an historic approach

The Classical approach includes individuals who are enthused about learning; they think logically and critically about issues, and they are in the process of knowing how to begin to apply these principles to life. Students and families who invest in the Classical approach become life-long learners and are able to effectively communicate the physical and spiritual reality we live in and how it works throughout history.

Dorothy Sayers on a Classical Education

Over the past decade numerous articles and books have been written on the resurgence of an approach to education commonly known as “classical”. One of the early books, Douglas Wilson’s Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning, reintroduced the reading population to a short essay by Dorothy L. Sayers entitled The Lost Tools of Learning. Both texts are well worth reading. But listen to a couple of specific points Sayers makes…

“For we let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armor was never so necessary. By teaching them all to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects. We who were scandalized in 1940 when men were sent to fight armored tanks with rifles, are not scandalized when young men and women are sent into the world to fight massed propaganda with a smattering of “subjects”; and when whole classes and whole nations become hypnotized by the arts of the spell binder, we have the impudence to be astonished. We dole out lip-service to the importance of education–lip- service and, just occasionally, a little grant of money; we postpone the school-leaving age, and plan to build bigger and better schools; the teachers slave conscientiously in and out of school hours; and yet, as I believe, all this devoted effort is largely frustrated, because we have lost the tools of learning, and in their absence can only make a botched and piecemeal job of it.
Does this sound familiar?

After giving a concise description of the Trivium and stating that Theology should be added to the curriculum “because theology is mistress-science without which the whole educational structure will necessarily lack its final synthesis” she writes a paragraph which still proves to be true. She writes…Is the Trivium, then, a sufficient education for life? Properly taught, I believe that it should be. At the end of the Dialectic, the children will probably seem to be far behind their coevals brought up on old-fashioned “modern” methods, so far as detailed knowledge of specific subjects is concerned. But after the age of 14 they should be able to overhaul the others hand over fist. Indeed, I am not at all sure that a pupil thoroughly proficient in the Trivium would not be fit to proceed immediately to the university at the age of 16, thus proving himself the equal of his mediaeval counterpart, whose precocity astonished us at the beginning of this discussion. This, to be sure, would make hay of the English public-school system, and disconcert the universities very much. It would, for example, make quite a different thing of the Oxford and Cambridge boat race.”

Her concern is “only with the proper training of the mind to encounter and deal with the formidable mass of undigested problems presented to it by the modern world.” We concur and add that responsible stewardship of our children is to fully equip, prepare and inspire them for purposeful and challenging lives. This is the mission of Classical Educational Services and The Classical School – to inspire students for life-long learning.




Mortimer Adler on a Classical Education

To get a better sense of The Classical School’s purpose and mission it would be beneficial to read Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book. First published in 1940 by a high school dropout (expelled, actually) who would become an editor of Encyclopedia Britannica and one of the founders of the Great Books of the Western World program, HtRaB became a classic best seller. It is also one of the most tedious books to read. Adler argued that people should read books that are initially too difficult to read in order to elevate their minds. How to Read a Book, required reading for students entering Classical Independent Studies, teaches the reader how, in fact, to accomplish this noble and challenging task.

The Classical School, over the six years of grammar and dialectic classes, is consciously and deliberately coaching students through the various stages of improving reading skills in order to furnish them with the freedom and ability to be independent, critical and reasonable adults.

In a February 1976 with Bill Moyers Dr. Adler comments about his early relationship with Professor John Dewey (one of the leading Progressive proponents at the University of Chicago, signer of the Humanist Manifesto and one of the primary architects of our modern system of public schooling). The transcript of the interview includes the following exchange:

MOYERS: There’s a story that you used to write letters to Professor Dewey at Columbia challenging his educational theories. Are they true?

ADLER: Yes. In fact he spoke … he lectured very slowly, haltingly. So that I could take his … almost the entire lecture down in long-hand. And I would go home and then sit down and type it out. And as I typed it out, I recognized there were some inconsistencies in it. Or that what he said today didn’t quite cohere, hang together, with what he said a week or two days ago. So, I’d write a letter, “Dear Dr. Dewey: According to my notes, a week ago you said… But today you said… How do you put these things together please?”

And he’d come to class and say, “A member of this class has written me a letter,” and he’d read the letter out loud, and answer it. I’d write the answer down and then I’d find that the answer was inconsistent with something else. So, he put up with this for about three weeks, and then of course … I was unrelenting. I kept on writing the letters. He finally called me in his office and he said, “Would you please stop?”

MOYERS: Did you?

ADLER: Yes, I did.

MOYERS: And you were how old?

ADLER: I was then 17.

MOYERS: And you were challenging John Dewey?

ADLER: Yes, indeed. Yes, indeed.

A 17 year old, high school dropout challenging one of the most influential professors of his day and of the twentieth century! What nerve! What chutzpah! What a role model! No doubt we will wish that there had been more young Adlers before the Twenty First century is over.

In that same interview Adler proposes a plan diametrically opposed to Dewey’s plan which has been implemented and dictates the standards of schooling in the United States. Again the transcript:

MOYERS: Wouldn’t the consequence of this be some very radical changes in the structure of education in our country and the timing of education in our country?

ADLER: It’s the most radical change proposed: that a liberal education be completed in 12 years and the people be given the Bachelor of Arts degree at 16 and after that, no one be in school between 16 and 20. I want compulsory non-schooling; I want them to start at four. Twelve years to 16. And at 16 everyone out of school. No one allowed to come back to school until 20 and then only by selective examinations. Everyone admitted; free admissions up to a Bachelor of Arts degree. Highly selective admissions for the University, for the advanced degree. And then, everyone…somehow everyone taken into adult learning in one form or another.

This plan never stood a chance. But it is interesting to note that in The Classical School graduates we are seeing how reasonable and possible it is for 16 and 17 year olds to move into our modern college environments as bona fide and successful students. A classical liberal arts education, well balanced by a sound curriculum in mathematics, securely prepares a student for the next stage of learning, the Quadrivium, just as the Trivium intended. At Classical we contend that a true classical education prepares students to meet the challenges posed by our school and state university system.




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