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Classical Classroom

February 15, 2009

In A History of Education in Antiquity Henri Marrou drew out the defining mark of classical education when he concluded that,

Classical teaching was chiefly interested in the man himself, not in equipping technicians for specialized jobs.

 We have strayed far from the path first laid by our Western ancestors.  The education of children today is by and large dedicated to the development of specialized skills that are designed to prepare children for careers and not life.  This is problematic because it limits the perception and understanding of what it means to be a person.  When life is defined by one’s career, the knowledge and skills necessary for that career will define one’s life.  The problem worsens as the practice of “equipping technicians for specialized jobs” works its way into the private institution.  A classical school must ask the question “Is our classical school classical?”

 The Homeric birth of the classical world fixed the educative goal upon the human ideal.  “What is Man?” was the central question of classical education.  The human ideal, presented in the Homeric hero, was the image of a wise and virtuous man or woman who embodied the good.  The task of educating was not an act that catered to the undeveloped nature of a child, but cultivated the premature nature of the adult within the child.  Classical education began with the end in view always oriented toward that fixed and defined point.

As classical education sought the answer to human identity it contemplated and pursued the related question of how to be a true man or woman.  For the classicist, education was very clearly a discipline and training of the child’s moral perfection and not vocational preparation.

 With this understanding as a backdrop, parents committed to classical education will first ask, “What should my child be learning?”  This question drives our attention to what is being taught in the classroom generated by the lesson. 

I have made an initial attempt to wrestle with this question in a paper that I have posted in my “Tack Room” under the “Papers” heading.  In that brief paper I look to the classical curriculum before turning to the ideas that govern the classical lesson.  Following the discussion on curriculum and ideas I highlight two models of education that emerge from a priority given either to curriculum or to ideas.



From → Education, History

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