News, Grammar, Logic, and the Rhetoric of classical education. Explore our present understanding of Classical Education, whether you are a young or an old student – whether you teach many or one. I maintain a list of pages here for my students concerning logic and ancient literature. You may enjoy searching the ‘Canon of Rhetoric‘ and seeing where it leads, or beginning you quest from the ‘Five Common Topics‘.
Explore general topics or go to a particular class to see a schedule and book lists.
Still can’t find what you like, or would like to make a request, perhaps leave a comment? See below.
What’s so great about Classical Education?
You may wonder about what people mean by “Classical Education”. Perhaps visions of Aristotle at the Lyceum or paneled drawing rooms lined with books come to mind. Possibly a wing backed leather chair is turned with its back to you, pipe smoke wafts in curls above a green shaded reading lamp as Italian opera plays in the background on an antique Victrola, and you realize that your are in the den of an arch villain.
Only a villainous know-it-all would consider himself apart from the world here in this sanctum sanctorum, apart from the world of the ‘rest of us’, sequestered amidst the busts of Napoleon and the Greek volumes of Thucydides and Plato. It is, after all, a well known commonplace that all super villains are classically educated (whatever that means) which somehow enables them to stay several steps ahead of the honest, hardworking and not so fancy ‘hoi polloi’. You meditate on this as you ready some comments elevating the common man in the face of this fancy pants. You brave yourself to maintain your democratic integrity in the face of what undoubtedly will be faustian proposals from this diabolic controller of destiny.
The chair slowly turns, and you see a familiar face, your own, only twenty years younger. You wonder briefly why a twelve year old would be smoking a pipe, but are caught by the book the young you is intently reading. Your young face is absorbed above a book entitled ‘ab Urbe Condita’. “Well” , you ask, “what is going on here, what master plot have you devised? Are you getting ready to knock off a casino on some Indian reservation?”
“There came a time when the cures for our afflictions were worse than the ills themselves…” comes the dreamy reply, and then, “this book is about the foundation of Rome, the ancient origin of our system of checks and balances”.donec ad haec tempora, quibus nec vitia nostra nec remedia pati possumus, perventum est.
“Of course it is”, you quickly answer, “Thomas Jefferson wrote it”. Was that right? Did Jefferson write in Latin? You think wildly about the cell phone in your pocket, itching to open up Wikipedia. “Now what are you plotting, overthrowing the Supreme Court ? – don’t think that Facebook and WikiLeaks won’t stop you in your nefarious tracks!”
Your other face looks disappointed, the chair slowly turns back around, and you hear yourself say “I wish I had had a real education…”.
Strange to think that a child would be entranced by a dusty two thousand year old jingoistic history of Rome. Strange to find your younger self in an idealized setting other than a ‘Dave and Buster’s’. Strange to see that pipe smoke once again swirling around the study. Besides, it is a school day and you should be learning how to ‘code’ the ‘cloud’ or studying for the college entrance exams preparing for your ‘real’ education. If only you could have filled in more of the right bubbles you could have had a better car, a better house, a better wife… You begin to feel guilty and strangely impatient. Is there a Coke machine around here?
Mastering your fleeting attention span, you begin to realize that the young you, the one reading Latin as if the tech revolution weren’t happening and smoking a pipe was the one who should feel guilty, but doesn’t. That must be what makes a villain- the lack of shame at studying the oppressive logicians and culturally smug caesars and conquerors of the dead past. Dead, yes, but villainous nonetheless, even though dusty and useless. Confusing.
If you knew some Latin, you would know that Education was a word that meant ‘leading out’, or ‘to lead out’ as in ‘E-ducare’, just as ‘in-ducare’ leads in, as ‘induction’, but sadly, that would take ‘deduction’, or ‘leading from’, which you would have only learned from logic. Just as a seed leads to a tree, the understanding of the branches once they are formed gives no concept of the tree itself, you find yourself hanging over nothing, rather than understanding everything. Further, in order to be fruitful, or produce a tree, the comprehension (or ‘holding everything’) of the seed is the key. Let’s think of this another way.
The difference between classical education and modern education is a difference of source and destination. You might say that a modern education begins at its destination. Classical Education by its conservation and reiteration of the old ‘seeds’ as the original stands upstream of modern education, and just as the Nile branches into many mouths at the Delta, the source of all the power and fertility is far upstream at the distant source.
What makes the classicist a villain (and a cartoon one at that) is that he stands upstream where the potential for all the fractal destinations of the modern situation originate. He really is way ahead of everyone. Due to this, when the branching distance that the common worker, educated into a time and not all times, finds his particular branch terminating or the stream of time overflowing the banks of expectation to form a new estuary, he will be at a disadvantage to the one who stands at the headwaters, or holds the seed of beginnings.
Classical education is a generalist preparation of two parts for the student. One is anthropology and becoming human, the other is in curriculum or the things to be run through to ‘bring you up to speed’. Man has remained the same, so the principles are original, but the times keep piling up, so the task for moderns, not blessed with a long attention span, is to absorb more of the ‘story so far’ than anyone before them. A challenge. What bridges these two parts of the project, the anthropology and the curriculum is pedagogy.
Pedagogy applies the Trivium: Grammar , logic, and rhetoric of the humanities, our shared inheritance, to the student at the proper time and in the proper relationship. The old pedagogues (teachers) recognized a Quadrivium as well as the Trivium. Simply, the trivium applies to the full humanity and its development, so that one educated in the trivium is an educated human, not merely a trained functionary. The Quadrivium is a discipline in the theoretical knowledge of the cosmos. This consists of Geometry, Mathematics, Music, and Astronomy.