Philosophy First: Re-orienting Our Thinking about Classical Education for a New Year

By Sara Osborne

Teachers, parents, and students who participate in classical education are familiar with many of its usual tenets:  the focus on grammar, logic, and rhetoric provided by the trivium; the inclusion of Latin; and the emphasis on classic literature, to name a few.  In addition, classical schools are often recognized for their structure—witness school uniforms, organized schedules, and high behavioral expectations, for example.  However, what makes a school truly classical is not its Black Watch tartan, Shurley grammar, or Latin lessons, but rather its philosophy of education.  While educational philosophy is surely (and hopefully!) not divorced from method and practice, it deserves a place at the forefront of our thinking as we begin a new year.

In the year 2018, classical schools and educators will benefit from the continued resurgence of the modern classical education movement.  Undoubtably, more classical schools will pop up across the country, classical curriculum publishers will crank out more resources for students and teachers, and numerous lectures at conferences nationwide will be given on strategies for implementing the classical approach.  While this abundance of resources can be a boon for our educational community, it also carries along with it a temptation to forget the end goal:  the pursuit of truth, beauty, and goodness.

We live in a Pinterest world in which many of us—educators included—have forgotten how to think originally and creatively about education.  Perhaps out of fear, or simply fatigue, our modus operandi is to search out someone else’s pedagogical practices.  The classical community has no shortage of ideas to copy, and many of them are worthy of imitation.  However, when simply copying curriculum becomes our strategy for educating classically, we’ve lost so much of what makes classical education unique.

Consider reflecting on a few questions for re-orienting your thinking about classical education as we begin a new year:

  1. What does it mean to educate my student(s) classically?
  2. How often do I reflect on the goals of classical education when planning student lessons and activities?
  3. What creative ideas am I employing to point my students towards truth, beauty, and goodness?
  4. How often do I engage with a primary text instead of a textbook in an effort to communicate a concept to my student(s)?
  5. Do my students love learning? What can I do to engage them more, in an effort to make learning more compelling?

A new year offers plentiful opportunities for re-orienting our lives towards the goals we hope to achieve.  We make resolutions related to spiritual disciplines, physical exercise, budgeting, and diet in order to counter the temptations that will surely come throughout the year.  As educators, we will face the temptation to focus on method and curriculum more than we consider the philosophy that guides classical teaching and learning. Perhaps it’s time to add another resolution to our list.

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