The Classical Way

Classical education is rich. It’s many things—wondrous things. And there are many places, in print and online, where you can turn to learn about it. Some seem compatible with one another, others don’t. Truth be told, that’s fine (and is one of the things this blog will touch on now and then), especially because this site isn’t about articulating all the details concerning what classical education is or could be or about discussing all the similarities and differences in the ways in which it’s understood and put into practice.

This is about recognizing that above all, classical education is a process: it’s a “way”—a road.

This road isn’t a commodity you can purchase, neatly packaged and ready for consumption (and it certainly doesn’t come with a standard warranty–although I do believe it comes with a powerful guarantee). There’s no single checklist you can go down to make an education “classical,” although there are some clearly identifiable hallmarks (for example, the seven liberal arts, inflected languages, classical literature, Socratic dialogue, and so on). But, after over three decades of being immersed in classical education, I believe there’s no checklist, nicely set in stone, that upon completion will deliver “THE Classical Education.”

There are varied lists, and perhaps some disputes about what should be on them. But classical education isn’t a list of strict “to dos.” It’s a particular kind of pathway, an ongoing road with some significant educational rest stops and specific destinations. If asked, I would say that the most important destinations are lives fully lived through the principles of virtutis, integritātis, amicitiae, et vēritātis: of virtue, integrity, friendship, and truth. And to be educating classically is to be steeped in the knowledge that education is a fundamental, continuing component of life; it never stops, and there are certain vital elements of learning that are unavoidable along the way. Among others, my experience has taught me that the following elements make up the “classical way”:

Humility—Learning begins with one piece of critical self-knowledge: the recognition that you don’t know things, many things in fact. If you believe you already know a thing, why would you bother to learn it? If you can’t humble yourself…before the subject, the ideas, the teachers, and the resources available…to be taught, you won’t learn. Learning is set upon the foundation of recognized and self-admitted shortcomings and ignorance; it rests upon the comprehension of your need rather than your competence.

Hard Work—Learning will take effort. There will be plateaus, but there will also be steep inclines that require hard work; it demands not just mental, intellectual work, but emotional effort and spiritual striving. There will also be physical work, when the mind must be disciplined along with the body to be focused, still, and attentive.

Honesty—Learning requires an unwavering dedication to Truth. So much so that you must always be willing to admit error…especially your own. It demands an attitude of constant self-evaluation. If you can’t (or won’t) ever admit you’re wrong, you won’t come to perceive what is right.

Heredity—Learning is handed down. It’s a paideia, passed along to us by others in both content and methodologies, particulars and principles. If we believe we must create learning out of whole cloth, dismissing the knowledge, achievements, traditions, and practices of the past, we won’t learn. We’ll simply reinvent the wheel, and increasingly poorly at that.

Holism—Learning is nothing if it isn’t holistic. It’s interconnected, not just involving body, mind, and spirit, but incorporating all things in a network of meaning. Learning is not scattered or fragmented. Compartmentalization is unnatural, even anathema to it.

Humanity—Learning needs one very important prerequisite: an understanding of what it means to be a human being and what it means to do the things human beings do. It’s a tall order to define that…so I won’t try. But I will point to others who have done it better than I could. Of all the many good and worthwhile books that have been written on this subject, the two I’d most recommend reading are C.S. Lewis’ “Abolition of Man” and David Hicks’ “Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on Education.”

This site is about walking the classical way, this road, with the six elements discussed above. It will do that through several types of posts:

  • Treading the path of the discipleship relationship in the student-teacher learning processes with various educational resources (beginning with James D. Nickel’s curriculum, “The Dance of Number”); and
  • Reviewing materials about education and learning, some of which will be considered “classical,” and some of which will not (but all will have some bearing upon it).

Ultimately, the classical way is the education that takes the road to being fully human: to returning home to safe, familiar, and beautiful, places. Bilbo’s famous poem in “The Hobbit” comes to mind:

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.

Thanks for joining me!

Plato regarded knowledge neither as a possession of something outside the mind nor as a measurable state of mind, but as a logical process attending the activity of learning. His definition of knowledge as an activity of learning rather than as a condition of having learned is important to the idea of classical education…According to Aristotle, the perfect end of education will be an activity that is engaged in for its own sake, complete and sufficient unto itself. Aristotle calls the activity for which education prepares man – happiness.

– David Hicks, “Norms and Nobility”

This blog is dedicated to all the wonderful parents, students, and fellow educators who’ve walked alongside me for so many years on the “classical way.”

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