Classical Education and Four-Year Cycles

I’m hoping this will start to disabuse people of the notion that classical education is all about 4 year development cycles. The classical tradition is about inquiry, ideas, and character rather than intellectual achievement.

My introduction to classical education came through twentieth-century authors. I was encouraged to read contemporary authors who based their ideas largely on Dorothy Sayers’ essay The Lost Tools of Learning, but she also was a twentieth-century thinker. I knew that if her ideas were right, I should be able to find the roots of them by reading the classical authors. I read Plato, Erasmus, Quintilian, and others, and when I found no correlation between their ideas and Dorothy Sayers’ about stages, I felt that “classical education” was an undefinable, nebulous idea that could not be understood.

Ironically (and yet, not ironically), it was another twentieth-century author who shed light on the classical tradition for me, and allowed those nebulous ideas to coalesce into a solid foundation upon which educational methods could be built. When I read Norms and Nobility, I was able to see that classical education was more than I had previously perceived.

Suddenly, Plato, Milton, Erasmus, Comenius, and Augustine spoke in unison—-not because they prescribed the exact same process or curriculum, but because they shared a common desire to educate men to be the very best that it was possible for them to be—-to make the best humans they could be. What ought men to do? What ought men to think? What is right for a man to know? What knowledge can man not do without? These kinds of questions should be asked again and again, in every generation, and the answer should be sought because it is both new and old—-old, because men have answered it before, and new because the answers act as a germinating seed in the heart of every thinker and learner who seeks them, producing new ideas and avenues to explore.

Karen Glass:

(Remember that these were written in response to specific other posts, and I’m not including those comments, so if my remarks seem a little disjointed, that’s why.)

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