Looking closer at Classical Education.


Yesterday, I posted a video by Martin Cothran of Memoria Press titled What is Classical Education?

It’s well worth the investment in watching, not only for professional development purposes but for gaining a much deeper understanding of what alternatives exist for Schools outside of our current failing educational fads.

A while back I presented a Professional Development workshop to teachers on Classical Education, using this video as a focus for discussion.

There are different views on what Classical Education is but I like Cothran‘s view that he sets out in his video.

Here are a few of my presentation notes in a very concise format that are synthesis of my own understanding and some of which is explicit in the video…

Western civilisation is the civilisation of the idea that there is a central organising principle of all that is – a rational governing principle of the universe.

Greek philosophy pursued this idea with the concept of logos or nous.

Christ fulfils this concept. He is the ultimate Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Incarnate.

Classical education seeks to find wisdom and virtue with Christ as our example.

Therefore classical education is character education.

Martin Cothran…

Classical Education is the Liberal Arts and the Great Books.

Classical Education is how to think and what to do.

The Seven Liberal Arts

  • Founded in the medieval curriculum.
  • Comprised of the trivium and the quadrivium.
  • Intentionally developed so as to develop the faculties of the mind – the powers of intelligence and imagination without which no intellectual work can be accomplished.
  • Not tied to any particular academic subjects: the humanities and sciences are considered equally liberal and qualified to develop the powers of the mind.
  • Studying classics in their original form: Latin and Greek, is highly recommended.
  • It seeks to form free thinking human beings able to use their minds responsibly and in a cultivated manner. It does not seek to train technicians who do not understand the motions they perform.
  • It must exclude all merely vocational and technical training.

The Liberal Arts: The Trivium

The Trivium is comprise of three elements: Grammar, Rhetoric and Logic.

      • Grammar
        • Reading and Writing
      • Rhetoric
        • Listening and Speaking
      • Logic
        • Sound Thinking

The Liberal Arts: The Quadrivium

  • Arithmetic
        The study of discrete number
  • Geometry
    • The study of continuous number
      • Music
        • (not audible but as a mathematical science)
        • The application of discrete number
      • Astronomy
        • The application of continuous number

The Great Books

The second part of Cothran’s definition of Classical Education is the Great Books. There are many ‘Great Books’ lists, so I list only a few below…

Adler’s Great Books of The Western World

130 authors and 517 individual works.

    • The great conversation about the great ideas.
      • Novels, Short Stories, Plays and Poetry
      • Philosophy and Religion 
      • History, Politics, Economics and Ethics
      • Mathematics and Natural Sciences 

Dr John Senior’s 1000 Good Books

John Senior, in the appendix of his book The Death of Christian Culture, provides a large list of “good” books.  He argues that in order to read the “great” books of Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine and St. Thomas, we need to “replenish the cultural soil that has been depleted” and create a place where those works can thrive by cultivating “an imaginative ground saturated with fables, fairy tales, stories, rhymes and adventures: the thousand books of Grimm, Anderson, Stevenson, Dickens, Scott, Dumas and the rest.”

A Classical Christian Education: The Lives of the Saints, Spiritual Reading, The Scriptures

This is an education in wisdom and virtue. For example…

St Augustine
Cardinal Newman
Pope St Pius X
St Thomas Aquinas

An Education of wisdom and virtue

  • Reading Classic Literature (in original language if possible)
  • An education of wisdom and virtue (passing on the culture of the Christian West) 
  • Read, analyse, discuss the actions of great men: every child asks the chief question of every man or woman…
    1. Was he good or bad?
    2. Why did he act as he did?
    3. Who was affected by his actions?
    4. What were the circumstances?
    5. What should he have done differently?
    6. What would you have done differently?
  • More recently when we read the works of Waugh, Lewis, Tolkien we can see that these are also truly great books that embody wisdom and virtue.

My conclusion on a possible definition of Classical Education

A Christ centred education in virtue and wisdom that teaches one to think truly and act rightly. This is the foundation for forming character in our students. Educators utilise the liberal arts and the great books as proven frameworks for a liberal education.

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