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Patrick Halbrook

Classical Education in the News

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I thought it would be helpful to start a thread where we could share recent news stories / opinion pieces relating to classical education that could be of interest to others. I'll start with this one from last week:

Victor Davis Hanson, "The Liberal Arts Weren’t Murdered — They Committed Suicide" (National Review | December 18, 2018)
https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/12/liberal-arts-education-politicized-humanities/

What have you come across lately?

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On a school district in Colorado rejecting the application of a proposed classical charter school:

Jon Caldara, "Diversity Isn’t Just What’s Between Your Legs. It’s Also What’s Between Your Ears (Denver Post | January 25, 2019) https://www.denverpost.com/2019/01/25/caldara-diversity-isnt-just-whats-between-your-legs-its-also-whats-between-your-ears/

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1 hour ago, Patrick Halbrook said:

What do you think the best response would be to this criticism of classical education?

Libby Anne, "I Learned Latin and Memorized Old Poems–and I Wish I Hadn’t" (Patheos | January 28, 2019) https://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2019/01/i-learned-latin-and-memorized-old-poems-and-i-wish-i-hadnt.html

My first response: ignore it (but I realize that's probably not the best response).

There are a lot of problems with the essay:

1. The writer is responding to and interpreting a tweet and drawing generalizations that go well beyond the scope of what a single tweet implies.

2.The writer is basing the entirety of her criticisms of Latin and poetry memorization on her own personal experience. One anecdote does not indicate a general trend.

3. I don't know of any classical educator who would classify G.A. Henty as an author of any "great books." The writer seems to conflate "good" literature that homeschool or classical school students might read and "great books" of the Western Tradition.

4. Even if the writer didn't make this conflation, she seems to reject books that don't talk about (or aren't written by) contemporary socio-political-cultural identities.

5. The writer presumes that the current cultural paradigms represent the future, as opposed to acknowledging that books and traditions that have withstood the test of time may outlast our contemporary mores.

6. For additional context on the writer's starting point: I found this from the "about the author": "Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive."

I don't think the writer is interested in the merits of the argument, so much as she is interested in renouncing the world out of which she came and has since rejected.

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Mixed in with the problems, she does have a valid point or two. What struck me the most was how almost identical her objections to "classical" education are to similar laments made about a hundred years ago. In the very last chapter of Philosophy of Education (Charlotte Mason), there is a chapter titled "Supplementary." It explores the educational experience of two brothers who were WWI war heroes. The book is Francis and Riversdale Grenfell, A memoir, by John Buchan.

They went to a great school in England, and when they left,  "were wont to lament to each other that 'They had left school wholly uneducated.'" Mason shares a number of their anecdotes about their frustrations with their ignorance and their attempts to make it up. Then, this:
 

Quote

 

The schools must tell us why men who attained mediocre successes and the personal favour due to charming manners and sweet natures were yet somewhat depressed and disappointed on account of the ignorance which they made blind and futile efforts to correct; but they never got so far as to learn that knowledge is delightful because one likes it; and that no effort at self-education can do anything until one has found out this supreme delightfulness of knowledge.

It must be noted that this failure of a great school to fulfil its purpose occurred twenty years ago, and that no educational body has made more well-considered and enlightened advances than have the Headmasters of the great Public Schools....

The function of the schools is no doubt to feed their scholars on knowledge until they have created in them a healthy appetite which they will go on satisfying for themselves day by day throughout life. We must give up the farce of teaching young people how to learn, which is just as felicitous a labour and just as necessary as to teach a child the motions of eating without offering him food; and studies which are pursued with a view to improve the mind must in future take a back seat.

The multitudinous things that every person wants to know must be made accessible in the schoolroom, not by diagrams, digests, and abstract principles; but boys and girls, like 'Kit's little brother,' must learn 'what oysters is' by supping on oysters. There is absolutely no avenue to knowledge but knowledge itself, and the schools must begin, not by qualifying the mind to deal with knowledge, but by affording all the best books containing all the sorts of knowledge which these 'Twins,' like everyone else, wanted to know. We have to face two difficulties. We do not believe in children as intellectual persons nor in knowledge as requisite and necessary for intellectual life.

 

I think any answer must begin by acknowledging the justice of at least part of Libby's complaints. It appears to me that her education, like the one received by these men, did not teach her to love knowledge.  This is one reason I feel that classical education needs to be grounded in ordo amoris--ordering the affections--learning to love what is good, and true and beautiful. In Charlotte-Mason-speak, "education is the science of relations." Lacking that love, people--like this writer--do tend to reduce their ideas of education to what is "useful." And that utilitarian view of education is nothing new. She learned Latin, but she didn't learn to love Latin--which means her teachers probably had a utilitarian view of Latin, too. And that is where the crux of the problem really is--not in the "what" we are doing with our students, but the "why." You could give children the essence of a classical education with Spanish as your language of choice instead of Latin. I rarely see an argument for Latin that isn't utilitarian, and when I hear one:

https://player.fm/series/schol-sisters-camaraderie-for-the-classical-homeschooling-mama/ep-37-livin-la-vida-latin

I want to applaud. This lady loves Latin. :)

I see glimmers of Libby's desire for connection and love--that's why she wants to know Spanish, and not German or Farsi. It will let her form relationships with real people. If we taught Latin as a way of forming a relationship with the ancient Romans (as in the podcast) instead of an intellectual exercise, there would as least be a chance that our pupils would appreciate the time they spent on it. The quotes I posted yesterday, from Bosanquet in relation to Plato, are very applicable here. We don't have to imitate a model of education exactly in order to discern the spirit and intent of it, and adapt it to our present needs.

