Getting the classics back in the classroom

I am a high school English and History teacher at a small Classical school in Raleigh, North Carolina. I wrote this article on the tenets of a Classical education that was recently picked up on the North State Journal (available here). Here is the article in full:

Before we discuss what Classical education is, let’s dispel a few myths about what Classical education is not. For instance, students and faculty in a Classical school are not required to wear togas to class each day. Nor do we have chariot racing or discus throwing in place of basketball or soccer. On the outside, a Classical school looks just like any other school.

A Classical education differs from other schools because of our commitment to the “Great Books” of the Western canon, our study of Latin, logic, and rhetoric, and our approach to the humanities and the sciences. If you are considering a new school for your child, you may find the number of options overwhelming. Let’s discuss why these three factors separate a Classical education from other schools and why the Classical approach will help your student develop the skills they need to succeed in life.

Classical education makes of first importance the works of the Western canon from Plato and Thucydides to Montesquieu and Montaigne. These “Great Books” include, but are not limited to, the Bible, the works of Plato, Dante, Shakespeare, and other figures from Sumer to modern-day. Reading these works in their entirety takes place in high school, while students in earlier grade levels read excerpts or adaptations, so they can still interact with the characters, storylines, and themes. The Founding Fathers read these works for both school and pleasure, and if we want students to imitate their example, we should give them the books that molded the hearts and minds of our nation’s founders.

Keeping in line with the kind of schooling the Founding Fathers enjoyed, most Classical schools offer Latin, logic, and rhetoric. Latin, as an inflected language, requires students to analyze the endings of words to determine their usage in a sentence, while students learn how to construct arguments in logic class and to defend their views in rhetoric. These are tools in the intellectual toolbox a Classical school provides its students, as we hope to teach students how to think, not what to think.

However, the biggest perceived drawback of a Classical education is in the sciences. How can an education trapped in Antiquity help students master technical skills needed to compete in a highly competitive global landscape? This view, however, is misleading and can stifle innovation in both science and the humanities. When introducing the iPad 2, Steve Jobs said, “Technology alone is not enough,” because the best technology needs the liberal arts to stoke its creative fires. Jobs even attributed his edge in the tech world to studying calligraphy, not courses in engineering.

Classical education already unites the arts and sciences. In history, students study the Scientific Revolution and its prominent figures; in logic, they learn the rules these thinkers applied in studying the natural world; and in science they conduct experiments with Galileo’s boldness and curiosity. At Thales, as with any Classical school, we aim to join the arts and sciences so that students can succeed in any career they choose. I can only speak for Thales, where we offer an engineering elective called the Luddy Institute of Technology that teaches CAD design and chariot building, among other classically inspired projects so we don’t stray too far from our roots. Applied science is a powerful tool for testing information, but a curriculum needs more than just the sciences. To inspire students, we need a curriculum that gave rise to modern science to begin with.

A Classical education is as challenging as it is invigorating. The Western tradition is 6,000 years of man’s recorded attempts to discover the true, the good, and the beautiful, and when authors from Cicero to Kant write on such ideals, we should pay attention. An education that is based upon the “Great Books,” equips students with a rich intellectual toolbox, and joins the arts to the sciences is indeed the right fit for your student’s future. As Isaac Newton said that great men stand on the shoulders of giants, a Classical education preserves the giants of the Western canon so students may stand upon their shoulders, survey with confidence the world in which they live, and overcome any challenge thrown at them.


Awesome Things My Wife Does #3

The mornings are both hectic and lonely. I wake up at the latest 5:30 (even then, I feel like I am running late), read the Bible and pound coffee, shower, and head out the door for a 35 minute commute for school. I try to be as quiet as I can to avoid waking up both my wife and my 18-month old son, Hunter. Rachel works from home and takes care of Hunter, and anything I can do to give her some extra sleep goes a long way. It’s a lonely push to head off to work.

So, how does my wife make this early morning routine just a little easier to bear? She mass produces breakfast sandwiches for me on Sunday afternoons. She lays out a half-dozen English muffins or bagels, scrambles a half-dozen eggs, prepares strips of cheddar cheese, and maybe sausage or ham if I have been extra good that week.

This goes a long way on our budget. Whenever I skip breakfast, I am much more likely to head to Bojangles or Chik-fil-A to eat there instead. $2-$4 a day for a meal adds up over the course of a week, and who knows about all the damage I’m doing to my body laying out greasy breakfast sandwiches on a regular basis. This is just one more awesome thing my wife does.

Awesome Things My Wife Does #2

I am incredibly blessed to have an absolutely beautiful and incredibly thrifty wife, Rachel. To help our budget stretch a little bit each month, Rachel braves the wild and untamed reaches of Aldi Super Market near downtown Raleigh. Aldi is a discount grocery store that sells private label brands at a fraction of the cost of other grocery stores. But those great deals often come at a price of the comforts and frills of other grocery stores.

Please, don’t get me wrong, I love Aldi. I think it is the best grocery store and I absolutely love the people who work there. Any place I can get a bag of tortilla chips for $1.09 is a place where I want to shop. But I am a guy whose main criteria in life is a lot of red meat in my diet, rather than a pleasurable shopping experience.

But for a busy mom, Aldi can be a difficult place to shop in! You borrow a shopping cart for 25 cents, and only if you return the shopping cart may you get your quarter back. If you do not have a quarter, you do not have a shopping cart and you must carry a box of groceries around the store. Having lived through such scenarios I’ve felt like society is collapsed all around me and I am trying to get as many supplies as I can to survive.

Many people like to shop at a nicer grocery store with more perks, frills, and amenities, maybe even just grocery bags (Aldi charges you for them) but Rachel throws herself into the fray and shops for the best deals she possibly can. And that is just one more awesome thing my wife does.