and foes – is a wonderful way to better understand his world, and our own.

I hope that you will join us in Virginia’s beautiful Piedmont in June to continue this discussion of Jefferson’s family, friends, and foes. Learn more and register.

Best regards,

John Ragosta

Faculty Director, Summer Jefferson Symposium
Robert C. Vaughan Fellow, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities
University of Virginia

What would Jefferson think of a MOOC?

Posted on: February 3rd, 2014 by Lifetime Learning 5 Comments

By John Ragosta

moocsI know that it is a silly question in many ways: Imagine first explaining to Tom computers, video, the internet, and then modern education. You can see where this goes.

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Classes), though, have become one of the hottest topics in higher education as lawmakers and administrators look to deliver learning more cheaply, as leading “brands” (top universities) seek to increase their “market share,” as students seek to navigate a confusing landscape of educational opportunities and costs, and as teachers ask hard questions about how one is really educated and the value of that education.  Setting aside the plethora of questions before MOOCs could be offered for college credit – ensuring students view videos, do the reading, participate in discussions, pass exams – there is no doubt that the role of MOOCs in education will continue to develop.

What precipitated the question was the announcement by UVA and Monticello that they are co-sponsoring a MOOC entitled “Age of Jefferson” taught by Peter Onuf, Thomas Jefferson Foundation Professor of History emeritus at UVA and one of the country’s leading experts on Jefferson. (I had the chance to observe the filming of a very interesting session on the Declaration of Independence for that course.)

From an educational perspective, MOOCs offer intriguing possibilities. Lectures by world experts can be delivered anywhere, at anytime, and at a very low cost. One can study archaeology from academics working at some of the most exciting digs around the world, or listen to lectures on philosophy by great thinkers thousands of miles away. Properly structured, the MOOCs might even offer some opportunity for interaction with other students and a professor (through message boards, blogging, etc.).

I, though, join those who urge at least some caution. The underlying question is how to best deliver education and what is valuable in education. The movement to MOOCs is often part of a broader effort to make education work on a business model. It is certainly true that colleges and universities need to be acutely aware of costs and efficiency (I can speak as the father of college students), and students need to have realistic information and expectations about job prospects. At the same time, basing most decisions about academia on a measurable or immediate cost/benefit analysis is fundamentally perverse. What we learn in higher-education, in the liberal arts as well as the sciences and professional schools, often, perhaps usually, has a value to the student and to society that goes well beyond anything quantifiable. (I was there to watch as the same “business model” approach undermined some of the country’s premier law firms and impaired the professionalism at the heart of the practice of law.) More to the point, my experience has been that students learn best when a teacher can stand in front of them, see perplexed expressions or dawning understanding, react immediately to inquiries, encourage effectively discussion with and among students, meet outside of class to address questions or problems, engage in a community of learning that goes beyond a lecture.

These are things that we look forward to doing this June at the Summer Jefferson Symposium, Thomas Jefferson: Friends, Family, and Foes. There will be suggested readings and serious lectures, but there will also be time to discuss the ideas presented by the experts, both during and after lectures, and to gain insights from other attendees. While not the same as a semester-long college class, I think we’ll all enjoy the experience and learn something about Jefferson and the early republic.

Of course, one can hardly naysay the opportunity for more people to listen to fascinating lectures on Jefferson by a leading scholar. And if you have been thinking about a MOOC or similar lecture series, starting with Peter’s lectures on Jefferson would be an excellent place to start. https://www.coursera.org/course/jefferson  I’m sure that Tom would approve.

I hope, though, that we will see you in person in Charlottesville on June 19 for the beginning of the Summer Jefferson Symposium. I will look forward to welcoming you to the Grounds.

Jefferson and his Family of Friends

Posted on: December 11th, 2013 by Lifetime Learning 1 Comment

ragostaBy John Ragosta

A pending auction of a small survey map (smaller than a standard piece of paper) has historic collectors all aflutter. It is a 200 year old plat for a 1300 acre farm in central Virginia originally called Indian Camp.

What is generating all of the excitement is that the plat was hand-drawn by Thomas Jefferson. An original Jefferson document on the market is always interesting. (I can dream of a surprise Christmas present, but the auction house has conservatively estimated the sales price at $8,000 to $12,000.) As it turns out, though, this particular plat relates directly to the topic for the 2014 Summer Jefferson Symposium: “Thomas Jefferson: Family, Friends, and Foes.”

The story starts with William Short, a distant Jefferson relative by marriage who served as Jefferson’s private secretary while he was ambassador in Paris. Working together closely over a period of years, years in which Jefferson was intoxicated with the cultural and intellectual delights of Europe, Jefferson grew inordinately fond of Short, describing him as an “adoptive son.” When Jefferson returned to America Short stayed in Europe in an effort to develop his own diplomatic career. Only months later, Jefferson wrote to his former secretary that “affection and the long habit of your society have rendered it necessary” that they again live in close proximity; Short must move to Albemarle. By 1795, Jefferson bought Indian Camp on his behalf.