Something went wrong somewhere, but not just with her. If her parents thought the G.A. Henty books were classics, they were led astray as well. Classical education is still in the process of being recovered, and there are casualties--and that was still true 100 years ago. One of the greatest risks I see is the tendency in America to look at Britain's "classical" education as it was 100 years ago, and assume that is the model they want. It isn't. (David Hicks has almost scathing words about those schools at the beginning of Norms and Nobility.) They had some serious problems, and for every shining scholar like Lewis or Tolkien, there were 99 young men who left school and never read another book as long as they lived. Exceptional thinkers will always thrive, but today's classical educators have to decide if they want to produce the occasional C.S. Lewis or give every child the essence of a classical education, and if you want to do that (something that has never been done, in all the history of the world), you really need to comprehend what that is--the "why" behind the "what."

Otherwise, there will be a lot more Libbys out there, disappointed like the Grenfell brothers, but probably not as vocal about it.

Edited by KarenG
Edited for typos, as always!
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I should probably say one more thing. She falls into the usual trap of assuming a dichotomy--you can only learn a (useless) ancient language or a (useful) modern one. You can only learn (meaningless) old poems or (meaningful) new ones. None of that is true--old things are not by definition useless or meaningless, and new things are not inherently useful and meaningful. When you cast everything into an either/or dichotomy, you invariably fall into the trap of thinking you have to "pick one." There is nothing to prevent including Latin in the curriculum while also mastering a foreign language (although Americans are notoriously poor at achieving proficiency in foreign languages), nothing to prevent exposure to both modern and classical art and literature. Ultimately, she doesn't regret what she did learn, only what she she didn't.

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lol...I doubt it.

I keep thinking about this article. Another thing that stood out to me was the attitude of superiority they were allowed to feel because of their educational choices. This is SUCH a danger area with classical education, and nothing will undermine the classical pursuit of virtue faster. Of course, she seems rather blind to the fact that she NOW feels superior because of her choices to have her children learn modern poetry and read books that reflect diversity, so how is that any better?  shm...

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3 hours ago, KarenG said:

lol...I doubt it.

I keep thinking about this article. Another thing that stood out to me was the attitude of superiority they were allowed to feel because of their educational choices. This is SUCH a danger area with classical education, and nothing will undermine the classical pursuit of virtue faster. Of course, she seems rather blind to the fact that she NOW feels superior because of her choices to have her children learn modern poetry and read books that reflect diversity, so how is that any better?  shm...

I do think arrogance is a danger--a danger that comes with ANY kind of privilege (real or perceived)--and is not particular to CCE families. Still, the danger is real, and probably worse when it manifests because the common sentiment stands opposed to CCE.

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On 2/2/2019 at 2:49 PM, KarenG said:

lol...I doubt it.

I keep thinking about this article. Another thing that stood out to me was the attitude of superiority they were allowed to feel because of their educational choices. This is SUCH a danger area with classical education, and nothing will undermine the classical pursuit of virtue faster. Of course, she seems rather blind to the fact that she NOW feels superior because of her choices to have her children learn modern poetry and read books that reflect diversity, so how is that any better?  shm...

I've heard this story over and over again from those who have left their fundamentalist upbringing for some sort of liberal theology or agnosticism/atheism. Michael Kruger has a brilliant article on this over at The Gospel Coalition on "The Power of De-Conversion Stories." Here's how the narrative usually goes:

  • Step 1: Recount the Negatives of Your Fundamentalist Past
  • Step 2: Position Yourself as the Offended Party Who Bravely Fought the Establishment
  • Step 3: Portray Your Opponents as Overly Dogmatic While You Are Just a Seeker
  • Step 4: Insist Your New Theology Is Driven by the Bible and Is Not a Rejection of It
  • Step 5: Attack the Character of Your Old Group and Uplift the Character of Your New Group

In many cases it may very well be that leaving/criticizing the church/school of one's upbringing is a valid move. But if, as you've said, the story ends in a sense of superiority rather than humility, then that is hardly an improvement.

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In other news, this San Antonio bookstore is seeing no shortage of love for Latin (thank in part to the presence of local classical schools):

Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje, "Surprise best-sellers at a local bookstore harken from the ancient past" (San Antonio Express-News | February 8, 2019) https://www.expressnews.com/news/local/article/Surprise-best-sellers-at-a-local-bookstore-harken-13602598.php

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