More on Classical Education

We use the phrase “classical education” to refer not just to the educational practices of the Greeks and Romans, but also to authoritative and  excellent education, which has endured over time.

Great Books

Classical educators believe, like the Greeks, that there exists enduring standards for goodness, beauty and truth. From this shared understanding emerged, over time, a canon of great literature. Some books have been declared “great books” by a consensus of informed critics over long periods of time and these works we call “Classics.” These books contain great ideas that have given birth to and participated in an ongoing conversation about what is good, beautiful and true. More great ideas than these, in fact, exist in “Great Books” such as what is admirable and noble in the human heart. This is called “The Great Conversation.”

At Hunter Classical Christian School, we seek to read the classics. We rely heavily on stories and biographies from tradition. We read about heroes who embody a wide range of qualities: courage, endurance, compassion, faith, gratitude, honor and  vision. When children become well acquainted with such examples they soon realize that it is not being famous, powerful, wealthy or idolized by crowds that makes a hero. Instead, surmounting adversity, danger and evil become the goal. Such an approach assists in evaluating our own time and leads toward a greater appreciation of the Greek ideal of goodness, truth and beauty. We also read a sampling of the best current work we can find which is considered worthy and discuss its merits or flaws just as we would other classical works.

Language Learning

Classical education as a methodology  requires different mental functions from that of “image learning” (tv, videos and pictures.) As Susan Wise Bauer, author of The Well-Trained Mind (2004)  states, “Images, such as those on videos and television, allow the mind to be passive.”  While television and movies are a part of most children’s lives today, we at Hunter feel that “language learning” should be emphasized.  Bauer points out that in “language learning”  (reading and writing) a child’s mind is tasked with converting symbols into something useful such as words and sentences, and is thus challenged to express thought more concretely.  We feel that classical, language-based learning encourages the child to become a more precise thinker.

The Importance of History

In classical education, the study of history — what has been done, thought and accomplished by others, be they individuals or civilizations — takes on great importance. The  chronological record of eras is examined, from the ancients progressing forward in time to the moderns. Connections, comparisons and evaluations of the belief systems and those who hold them, in politics, science, literature, art and music, shape the student’s ability to analyze his or her own age and face the uncertain challenges of the future.

See Susan Wise Bauer for more about Classical education in The Well-Trained Mind (2004) and The Well-Educated Mind (2003). See also  E.D. Hirsch’s work in cultural literacy and Douglas O. Wilson’s, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning (1991).