Grammar. Logic. Rhetoric. The Socratic Method.
You might be hearing these terms more and more, as there appears to be a new and growing interest in what is loosely called “classical education.”
CNN recently reported that there are several hundred classical schools in the United States:
Classical schools are less concerned about whether students can handle iPads than if they grasp Plato. They generally aim to cultivate wisdom and virtue through teaching students Latin, exposing them to great books of Western civilization and focusing on appreciation of “truth, goodness and beauty.” Students are typically held to strict behavioral standards in terms of conduct and politeness, and given examples of characters from history to copy, ranging from the Roman nobleman Cincinnatus to St. Augustine of Hippo.
There is such a revival in classical education that there is a new college entry examination, intended as an alternative to the SATs. A dozen colleges are now accepting the results of the Classic Learning Test — the CLT.
“We think the CLT will provide a more accurate picture of how prepared applicants are for our curriculum,” said Walter J. Thompson, dean of Thomas More College in Merrimack, New Hampshire, one of the colleges that accepts the CLT test. “There has long been a need for a third option.”
And the classical education movement got a big boost this summer when the Diocese of Marquette, Michigan, announced it is in the process of adopting a Catholic liberal arts curriculum for all of its schools, instead of using the Common Core State Standards.
Clearly, there is a need to prepare teachers and administrators for this movement, and several Catholic colleges are jumping on the bandwagon.
“We are in the third or fourth year of having a great books program here,” said Edward Mulholland, assistant professor in the Department of Modern Foreign and Classical languages at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, where he teaches Greek and Latin. He also co-runs an interdisciplinary “Great Books” course sequence at the college. He said that Matthew J. Ramsey, chairman of Benedictine’s Education Department, suggested offering a specialization in classical education that would include Latin and Greek, the classics and a methods class.
The college is beginning with a program to train teachers in elementary education and plans to expand that to secondary education.
More to read: The Bishop Who Wants to Bring Great Books to the Midwest
Classical education, Mulholland said, “is a lot more about bringing out information from the student rather than putting it in. It makes the student a better and more eager student because it makes him aware of his capabilities. The teacher doesn’t have to worry about entertaining.”
Many graduates of the University of Dallas, which has long focused on the Classics, teach at classical academies or act as headmasters. Now, says Matthew Post, Assistant Dean of the Braniff Graduate School of Liberal Arts, the university is formalizing a program that will be better tailored to meet the needs of these classical education schools. UD’s program hopes to help educators foster an “ethically aware, civically engaged, and spiritually attuned character,” he said.
Post said the program will include a practicum that will be designed in consultation with a local classical academy.
At Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida, Dan Guernsey, Associate Professor of Education and Chairman of the Department, said the important thing is not so much technique as having the mindset of classical education. “It’s an approach to learning that is integrated and holistic,” he said.
“We have at Ave Maria an incredibly intense core experience, where students have to take a sequence of courses of history, literature, philosophy and theology,” Guernsey said. “All of our students are getting a strong liberal arts classic education. When you’re a teacher that’s what you’re delivering. You can teach techniques, but if you don’t have the heart and the mindset and the soul of a classically liberal arts person you’re not going to deliver that.”
Guernsey started and ran a classical school on the campus of Ave Maria and has now turned his attention to preparing future teachers. Since that classical academy still exists, Ave Maria “can give our students exposure to an actual classical school,” he said.
Ultimately, the hope of those in the classical education movement, especially those with a Christian backing, is to form better citizens and saints. Along the way, the caliber of students may improve as well.
“Professors complain of of students coming in who don’t know how to read or write or listen or or speak or think,” said the University of Dallas’ Matthew Post. “And a real disinterest in things that might involve other dimensions of one’s life, including the spiritual and ethical and aesthetic, and the instrumentalization of university education—it becomes just about something to get a degree.
“With the classical education movement you have students coming into university who are much better prepared and demanding a lot more from what they’re going to get out of their university studies,” he said.
[Editor’s Note: Take the Poll – Should we go back to classical education?]