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What is Classical Education?

This is from a discussion on the LTW Mentor, where a very thoughtful home schooling mom asked, “What is classical Education?” I thought I’d share my response, though it’s a bit hasty.


That’s the question, isn’t it? Part of the problem is where to find the answer.

If we look at the scholarly work (H.I. Marrou, Werner Jaeger, etc.) classical education really boils down to one core principle: It is the cultivation of virtue.

It has a philosophical foundation in the belief that the world is real and knowable and that we belong in it. This seems to come from the Hebrew tradition.

And it believes that human beings have faculties that can become virtues, including the intellectual virtues, which are achieved by intensive training in the use of language and maths, which prepares us for the higher knowledge of the sciences.

So the pole star of a classical education that guides all your decisions is the question, “How do I effectively cultivate virtue in my child?”

That is what David Hicks means when he says it is “normative,” as opposed to analytical.

And that is why the last thing a classical educator would do is teach all the scattered classes of the analytical/progressive curriculum and then add Latin, Logic, and Rhetoric. It is a different way of seeing reality.

All things are integrated and ordered by and in a logos. For the Christian that means Christ the logos.

So to resimplify: classical education is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue (I mention wisdom because it is the supreme intellectual virtue).

If you let that guide you, you will always move in the right direction, even if you make mistakes along the way. But if you don’t let that guide you, you might choose the right “classical curriculum” but you won’t provide a classical education.

I know that opens as many practical questions as it answers, but until we see the pole star it doesn’t matter if we know how to shine the brass and swab the decks or even sail faster.

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