Preston Jones, professor of history at John Brown University, loves to teach.
“To me, the central motivating force in my life is education, and I don’t really care whether it’s with little kids or graduate students,” he said.
An “ideal week” for Jones would be four various classes, one each with fourth or fifth grade, 11th grade, undergraduate students and graduate students.
“It’s fun. I like the challenge of pitching things to different levels and age groups,” Jones said.
His work this semester has helped make that ideal a reality. It all began with his daughter, Eleri, age 10. While she went to many social activities outside her homeschool learning environment, Jones wanted her to have some opportunities to study alongside other kids her age.
In the fall, Jones contacted some other homeschool families in the area and told them he planned to begin a class designed for kids Eleri’s age—8 to 11—where they would study history with some language thrown in. The class ran for seven weeks and was a great success.
“My love for education is why I do it,” he said. “I mean, I’m not really getting any pay for this. Yes, it’s in my self-interest in that it gives my daughter something to do, but I think the other motivation is just to promote the cause of learning.”
This spring, about 18 young students climbed the stairs up to Cathedral 206 to the class Jones called “Philosophy for Kids.” They studied Aseop’s fables and people who accomplished great things despite difficulty, to help them understand moral philosophy and ethics.
Eleri and her best friend Liberty Maples eagerly described learning about Beethoven in their first week of class.
“He wrote his best songs when he was deaf!” said Maples.
The second week, they studied a man named John Merrick, or better known as the Elephant Man. He was so deformed that he was in a circus freak show in the 1800s. He was unable to speak clearly, but one doctor took an interest in him and learned to understand him. Doctor Treves found that Merrick was very intelligent (he had taught himself to read and memorized many of the Psalms), and Treves gave him a place to live in the London Hospital until he died at age 28.
On the last day of class for the semester, the young students studied Helen Keller, who could neither see nor hear, but who became a significant public figure during her day.
Jones enjoyed teaching the class of youngsters.
“Often the challenge a professor faces is you ask a question and are met with a tsunami of silence. That’s not the problem with these kids. You ask them a question, and the challenge becomes letting them all say what they want to say, while also moving on,” Jones said.
Freshman Julia Smith said, “I see them in their classroom sometimes, and I always think they are so cute!”
Tami Kelley took her two children out of public school last year and began homeschooling them. Her son Ashton, who will turn 10 this month, enjoys Jones’ class because it gives him the opportunity to learn and interact with kids his own age.
“Ashton missed the Valentine’s Day bowling party with the homeschool group, so he wouldn’t be late. He wanted to be here,” Kelley said.
Their family took part in the American history class last semester and were definitely interested in returning for this spring’s class.
“It’s an unusual opportunity. I’ve never seen someone do classes like this. It’s neat,” she said. “I hope he does more. The topic doesn’t really matter because I think we would do it anyway.”
While Jones greatly enjoyed the classes for kids he taught this year, his day job is very demanding and he is finding he will not be able to teach another class next semester. He has several ideas for future classes, such as studying Shakespeare, economics or more languages.
“I would like to keep it up regularly and have longer classes for kids,” said Jones. “With all my regular responsibilities, it’s just not possible, but I would like to.”