Jefferson was convinced that there needed to be an education for all citizens if they and their new kind of popular government were to flourish. He understood that schools must provide ‘to every citizen the information he needs for the transaction of his own business; to enable him to calculate for himself, and to express and preserve his ideas, his contracts, and accounts, in writing.’
For Jefferson, though, the most important goals of education were civic and moral. In his ‘Preamble to the 1779 Virginia Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge’ he addresses the need for all students to have a political education through the study of the ‘forms of government,’ political history and foreign affairs. This was not meant to be a ‘value free’ exercise; on the contrary, its purpose was to communicate the special virtues of republican representative democracy, the dangers that threatened it, and the responsibility of its citizens to esteem and protect it. This education was to be a common experience for all citizens, rich and poor, for every one of them had natural rights and powers, and every one had to understand and esteem the institutions, laws and traditions of his country if it was to succeed.