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Showing posts with label Classical Education. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Classical Education. Show all posts

Friday, February 15, 2013

Furman University: A Beachhead for Truth-Seeking

Two North Carolina retirees foster the creation of a model program at Furman University.

Campus (Furman Mall fountains), Furman University
Campus (Furman Mall fountains), Furman University

From The John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy
By Jane S. Shaw

What can be done about the ideological tilt at colleges and universities?  At times, it seems as though the Ivory Tower will be forever lost in a fog of political correctness and collectivist dogma.

Yet there have been some positive developments. A number of donors—individuals and organizations—are finding that they can make a difference in the fight to restore objective analysis and the search for truth. Through their efforts, small islands of intellectual rigor and appreciation of the foundations of Western civilization in our universities are popping up, even in bastions of rigid anti-Western thought.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Value of a Classical Education

Guest Commentary by Melanie Brooks-Nelson

We are bombarded with the news almost daily: schools struggle to educate students, who are graduating lacking basic skills and knowledge. We could have many conversations about this vexingly complex issue, the causes, the challenges faced by educators every day. I want to offer a lesson for teaching the humanities suggested by a pair of articles in the Post: "History diversified" (Feb. 18) and "It's old school-and it's the future" (Feb. 20).

A classical education in literature, history, and philosophy is often perceived, even by teachers, as less than cutting edge, not central to students' concerns or to contemporary issues; and teachers' virtually automatic response to this perception is to approach cultural studies by making connections to popular culture and to students' own ethnic identities. Metaphor may be taught by an example in a hip hop song, spelling by texting, and literature by recent authors (Megan Nix, Feb. 20 article). The "so what?" of history is answered by a proliferation of personalized stories of distinct ethnic groups students identify with, relegating all those "dead white men" (Feb. 18 article) of traditional history to decidedly secondary status.

Monday, June 28, 2010

What makes Oxford University Great?

Beauty, Grace and Superabundance in Education

From The Way of Beauty

By David Clayton

When I was studying in painting and drawing in Florence I started to wonder why we haven’t yet seen a modern Master. We all knew that we weren’t up to the standards of the past great Masters, such as Velazquez or Reni. Judge for yourself, I have attached photos of my own work. I must admit I am quite pleased with them and it is an amazing improvement in only one year of training and as such a tribute to the quality of the teaching in the school. But I know I’m no Velazquez.

My story aside, why don’t we see better artists coming through? Many in Florence felt that some of the training methods had been lost. Others suggested that we didn’t train for long enough and didn’t start early enough in life. There might be some truth in this but I don’t think these are the main reasons. When I thought about it, something intrigued me: Velazquez surpassed the skills of his teacher (a man called Francesco Pacheco). I had always thought of education as a process of a teacher passing on knowledge and advice to a pupil on the basis of experience and their own education. If this was so, I realized, education would necessarily mean a diminution of knowledge from one generation to the next. No one can pass on everything they know so they are always necessarily passing on directly less than they were given. One would expect Pacheco to be better than Velazquez. Why was the reverse true?

The answer, it seems to me, is grace. Some might say not grace, genius. But then the question as to what genius is arises and I think that points to the same answer. A genius has a special gift from God and the ability to direct it well under the guidance of inspiration. Every education, whatever is being taught, therefore, should be designed so as to maximize inspiration from God during the process. Velazquez’s training took place in a Christian society that understood how an artistic training could engender openness to inspiration and the humility to cooperate with it when it comes. First, specific to art, the baroque tradition was understood to be Christian (although not called ‘baroque’ yet), so the artists understood how to use the visual vocabulary they were being taught. I was taught the stylistic elements justified by an appeal to the tradition and good taste, not to theology. So we knew what the masters did, but not why. Second, the environment is made as beautiful as possible in accordance with tradition harmony and proportion, which is a physical manifestation of the rhythms of the prayer of the Church, the liturgy. And third, they prayed for inspiration in accordance with these rhythms.

