Classical Education: Is it really necessary to study ancient language?

With so much talk about classical education in the edusphere, an increasing trend is noted toward a classical style of education as opposed to, say, actual learning of ancient languages.  But does one need to study classical languages, Greek and Latin, to engage in a classical curriculum?   For example at well known Ridgeview Classical Academy, the website states,

Ridgeview remains classical by upholding the same standards of teaching, of curriculum, and of discipline found in the schools of old. Indeed, we teach English as a classical language. Ridgeview thus takes stock in the “tried and true” rather than in the latest fads popping out of the nation’s schools of education.

Meanwhile, Hillsdale College’s Charter School Initiative says yes … in a excerpt from A Classical Education for Modern Times, by Terrence O. Moore:

“Unlike the old classical schools, today’s classical schools do not make the medium of instruction Latin and Greek (though to be classical they must require the study of Latin at some point).

The good thing about a classical education is that the foundation is all there:  in history, you can just look it up . So in regard to the question, whether one can have classical education without classical language, I propose we consider the past:

The history of classical education typically includes the following moments:

Ancient Greece

Ancient Rome

Medieval Europe

Renaissance Italy

England from the Renaissance to World War II

America from the Revolution to World War II

All of these but the first emphasized the teaching of foreign language.  All except the first two emphasized Latin as a second language.   (Roman school, of course, offered Latin as a first language and Greek as the second).  So why might some in the classical school movement wish to dispense with the requirement to study foreign language, and specifically Latin?  The reason is simple: Because it’s very difficult to teach foreign language effectively in the modern world with the currently available methods, doubly so with a language with no native speakers.  What to do about this?  Should we emphasize classical methods instead of classical language, or perhaps figure out how to master classical language instruction?  The question begs a further blog post … later.



Classical Education in the News — July 6th, 2015

Classical Education news this week:

In Texas, the first graduating class of Founders Academy in Lewisville includes a National Merit Scholar and the 21-member class as a whole wins $800,000 in scholarships.

In California, the John Adams Academy, a classical charter school, buys a building that previously belonged to the local junior college.

Marva Collins, famous inner city classical educator, passed away.

In Georgia, freelance writer Dan Kurtz tries to alert his local Savanahites of the work being done at inner-city Savannah Classical Academy, and suggests that a classical education can liberate citizens from generational poverty.

And, to round up the list, blogger Gregory Pappas in the Pappa Post, debunks the claim that Greek was the founding father’s second language.


What is Classical Education?

When I started with the goal of practicing “classical education” in our home school my aim was simple – I would to do away with all the worthless dross that had been added to my own public school education in the 70’s, put in a highly focused and performance based set of activities, and thereby have the time and the energy to do all the things I wanted to do with my children, art, music, hiking, etc.  It would be classical simply because it would get down to the basis of what it meant to be educated, and wouldn’t waste time with stuff they didn’t need.  Since my husband was a classicist, with a nascent interest in classical education, we figured we would crown the process with Latin studies.  I concentrated on “teaching to mastery” whatever we covered.  In math, they had to learn the material to 80% on their tests or redo it.  In reading and science, we discussed the material to make sure they understood completely.

Back then no one asked us what classical education was, so I never had to explain that I didn’t know.  The education was classical because it was rooted in tradition (whatever that meant) and we worked harder and faster than other home schoolers and included mythology in our studies – “the classics.” To me classical education always had “high seriousness” so I added that too … we weren’t just doing our own thing; although I always respected the unschooling movement, I knew it “just wasn’t me.”  We used no computers.  They didn’t have them in antiquity and anyway I believed that they were, generally, destructive to intellect.  My two oldest thrived on this curriculum.

Later, when I began working with my third child, we discovered that  he had dyslexia.  I found that explicit and highly focused phonics instruction of the type promulgated in the book The Writing Road to Reading was necessary for him to learn to read.  But still, our philosophy of “teaching to mastery” was fundamental and I taught Writing Road to him until he mastered the 70 phonograms, written from oral administration and spoken from sight.  He did learn to read properly and today, as a young man, he is able to do his college level work without undue difficulty.  I added “explicit phonics instruction” to my definition of classical education.

Eventually I found my home schoolers moving on to college and prep schools, and I myself entered, for pragmatic reasons, a public school classroom as an elementary teacher.  I brought my knowledge from classical homeschooling to my classroom.  Using these methods, from the beginning, my students were successful.  Since it seemed teachers and administration at the school spent untold hours trying to figure out how to accelerate learning for our students, I wanted to share with colleagues that my students were successful because of classical education practices.  But I still didn’t know how to simply explain what classical education was.

I believe it was Rousseau who said “Writing is a way of finding out.”  So this blog is such an attempt:  to find out what classical education is … and perhaps what it isn’t.  This blog will seek to bring that information to a world which is desperately in need of this knowledge.  The reason to do this, to quote Susan Schaeffer-Macaulay, is “For the Children’s Sake.”