What is Classical Education?

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Classical education has grown so much in the last twenty years that when Dr. Gene Edward Veith and Andrew Kern turned in the second edition of their book, Classical Education, the editors changed the subtitle to The Movement Sweeping America.

But classical education is also ancient. Its origins are in the classical world of Greece and Rome, but its roots lie still further back in Egypt and Mesopotamia. The story of classical education is a long, strange trip through the centuries.

At the CiRCE Institute, we are committed to the mission of understanding classical education in its essence. We want to discover what is common to all classical educators so that we can better understand classical education itself.

We believe there a few common and controlling ideas that set classical education apart.

First, classical educators have a high view of humanity. 

To the Greeks, mankind possessed a divine spark. To the Christian and Jew, he is the Divine Image. 

One way or another, classical schools and educators are committed to cultivating wisdom and virtue in their students. While classical education honors and even equips for vocational education (which is more accurately described as training) that is not what classical education is.

Second, classical educators are logocentric. In a word, that means they believe that the world makes sense and that the sense it makes is knowable. They base their approach to education on discovering that sense. 

Another way to say this is that classical educators believe in and pursue a logos, or a unifying principle, for all knowledge and action.

In essence, then, classical education is the logo-centric quest for the ideals of wisdom and virtue.

By contrast, the conventional educator either denies or doesn’t respond to the idea that the world makes sense. They shirk the burden of developing a curriculum, system, pedagogy, or mode of assessment that help make the sense knowable. They become obsessed with the practical and useful instead. 

Classical education is the only practical approach because it is not pragmatic. 

Third, classical educators take responsibility for the western tradition: to receive it, to assess it, to preserve it, and to hand it on to the next generation. 

Fourth, classical educators teach in light of the three foregoing elements, leading to an emphasis on language (the trivium), mathematics (the quadrivium), and modes of teaching, governance, and asssessment that support the rich goals of a classical education.

Everything you will find on this site is our best effort to apply the four elements of classical education through our research and in our services to the classical renewal.  

Other common features of classical education include:

  • the use of classical books and art,
  • a general preference for great art, music, and literature,
  • an integrated curriculum,
  • and idea-focused teaching.