The Benefits of a Classical Education

By:  Fr. James Thornton
The Benefits of a Classical Education

While a “progressive” education highlights perceived societal flaws and teaches what to think, a classical education emphasizes cultural bulwarks and teaches how to think.

Since the end of the Second World War, and especially since the mid-1960s, America has been deluged with seemingly endless stories of the failure of its educational system. Testing reveals that there exists a significant percentage of high-school graduates who cannot identify the Pacific Ocean on an unlabeled map of the world, who do not know that Abraham Lincoln served as president of the United States after George Washington, who confuse the American Civil War with World War I, and who believe that Christopher Columbus discovered the New World in the 18th century, which examples are typical of the horror stories repeated year after year. Ever fewer young people, even those who have graduated from colleges and universities, are properly able to express themselves verbally or in writing. In response, liberal educators have come up with various nostrums that were supposed to turn things around by means of revolutionary new teaching methods. Not surprisingly, they have all failed. Characteristically, politicians have sought solutions by throwing taxpayers’ money at the problem and by further centralizing control in Washington, which, if anything, have only made matters worse.

So, what can be done to insure that our children and young people receive a genuine education that will serve them well for the remainder of their lives? Let us now delve into the past to discover how our ancestors were educated.

The great Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt gave praise to the ancient Greeks by commenting that “all subsequent objective perception of the world is only elaboration on the framework the Greeks began. We see with the eyes of the Greeks and use their phrases when we speak.” European culture and civilization, of which our own country is a part, are rooted in ancient Greece. Their educational methodology, though more than 2,500 years old, is still as relevant now as it was in the time of Plato and is known as classical education.

First, let us consider the objectives of classical education. The first objective is to transmit to our progeny, that is, to future generations, the knowledge, culture, and traditions preserved and passed on to us by our forebears. This is in contrast to so-called progressive education, which focuses on the flaws of the past (e.g., slavery) while ignoring the progress (e.g., the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and the elimination, in America, of an institution that had existed throughout human history).

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