Classical education: making old into new

Minotaur statue

Photo by Heather Hurd (January 2007)

A recent New York Times opinion article touched on the potential advantages of high school curriculum focusing on a “classical education,” which usually means a concentration on Latin and classical literature along with course offerings in reasoning, rhetoric, and philosophy.

In the Times article, the author was fortunate enough to attend a classics high school and remembered his time there as among the most challenging of his intellectual pursuits, despite going on to attend Ivy League colleges.

So how does such an ancient plan for a child’s education stand to benefit the child?  The classics help students understand what the great thinkers of the past have done to help shape and explain the world around them.  The education system would focus on what classical students considered most important, which would move the focus away from modern class structure and toward a concentration on math, science, literature, and logic learned through memorization and repetition.  This education provides students with the ability to communicate effectively in speaking and writing, and prepares them fully for further education at top schools, professional careers, and the successful navigation of the world at large.

Many supporters of the movement suggest that the current educational trends are shifted too much toward skill sets used in making money instead of the best possible educational platform.  Experts in the field suggest that students be limited in their use of computers until the foundations of reading and writing are firmly established.  Arts would remain an important part of the academic environment in order to produce well rounded students who are capable of applying their learning to any situation.

Unfortunately, this type of education is not easily quantifiable, making it difficult for educators, administrators, and parents to measure student performance.  The current trend toward more and more easily measurable educational systems is narrowing the academic field and producing children who may test well, but are not necessarily prepared to function competitively in the higher academics and professional circles.

For me, it’s an easy choice.  I’d much rather a child grow up with a balance view of the world based on an education that has carried great minds through centuries of top performance and thought.  A classical education will give her the opportunity to learn more than basic facts, which the average school child currently remains ignorant of, and gives her the skills necessary to apply critical thinking throughout her life.  It is here, in the realms of critical thinking and effective communication, that I think our current educational system falls behind.

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One Response to “Classical education: making old into new”
  1. winse says:

    I think you are right, fundamentally, too much testing draw focus away from what many of us consider to be the more important competence in life. Europe is taking after the US in this respect, and all of the countries on this continent is starting to compare results.

    However, like any other education, a classical education can be executed badly from teachers and staff, and I think that the main thing to focus on here is to give the students an opportunity to make a “classical way of reflection” dominant in their own reasoning. The classical way of thinking has to be made relevant to the students. That, perhaps, is a bigger job now than some decades ago, but if this is accomplished I think we have gained something.

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