I found out later that all education during this period and prior to the Enlightenment followed certain patterns. Exactly the same principles of beauty and prayer were the basis of the education in Oxford and Cambridge. The educational community of each college prayed the daily rhythms of the liturgy of the hours throughout the day. Furthermore, at Oxford and Cambridge this continued even after the Reformation and, perhaps surprisingly, continues to this day. The Anglican office of Evensong is sung regularly at the colleges of the university and the grace that this bring into the establishment for the benefit of the students should not be underestimated. It has often struck me as strange that these two universities should still be rated so highly in the world when they are relatively small by modern standards, and in a country that is no longer as influential as it once was. They punch well above their weight. Part of the answer is the sheer beauty of the buildings of the university. People want to go and live there, and so they attract better teachers and better students. But it is also, I would say that they maintain the form of a liturgical rhythm in their academic year, built around Christmas and Easter; and in the daily structures by having the liturgy of the hours in Anglican form. What we are seeing is the ordering of time and space according to heavenly principles for the benefit of the students (though I doubt more than a handful at Oxford are aware of this). They stand out today because these structures were abolished in continental Europe with the Napoleonic occupation and modern American universities, on the whole followed the continental model of university when they were established.

It should be said that of course God can inspire whomsoever he pleases and is not limited by the sacraments. There is no accounting for who might be able to cooperate with grace in this regard, even if they seem to resist it in all areas of life. For this reason, there is always the possibility of a wonderful artist, for example, popping up out of nowhere, even today. But as a principle of education that will give us more than the occasional genius it makes sense to create an institution that makes it easier for the student, rather than more difficult, to cooperate with grace.

The principles that I am referring to are described in much greater detail in an article on our recently set up website that will be an archive for longer articles. The site is and a link through to the article itself, Art, Grace, Education and the Beautiful Business is here.

The principle that is being invoked is one of superabundance – the creation of something good out of nothing. It was described by Pope Benedict in his latest encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. Just as it is possible to harness it to make a better education in a university, it can be used in any institution. In his encyclical, the Pope was talking about business and the creation of wealth. He was giving us a clue to a life of great abundance, yet few from what I could tell seemed to see it as I did. I refer to this in more detail in the same article referenced above.

We have done our best to invoke these principles at Thomas More College. Not just in our art classes for the undergraduates and the summer program, but also in the life of the students. We communicate the value of the full liturgical experience to every aspect of their lives. Lauds and Vespers take place daily during the term and students are encouraged to participate. It is important that there is no sense of obligation in this regard, outside what is necessary to the teaching of it. It must be something that is freely participated in, in order to have value. Our experience is that a core few come as often as they can, some others come regularly but not daily and of course some never come. However, I am sure that the fact that it is happening is helping the whole community, even those who don’t participate. This is fine. I unknowingly benefited from this at Oxford where I was a student for four years, never once even entering the chapel the whole time I was there. But perhaps this is in part what drew me to a later conversion. Certainly on leaving Oxford where I felt part of a community in a way I never felt before, I felt a sense of desolation that increased and only left me once I converted. Then it was replaced by the full source of joy, something even greater, rooted in the Church.

The photographs, incidentally, are of Oxford. At the top we have the grand Magdalen College, and the two at the bottom are of the smaller but charming front quad of my college, St Edmund Hall.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Demise of Great Books

From The Daily Texan
By John Davidson

The latest chapter in the long, depressing story of classical liberal education in America is unfolding here in Austin, where the University of Texas has recently snuffed out a nascent Great Books program.

The tale began in 2002, when UT philosophy professor Robert Koons and a few others started working to establish a program focused on Western civilization and the Great Books. Their idea was to develop an alternative liberal arts curriculum that would require undergraduates to read, systematically, seminal western texts such as the Bible, the works of ancient Greece and Rome and the American founding documents. This was considered radical at UT.