Jefferson, plagued by the vicissitudes of politics in the early republic, imagined an intellectual retreat of intelligent and committed friends in the piedmont of Virginia. Enchanted by that prospect, he worked diligently to create such a family of friends. James Madison was, of course, ensconced at Montpelier, a day away (close enough by eighteenth century standards). James Monroe would move to the area in 1799 at Jefferson’s insistence, only selling what would become known as Ashland-Highland in 1825 under financial pressure. Jefferson also hoped to attract Philip Mazzei as a permanent resident.

Short was intrigued by the idea. Not only could Indian Camp bring him more tightly into the orbit of the extended Jefferson “family,” but it might permit him to test his theory about replacing slaves with tenant farmers. Unfortunately, Short never took up residence in the vicinity, although he did visit Jefferson at Monticello for a month at a time on several occasions. In 1813 Short sold the property, after which it became known as Morven, a wonderful plantation that attendees at the 2012 Summer Jefferson Symposium will remember fondly.

All interesting pieces of the Jeffersonian puzzle and how this cosmopolitan early American really longed for a retreat of family and friends where his foes could not reach. As with other of Jefferson’s visions, finances and human nature interfered (with Short’s decisions certainly influenced by his belief that Madison and Monroe had failed to support his own diplomatic career sufficiently).

We can look forward to June and an opportunity to continue the conversation about Jefferson’s efforts to construct a community of friends.

Learn more about the 2014 Summer Jefferson Symposium

The Power of Pause

Posted on: November 18th, 2013 by Lifetime Learning 4 Comments

By Dorrie K. Fontaine, Dean of the School of Nursing
(adapted from Dean Fontaine’s Convocation address, JPJ Arena, Sept. 28, 2013)

Dorrie_Fontaine_2011_08_JHMany of us certainly recall Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” – a 1938 play about two families experiencing life’s many junctures — birth, marriage, work, death – in fictitious Grover’s Corners, an imaginary turn-of-the-century New England town. One often remarked-upon scene in particular towards the play’s end reminds many of us of this bittersweet passage of time, even among the humdrum days and infinite details that largely comprise a life.

“It really goes by so fast,” laments a young Emily Webb, who’d died in childbirth and is subsequently reviewing her own life from heaven. “We don’t have time to look at one another … Do human beings ever realize life while they live it? Every, every minute?”

Of course we don’t. We are often not paying attention. And our colleagues, spouses, our friends and especially our children are the unlucky recipients of this dwindling focus. But as a nurse, attention – the “rarest and purest form of generosity,” wrote philosopher Simone Weil – is the key ingredient so necessary to our care. So it’s up to nursing academics to teach students how to pay attention – and to understand that it’s attention that is in so many ways the basis for compassion.

We often talk about whether empathy and compassion can be taught – whether a nursing professor can, in fact, teach students to learn to pay attention, be empathic. And many people still believe that we “come as we are,” that we’re born with abundant compassion and the ability to empathize – or not – and that those drawn to nursing we hope have larger than usual reservoirs of compassion to offer their patients.

I wager that these are indeed teachable traits. And we instruct our students in them every day at the School of Nursing.

One way we teach students to pay attention is by learning to pause – something most of us don’t do often enough in our busy lives. There is great power in pausing. Nowhere is that more evident than in our own UVA Medical Center ER, where ER nurse Jonathan Bartels established “The Pause” a few years ago.

UVa School of Nursing. Jonathan Bartels leads "The Pause"Jonathan’s Pause — a 45-second to two-minute ceremony — takes place after a patient codes after a difficult or traumatic resuscitation attempt. Here’s why he did it – in his own words:

“I noted that when people die after a traumatic instance, a code, often I would see surgeons and docs and nurses walk away with frustration, throw their gloves off in a defeatist attitude, not recognizing that the patient was a human being we worked on saving. So after these deaths I decided it would be a good thing to stop and pause and do a moment of silence. Just stopping. Honoring them in your own way, in silence.”

Jonathan’s Pause offers time to honor the human life that was lost, recognize the loss the family experienced, and acknowledge the medical team for their work and valiant effort. And there is no single way to pause – how it looks depends wholly on the individual who’s pausing. (more…)

“Go Away! The Importance of Study Abroad”

Posted on: November 14th, 2013 by Lifetime Learning 2 Comments

Picture1by David T. Gies
Commonwealth Professor of Spanish

When students —or their parents— ask me if they should consider studying abroad, I usually answer with a simple, elegant word. “Duh!”

I think that means “Yes.”

Actually, what I THINK to myself is something more along these lines:  “What??!  Are you CRAZY?  UVa has some of the nation’s best study abroad programs, programs designed to stretch your linguistic skills, to challenge you to see the world beyond the borders of Cabell Hall or Rubgy Road or your dorm room, to open your eyes and ears to new perspectives and new ideas, to open your senses to new sounds and colors and tastes and smells, to allow you to delve in to the culture and literature and film of some of the planet’s most exciting places. We have programs or exchanges in France, England, Spain, Costa Rica, Italy, Ireland, Hong Kong, South Korea, Sweden, Jordan, Morocco, South Africa, Shanghai, and many other places.  Or, we can send you wherever you want to go.”

Can’t decide on just one country? (more…)