“Hallo, Pooh,” said Owl. “How’s things?”
“Terrible and Sad,” said Pooh, “because Eeyore, who is a friend of mine, has lost his tail. And he’s Moping about it. So could you very kindly tell me how to find it for him?”
“Well, said Owl, “the customary procedure in such case is as follows.”
“What does Crustimoney Proseedcake mean?” said Pooh. “For I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and long words Bother me.”
“It means the Thing to Do.”
“As long as it means that, I don’t mind,” said Pooh humbly.
When you hear words like “classical,” “quadrivium,” “moral imagination,” do you ever feel like Pooh? Perhaps these words seem disconnected to everyday education and life. Or worse, perhaps “classical education” sounds like a clique — whether a socioeconomic, academic, or political one. On the contrary, these ideas — virtue, character, intellectual humility, self-government, letting good books grow you, hard work, emotional resilience — are for everyone.
For the poor & disenfranchised
In Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, E.D. Hirsch, Jr. challenges the “content-neutral conception of educational development” of Jean Jacques Rousseau and John Dewey which neglects specific information in order to let children develop their own intellectual and social skills in a way that is independent from their culture or the generation before them. Hirsch (a political liberal, by the way) argues for a corrective “anthropological theory of education” in which “all human communities are founded upon specific shared information.” Basically, it comes down to the fact that human beings live in cultures and each culture is made of a particular set of ideas, books, and traditions. It follows that if an individual fails to learn about and understand those ideas, books, and traditions, then he cannot fully participate in his culture. Our culture includes Thomas Jefferson, Kenneth Grahame’s characters Rat and Mole, Albert Einstein, MLK, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, George Washington Carver, Martin Luther, and so much more. In this way, true “cultural literacy” means knowledge of the events and discoveries and writers and ideas that have shaped the world around us. Such literacy is the key to engaging people in community. Hirsch says: “Illiterate and semiliterate Americans are condemned not only to poverty, but also to the powerlessness of incomprehension. Knowing that they do not understand the issues, and feeling prey to oversimplifications, they do not trust the system of which they are not supposed to be masters. They do not feel themselves to be active participants in our republic, and they often do not turn out to vote. The civic importance of cultural literacy lies in the fact that true enfranchisement depends upon knowledge, knowledge upon literacy, and literacy upon cultural literacy. [Emphasis added]” We would argue that these ideas are not the property of the ruling class; they are the inheritance of the common man.
For those with special needs
Cheryl Swope, author of Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child, quotes Quintilian to argue that the classical tradition is in fact very accessible to kids with special needs: “There is no foundation for the complaint that only a small minority of human beings have been given the power to understand what is taught them, the majority being so slow-witted that they waste time and labor. On the contrary, you will find the greater number quick to reason and prompt to learn… The proof of this is that the promise of many accomplishments appears in children, and when it fades with age, this is plainly due to the failure not of nature but of care. ‘But some have more talent than others.’ I agree: then some will achieve more and some less, but we never find one who has not achieved something by his efforts.” Swope goes on to say that “[w]e see uniquely converging opportunities at this time in history. Information abounds on special-needs and struggling learners. Classical education enjoys a re-emergence in numerous and growing pockets, for the youngest children through university levels. Abundant resources now offer instruction in Latin, the history of ancient civilizations, the mathematical arts, and more, at every level and with any amount of repetition and practice the child needs. Teachers, homeschooling parents, tutors — anyone who seeks to teach any child — can find helpful curricula for adapting reading, composition, Greek, music theory, literature, logic, and rhetoric. Perhaps the child will eventually prove incapable of progressing to advanced levels in one area or in every area; however, if taught slowly, patiently and systematically, even those children who are identified with or suspected of having ‘special learning needs’ can receive a substantial, elevating, and beautiful education.”
For future generations — and for you, your whole life through
There are many short-term benefits associated with our future school. We want to give the kids in our own churches, neighborhoods, and families a good education so that they can be successful (in an eternal sense, not just in an earthly sense) and love their families and love their God. However, diligent parents can educate them in this way at any school — public, homeschool, or private. Ours could become the very best school at which you can educate your kids, but this endeavor is not worth it if that’s the only goal. Similarly, we want our kids to continue on past 12th grade to continue their education at college and get jobs that will impact other people. This school could get kids into Ivy league schools and in jobs on Capitol Hill, but this is not worth if it that’s the only result.
This school is only worth the time and sweat equity if we reach past the current generation of kids to educate more than just our own kids about what’s True, Good, and Beautiful in a way that motivates them to pursue those high and holy ends for their entire lives. If we start a lasting school built around lasting ideas, we can have a school that pays dividends for our great-grandkids and our great-great-grandkids, for the illiterate and disenfranchised, for those with special needs, and for you, too.