Koons and his cohorts persevered despite stiff opposition, and last fall the Program in Western Civilization and American Institutions began offering classes. It was, by all accounts, a smashing success: Students were signing up, alumni were sending checks (Koons raised more than $1 million) and a speaker series sponsored by the program was hugely popular. It seemed that classical liberal education was experiencing a renaissance at UT.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Case for Irrelevance

From Jewish World Review
By Paul Greenberg

A recession may stunt more than material growth. It can also drain intellectual curiosity. For economic pressure can lead people to settle for what only seems to be security instead of following their dreams. Which can be a tragedy for both the individual and a society that depends on people reaching ever higher, rather than not settling for what only seems safe. Poverty is much overrated as a spur to human achievement. Rather, it's a brake on it. The romantic image of the starving artist creating a masterpiece in his garret, charming as it may be, has little connection with reality. Walking around hungry is not a good thing, no matter what people who've never been hungry say.

Maybe that's why it hurts to learn about the declining enrollments at some of the country's finest liberal-arts colleges. Such schools have long stood out as islands of education in a sea of technical training, but they're short of students these days.

Look what's happening to St. John's College in Annapolis, Md., long an exemplar of classical education in this country. Its students read and discuss Homer, Euclid, Chaucer and Einstein. They don't just read about them. At this school, there are no major and minor fields to choose; all study the same classics and specialize in none. St. John's offers a striking alternative to the typical university with its familiar cafeteria-style assortment of "practical" skills that can prove impractical as soon as the next technology or technique replaces the old.

At St. John's, the object is to broaden the mind, not narrow it. It's an exciting prospect for the intellectually ambitious, but St. John's freshman class, which numbers 137 this year, is about 20 students smaller than last year's. Applications are down 15 percent. The enrollment figures aren't any more encouraging at Reed College in Portland, Ore., or Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. Or little Lyon and Hendrix Colleges here in Arkansas.

Other fine schools may not stick to the classics as rigorously -- some would say obsessively -- as St. John's, but they, too, try to avoid the trap of teaching students more and more about less and less, putting them on a career track from their first day on campus. Which could mean that, by the time they graduate, all they've learned is obsolete.

One can hope that those who have received a good education will have thought about the permanent things of all time, not just absorbed the fashionable slogans and brittle jargon of our one time.

Why would students choose a general liberal arts education over a job-oriented one even in a recession? Tim McClennen, an entering freshman at St. John's, explained it this way: "If you go to school and you learn to do one thing, and then you change careers down the line, you know nothing that will help you."

Many of the students at St. John's hope to go on to graduate school -- in law or medicine or business -- but they'd also like to be educated. Specialization can wait until after they've had a chance to think about what they might want to specialize in, rather than be funneled into a job that may or may not exist by the time they graduate. Which would seem a prudent way to approach the choice of a career.

The purpose of an education ought to be something more than to prepare the next generation for entry-level jobs in whatever field is hot just now. Or rather was hot four years before they got their degree. Yet too often "educators" in this country have been reduced to telling business or government: You tell us the kind of worker you want, and we'll mass-produce them. Which is a formula for turning out ranks of robots.

Our educantists produce one fad after another in education. And each is scarcely introduced before it is discarded in favor of the next. While the permanent things are ignored.

Perhaps even now, in the early morning hours, on some small campus somewhere in the dark fields of the Republic, a young student is putting aside the old book she couldn't close all night. Maybe it will be Thucydides' history of the Peloponnesian War, with its description of Themistocles, who "was the best judge of what was about to happen and the wisest in foreseeing what would happen in the distant future," and so "surpassed all others in the faculty of intuitively meeting an emergency."

From whence will come our Themistocles? Maybe from the ranks of students like her at our small, struggling liberal arts colleges.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Summer With Aristotle

From The Wall Street Journal
By Emily Esfahani Smith

On a summer day, inside a Stanford University classroom, a blonde, 12-year old girl rises to confront her professor. “You’re wrong” she cries and storms out in tears. The professor, an ethics teacher at the school, is trying to make the case that it’s morally permissible to kill one innocent life to save five. Still later that night, over dinner, the professor and the girl sit side by side, working out their ethical differences thinker to thinker. The young girl even smiles.

