New Year, Old Truths: An Invitation from Columbus Classical Academy

 · 4 min read
 · Daniel C. Gibson

Have you ever asked the question, “What philosophy does my child’s school teach?” If not, perhaps this New Year is the perfect occasion to do so. Perhaps, upon reflection, you will conclude that now is the right time to discover anew the old truths that are the foundations of a good education. This New Year, I invite you to consider Columbus Classical Academy.

G.K. Chesterton once observed that “[e]very education teaches a philosophy….” He could have added that every education also emerges from a philosophy. What you believe—about man and his place in the world—will determine what kind of education you desire for your children.

Classical education, prevalent in the West for over 2,000 years, begins with the recognition that man, by nature, is neither virtuous nor knowledgeable, and that students must be taught both to know and to love what is true, good, and beautiful, and be formed to live a life in the light of this knowledge.

Most formal schooling in America used to pursue this end—imperfectly, but sincerely—by instructing children in the liberal arts and sciences in academic settings that valued knowledge and demanded virtue.

In practical terms, this meant reading the classics of history and literature, not because they are old, but because they are timeless, introducing students to the real and imagined heroes and villains, tragedies and triumphs, of our nation, culture, and world; teaching civics, not partisan politics, that illuminates the historical and philosophical foundations of our public institutions; science that seeks to understand, not merely subdue, the natural world; Latin, mathematics, the fine arts, and physical education to develop discipline and a fondness for beauty; teachers who lead and instruct rather than guide and facilitate; and an ordered classroom that demands moral character and self-control. It was the education of our nation’s Founders, informed by the principles underlying the birth and formation of the American republic itself.

While one may find fragments or remnants of classical teaching in some schools today, this time-honored approach now exists largely on the margins of the educational landscape.

Modern education overwhelmingly proceeds from—and teaches—a very different philosophy: that man is by nature essentially good, that knowledge depends upon his perceptions rather than the things he perceives, and therefore that schools should guide students through a process of self-realization and personal growth. Instead of conforming one’s life to objective reality, students are encouraged to conform reality to their natural inclinations as a path to authenticity, life’s overriding virtue. Knowledge is valued principally for its utility in this pursuit.

In rare but extreme cases—those grabbing headlines—schools have embraced a denial of human nature itself, and with it the very concepts of truth, goodness, and beauty. On this view, man and his world are infinitely malleable, and students should be encouraged to abolish and re-create their reality, values, history—even themselves—in accordance with their own aspirations and wills. Virtue is a mirage. Truth is a tool of domination. Man is the measure—and the maker—of all things.

While educational experts may trumpet the “science of learning,” disclaiming ideological influence, it is ultimately these philosophies, passed down through schools of education, that are behind much of that science, as well as many commonplace features of the modern classroom, like: student-led, experiential learning that elevates a child’s proclivities over curricular rigor; an abundance of technology and a paucity of books; group and project-based skill development instead of individual attainment of knowledge; social studies and language arts that view words and institutions primarily as tools for social change; science as a means to political “progress”; teachers who are partners in the “co-construction” of knowledge; and a sustained, inward-looking emphasis on personal identity and self-expression.

Some will happily acknowledge these points of departure, insisting that classical education is stale, stifling, and obsolete, and that modern schooling gets it right. To be fair, not all modern innovations in education are uniformly bad. What is more, excellent teachers and administrators charged with their implementation often do so without an awareness of their philosophical underpinnings, motivated by a genuine desire to see students thrive. But, as The Bard would say, “therein lies the rub.”

Even by its own measures, modern education is not accomplishing its (misguided) objectives. The nation’s most recent report card is less than impressive. And a study from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence indicates that the most common emotions American teens feel about school are, “tired,” “stressed,” and “bored.”

“That’s just teens,” you might say. But it doesn’t have to be. When schools impose upon students the Sisyphean burden of constructing their own knowledge, creating their own values, and defining their own identities rather than imparting to them a deep and broad understanding of their history, culture, faith, and world, is it any wonder that they gain neither wisdom nor fulfillment in the vain pursuit of themselves?

Yet “there is a tide in the affairs of men….” Today, public and private school parents, concerned citizens, and many teachers themselves have started to take heed, not just of the troubling headlines but of the true purpose of education itself. Here in our city, with the help of Hillsdale College and its world-class, K-12 curriculum, Columbus Classical Academy is restoring the foundations of a good education, opening its doors this Fall to students in grades K-8. In time, CCA will give rise to the greatest of earthly fortunes: knowledgeable citizens, souls with a longing for the truth, young men and women who know what is good and possess the courage to pursue it. Our city needs more Solomon, less Sisyphus. We will not miss the tide.

If you desire an education founded upon knowledge, virtue, and excellence for your child, consider Columbus Classical Academy. I promise, you’ll be glad you did. Veritas et Virtus.