What Is A Classical Education?


What Is A Classical Education?

A classical education is an education that seeks after excellence. The most excellent things, it holds, are truth, beauty, and goodness.

A classical education aims also at virtue–intellectual and moral, in the individual and in the community.

A classical education attempts to form students’ affections. It encourages students to love the right things rightly.

A classical education seeks to cultivate true friendship. It offers the friendship that is only available to those who share together in some noble enterprise.

A classical education seeks also to cultivate good citizens. It holds that man is by nature a political animal, so that fulfillment of that nature depends on understanding and participating in one’s own political community.

In short, the end of a classical education is happiness. True happiness depends on a virtuous life, with friends, oriented toward the true, the beautiful, and the good.

A classical education is a humane education. Classical schools are not assembly lines, and students are not products to be assembled. Classical schools are communities dedicated to the cultivation of human souls. They do not settle for robotic knowledge, but seek to stir students’ imagination.

A classical education is a liberal education. It is an education fitting for free citizens and one that fits them to be free. It liberates from the double bonds of ignorance and vice. It transcends the confines of one’s own time and place.

A classical education is a traditional education. The core of the Western tradition is our common heritage, and it is a precious one. To transmit the accumulated wisdom of Western civilization–to persuade students that it is their duty to tend that inheritance and to transfer it to future generations with interest–that is the work of a classical school.

A classical education is an innovative education. It proceeds from the conviction that the surest path to progress is knowing what has come before.

A classical education is ambitious. It aims at more than college admissions or job skills. It sows the seeds of human flourishing.

A classical education is humble. It frankly acknowledges that education is work and requires a good will. The reward, however, is great. Wisdom and eloquence, imagination and a sense of poetic beauty, friendship and virtue–these are not insignificant gifts to give a child.

A classical education is a language-rich education. Facility in language is the precondition for progress in any subject. To this end, classical schools continue to emphasize the medieval “Trivium”–grammar, logic, and rhetoric–as well as the study of Greek and Latin.

A classical education stresses memorization. The curriculum is knowledge-rich. It proceeds on the belief that it is difficult to think well with an empty mind.

A classical education celebrates mystery. It holds that not everything real is quantifiable. Classical schools seek to tap students’ sense of wonder and to draw them toward wisdom.

A classical education relies on story. Stories have a unique power to stir the imagination and illuminate the truth.

A classical education is student-centered. That is, it is an education focused on the formation of each student’s intellect and character.

A classical education is also teacher-centered. That is, it supposes the need for those who have greater wisdom and knowledge to share that wisdom and knowledge with those who have less.

A classical education employs a varied pedagogy. Socratic dialogue, seminar, lecture, experiment, recitation, models for emulation–all have their place. The ends are fixed, but the means vary.

A classical education prizes order. The object of the education is a well-ordered mind and heart, and every effort is made to reflect this order in the environment, from good manners to a well-adorned campus.

What A Classical Education is Not

At least in the case of classical charter schools, classical education is not elitist. Historically, classical education was reserved for the upper classes. But that is no longer the case. Charter schools are public. Unlike private schools, anyone may enroll. No tuition is charged, and no tests are given to determine eligibility. If there happens to be a waiting list, the order of admission is decided by lottery. Classical charter schools offer a classical education to anyone who desires it, without consideration of social status, race, or income.

Classical education is not stifling. It is true, classical schools are characterized by the old-fashioned belief that students should memorize a great many facts. But the learning of facts is merely preparatory. Lower-order thinking is for the sake of higher-order thinking. Of far greater importance are the creativity and good conversation made possible by virtuous habits and a well-stocked mind.

Classical education is not faddish. The last half century has seen an endless parade of education reforms, during which time ever-increasing spending has met with persistently lackluster results. Classical education made possible the greatest achievements of Western civilization, not least its science and technology, material prosperity, law codes and free institutions. Classical schools think it wise to keep hold of the goose that lays the golden eggs.

A classical education is not outmoded. The ends of a classical education did not cease to be relevant with the twenty-first century. A classical education is in every essential point a timeless education. Its aims are good for every person and at all times.

Adapted with permission from Seven Oaks Classical Academy of Ellettsville, Indiana, an affiliate of Hillsdale College