Welcome to book camp. With the close of this summer, the Great Books Summer Program, as it is formally called, will have had its most successful year according to Peter Temes, its academic director. Each summer, students ages 12 to 17 gather against the idyllic backdrop of either Stanford University or Amherst College. They attend lectures, participate in discussions, eat meals, and live together as a community of precocious ­thinkers.

Reading the works of Homer, Virgil, Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson and so many others, the students are pushed to grapple with questions that have preoccupied the great thinkers of the past 2,500 years. What is the good life? How should I face injustice? What do I owe my neighbor?

The program started eight years ago with a group of 30 students, many of whom were underprivileged, meeting on weekends. Today, the camp enrolls around 600 students and its overlapping one-, two- and three-week sessions run from late June to the beginning of ­August.

Mr. Temes recalls the inspiration he had to start the great books initiative. “There was a brilliant middle schooler in the South Bronx whose teacher one day said to him, ‘I bet you’re really excited for high school.’ The kid stared back at her blankly and said ‘I don’t think I’ll go.’”

Realizing that there were many young students who shared a love of literature and ideas but lacked the “carrot of college dangling in front of them,” Mr. Temes and several others began the Great Books Summer Program “to give these kids a precollege college experience.”

Unfortunately, a great-books curriculum is in short supply even at many colleges today. But recently a small but vibrant group of important professors have been working to restore the great books’ prominence in a liberal arts education. In the past decade, educators at Princeton, Dartmouth and Brown (to name just three schools) have erected centers specifically designed to give students an education in the fundamental texts of the Western canon. Princeton’s James Madison Program, Brown’s Political Theory Project and Dartmouth’s Daniel Webster Project offer or sponsor classes on Medieval and Renaissance political thought, Civil Liberties, Politics and Religion, and so on.

The mere existence of these programs suggests an important trend in student learning habits. The academic radicalism of recent decades is receding, and students are ready to be serious again. Flaky courses—such as Sociology of Heterosexuality (Yale), Philosophy and Star Trek (Georgetown), or Whiteness: The Other Side of Racism (Mount Holyoke)—no longer interest them. Instead, students from book camp and Princeton are interested in “sitting down with Plato, St. Augustine, and James Madison, to think through the perennial issues of politics and citizenship,” says Robert George, a professor and director of Princeton’s James Madison Program.

Since its birth nine years ago, the James Madison Program has dramatically grown in its offerings and influence on the Princeton campus. That’s only been possible because “students are very interested in learning about founding principles. Our class enrollments are very high,” says Mr. George. “In the Constitutional Interpretation class, which has the reputation of being the hardest non-science class at Princeton, 100 to 125 students are typically enrolled.” To put that in perspective, most classes at Princeton hold fewer than 19 students. The James Madison Program’s numbers, along with the Great Books Summer Program’s, say it all. Students want to learn this stuff.

Still, too many colleges are not meeting that demand. Mr. Temes and Mr. George’s programs are one step in the right direction. But without more efforts like theirs, says Mr. Temes, many students will be condemned to “live in a world created by thinkers they don’t know nor understand.”

Ms. Smith is a Robert L. Bartley Fellow at the Journal this summer.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

America's Public School System: Brutal and Spartan

"Education in Sparta" by Luigi Mussini

From NewsWithViews
By Joel Turtel

The public school system in America has become a dismal failure. But education in many other times and cultures has been quite successful. The ancient Greeks, whose civilization was at its height around 550 B.C., founded Western civilization as we know it. The Athenian Greeks invented or perfected logic, drama, science, philosophy, astronomy, mathematics, literature, and much more. Yet ancient Greece had no compulsory schools.

Other than requiring two years of military training for young men that began at age eighteen, Athens let parents educate their children as they saw fit. Parents either taught their children at home or sent them to voluntary schools where teachers and philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle gave lectures to all who wanted to learn. These great teacher-philosophers did not need a license to teach, nor did they have tenure. The ancient Athenians had a free-market education system. The thought of compulsory, state-run schools and compulsory teacher licensing would have been repulsive to them. The Athenians respected a parent's natural right to direct the education of their children.

