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The True Goal of Classical Education: Friendship

I was having a conversation with my sister recently and the talk turned to female friendships. I asked her if she had found a community of friends yet in her new hometown; in particular I wondered if she had found some women with which to connect. She said that she had met some ladies, but I could tell by the tone of her voice that she wasn’t entirely enthused.

She said, “Oh, you know how women can be. Even when they are being friendly, they make biting comments and little criticisms toward one another. Everyone is constantly jockeying for position. There isn’t much real community.”

What struck me about her comment was that I knew it to be true—certainly, women can and do act that way. But what shocked me was realizing how long it’s been since I experienced that personally.

For the majority of my life—in school, and then in academia, and then as a woman in a position of authority—my experience with women was not exactly supportive and positive. It’s a very sad and very unpopular thing to admit, but women can be just awful to one another. And I confess, I was just as bad as any of them.

I left that conversation with my sister reflecting on how foreign her comments struck me now. None of what she was experiencing was true about my current female friendships. In fact, for the first time in my life I have very close female friends. Women who are like sisters to me. Women I admire and respect and genuinely love.

I met these women through the CiRCE Institute, and they quickly became my best friends. But what is remarkable is not that like-minded women found each other and hit it off. What is remarkable is the tone of the friendships. There are no petty jealousies, biting criticisms, or back-handed remarks. If there is a woman behaving cattily at a CiRCE conference, I have not met her.

What I have encountered are women who love Truth, Beauty, and Goodness deeply. As a result, they love other women deeply too. We are not competitors with one another—professionally or personally. We are fellow sojourners. Partners in this learning adventure. We love and support and encourage one another.

Andrew Kern likes to say that the goal of classical education is friendship. It must be true. Because the women I know who pursue classical education the hardest are the best friends I know. And we have discussed the unique experience of female friendships within the classical education world. We all agree that these beautiful and nourishing friendships we have found in one another are rare and beautiful.

My life has been transformed by being in a community of supportive and loving women. And I am grateful beyond what I can express to be surrounded by a remarkable class of women—women who are different.

But it’s also true that I have better friendships because I am a better friend now. My pursuit of classical education has changed me too. And in a most unexpected way. I had expected to learn new things, not to become a new thing in the process. If pursuing classical education results in friendship, it’s not just because you will meet new friends along the way, it’s because you will be a new friend too. In the end, learning how to love your neighbor is the most important learning of all.

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