Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Neo-Classical Education: More Than Just "Snob Appeal"

Important stuff first- the Red Sox won earlier tonight, yay! Dice-K is scheduled to make his first regular-season MLB appearance tomorrow. Here's hoping he's worth the hefty investment the Sox have made in him!

And now, back to our regularly scheduled homeschooling blog...

One of the books I read early on when I first began researching homeschooling was The Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and her daughter Susan Wise Bauer. TWTM expands upon the ideas of Dorothy Sayers' early 20th century essay "The Lost Tools of Learning". Sayers called for an updated version of the medieval study of the "trivium" (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) and the "quadrivium" (arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy). Altogether, these form the classical liberal arts curriculum.

While many public schools use dumbed-down "politically correct" textbooks, neo-Classical education introduces children to the Great Books of Western Civilization. "Fuzzy math" and "whole language" are out and teaching algorithms, spelling and grammar rules, and phonics are in. Latin is introduced in the primary grades rather than left for high school (if it's taught at all). World History is taught in chronological order beginning in 1st grade rather than the fluffy "social studies" that's little more than learning about holidays, occupations, and biographies picked more for multiculturalism than actual historical significance.

When talking to certain people about neo-Classical education, I've heard the criticisms that it lacks relevance to today's society, is too ambitious, and is designed for "snob appeal". St. Augustine called Christians to seek out the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. The classics of literature, art, and music have stood the test of time because they meet these criteria. Recall the poetry of Scripture, Homer, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, and so on. Look at the works of da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, etc. Listen to Bach, Vivaldi, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Wagner, Copeland, and so on. Are these not examples of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful? Should they be shelved in favor of pop culture that will mostly be forgotten a few decades from now?

Neo-Classical education is ambitious because it's designed to challenge children and broaden their minds. It's not easy to read complex literature, learn Latin grammar, or detect a logical fallacy. The benefits to doing so are that they discipline the mind. Cheryl Lowe of Memoria Press has a wonderful quote: "The true purpose of education and all of the subjects we study in school is to develop, shape, and transform the mind and character of the student." You can read the full article here.

As for "snob appeal", I personally find it very sad that what once was considered basic cultural literacy has now been marginalized as a luxury for the elite. All children deserve a rigorous education that includes the Great Books, Latin, Logic, and the other elements of a traditional liberal arts curriculum!

3 comments:

Ana Braga-Henebry said...

I have really enjoyed this post and found myself noddign with you. I am always trying to define a classical (or neo-classical as you call it) education-- may I quote you on my blog? I will list your name, of course. Ana

tapestryofgrace said...

Have you seen Michael William's "critique" of neoclassical ed yet? http://www.classicalliberalarts.com/library/sayers.htm

I've posted a semi-rebuttal in favor of neoclassical ed on my site, but I'd love to know your thoughts!

Kiernan said...

We use the neo-classical approach. We're also orthodox Catholic, which helps. While I have not read TWTM, but have a classical education, my wife, with no college or classical background, has read TWTM, and, of course, deserves almost all the credit. My oldest (6) has such a thriving intellect, it's almost scary!