In contrast, Sparta, Athens's mortal enemy, created the first truly state-run, compulsory education system on record. Individual Spartans lived and died for the State, and had to serve the State from birth until sixty years of age. Their society was a brutal military dictatorship in which male children literally belonged to the city rulers, not to their parents.

The Spartan military government took boys from their homes and parents at the age of seven and forced them to live in military-style barracks for the rest of their lives. Spartan men were life-long soldiers whose highest duty was to obey the commands of their leaders. It is no coincidence that Sparta had compulsory, state-run education. If a society believes that children belong not to parents, but to the State, then the State must control children's education by compulsion.

Are our public schools any different than the brutal Spartan society in the way they treat parents and children? Today, school compulsory-attendance laws force parents to hand over their children to government employees called teachers for eight to twelve years. In effect, our local and state governments claim that they, like the Spartans, own our children's minds and bodies for twelve years. Parents who refuse to hand over their children to the public schools can be, and have been, locked in jail for disobeying the compulsory-attendance laws.

In this respect, our public schools today are just as brutal as the Spartans. The difference is only in degree. Where the Spartans stole children from their parents to serve a lifetime in their military, our local governments create laws that let them, in effect, legally kidnap our children to serve twelve years in their education boot camps called public schools. The brutality of the principal is the same.

Both the Spartans and our public-school officials think they own our children, and have utter contempt for parents' rights.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Humanities Move Off Campus

From City Journal
By Victor Davis Hanson

As the classical university unravels, students seek knowledge and know-how elsewhere.

Until recently, classical education served as the foundation of the wider liberal arts curriculum, which in turn defined the mission of the traditional university. Classical learning dedicated itself to turning out literate citizens who could read and write well, express themselves, and make sense of the confusion of the present by drawing on the wisdom of the past. Students grounded in the classics appreciated the history of their civilization and understood the rights and responsibilities of their unique citizenship. Universities, then, acted as cultural custodians, helping students understand our present values in the context of a 2,500-year tradition that began with the ancient Greeks.

But in recent decades, classical and traditional liberal arts education has begun to erode, and a variety of unexpected consequences have followed. The academic battle has now gone beyond the in-house “culture wars” of the 1980s. Though the argument over politically correct curricula, controversial faculty appointments, and the traditional mission of the university is ongoing, the university now finds itself being bypassed technologically, conceptually, and culturally, in ways both welcome and disturbing.

At its most basic, the classical education that used to underpin the university often meant some acquaintance with Greek and Latin, which offered students three rich dividends. First, classical-language instruction meant acquiring generic methods of inquiry. Knowledge was no longer hazy and amorphous, but categorized and finite. Classical languages, like their Western successors, were learned through the systematic study of vocabulary, grammar, and syntax. Such philological study then widened to reading poetry, philosophy, history, and oratory. Again, the student learned that there was a blueprint—a structure—to approaching education. Nothing could ever be truly new in itself but was instead a new wrinkle on the age-old face of wisdom. Novel theories of education and entirely new disciplines of learning—to the extent that they were legitimate disciplines—could take their place within existing classical divisions of finite learning, such as philosophy, political science, or literature.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Counter-Cultural Education in a One-Room School

John DeJak, teaching Latin at the Chesterton Academy, a new high
school in St. Louis Park that aims to start an education revolution.

From the Star Tribune
By Katherine Kersten

Remember the old one-room schoolhouse? We've moved far beyond it with our multimillion-dollar school facilities and our high-tech computer labs, right?

If so, why are John DeJak and Dale Ahlquist back in a one-room school, aiming to start an education revolution in St. Louis Park with 11 students?

DeJak, of Richfield, puts it simply: "We realized that our kids are being robbed."

So began Chesterton Academy -- a school that may point the way to an educational renaissance to match the Renaissance man whose name it bears.

The academy, which opened in September, is a private high school that will expand from ninth and 10th to 12th grade in the next two years. It is named after G.K. Chesterton, an English social commentator, theologian and man of letters who was one of the 20th century's greatest minds and most prolific authors.

Chesterton Academy's "countercultural" identity doesn't spring from theories found in the latest education journals. Nor is the school breaking new ground in Chinese immersion pedagogy or robotics.

Instead, this place exemplifies the real avant-garde.

The bright room in Eliot Community Center is hung with icons and medieval art, and lined with such books as Cicero's "Orations" and Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales." Students sit around a table, engrossed in Latin verbs. One wall displays calligraphy exercises, which include this revealing Chesterton quote: "A dead thing goes with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it."

In future years, the kids will study calculus and chemistry, and immerse themselves in great thinkers from Homer to T.S. Eliot. They will also explore once-celebrated arts such as oil painting and Gregorian chant, which few pursue today.

The educational "robbery" that Chesterton Academy is striving to halt has two components, says DeJak, the school's headmaster.

First, schools are depriving students by failing to pass on the 3,000-year-old body of knowledge -- literature, philosophy, theology, history, art, music, drama -- that is their greatest heritage as human beings, he says. The greatest flaw of modern education is that it is based on a succession of fads, he adds.

As a result, our young people may be "eco-aware" or have great self-esteem, but they often can't explain the passions that sparked the Civil War or why "David Copperfield" is a great novel.

At Chesterton Academy, "We start with the premise that -- in Chesterton's words -- 'the oldest things ought to be taught to the youngest people,'" says Ahlquist, one of the academy's founders, who is also president of the Bloomington-based American Chesterton Society.

Do you want evidence that our kids can't think clearly? he asks. Just listen to them talk.

A typical ninth-grader's response to just about anything runs like this: "So I'm like, wow, that's, like, awesome."

"Kids today can't speak in complete sentences because they can't think in complete sentences," Ahlquist explains.

He's not kidding. At Chesterton Academy, there's a rule against saying "like."

Contemporary education robs young people in a second way, observes DeJak. Our schools teach moral relativism -- the notion that there is no truth, and that we all must choose our own "values," our own right and wrong. No wonder our kids' favorite word is, like, "whatever."

"We believe that there is a larger truth, which every other truth relates to -- and that is God," says DeJak. "For us, education is not just about job training, but about seeking the truth and training the soul."

Chesterton Academy teaches the Catholic faith, but is careful not to call itself Catholic until the Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis approves that designation, as the church's law requires.

In line with its revival of lost arts, Chesterton Academy will place special emphasis on public speaking -- once the crowning glory of a high school education. Not long ago, every ninth-grader could recite the Gettysburg Address.

At the moment, students at the school are learning how to introduce themselves, and working on posture, articulation and presentation. Later, they will deliver two-minute speeches -- "you learn how long two minutes really is," jokes DeJak -- and will then move on to poetry recitation and debate.

Chesterton Academy's ambitions extend beyond academics, as you'd expect from a school that seeks to "train the soul."

"We'll work on getting rid of unfortunate cultural habits," says DeJak, such as the sense of entitlement so common among young people.

In November, for example, the boys from the school will travel to the University of Notre Dame to see a football game. "The guys have to pay $65 each for their tickets," explains DeJak. "I told them, 'Don't run to Mom for the money. You'll enjoy it more if you work for it.' So they're having bake sales and raking leaves."

How are the kids at Chesterton Academy responding? "The first week was the toughest of their lives," says DeJak. "But now it's beginning to gel."

When I ask, the students acknowledge that they will miss the football games and proms that bigger schools offer. But they are enthusiastic about their new school's small size, and about teachers who "bring the people of other times alive for us."

As 10th-grader Paul Cummings begins to answer my question, a renegade "like" intrudes in his first sentence. Shaking his head, he starts again.

As I said, this is the real counterculture.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The New Learning That Failed

The New Criterion recently published a thoughtful article on the decline of classical learning and the core liberal arts curriculum in the university. For those who would like to understand the "dumbing down" of our elementary and secondary schools and the coarsening of our culture, this article probes the root causes.

Victor Davis Hanson is a military historian, columnist, former classics professor, and author of A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War.