On What Makes a School Excellent

 · 1 min read
 · Daniel C. Gibson

What makes a school excellent? It starts with a recognition that equality “has no place in the world of the mind”. Yes, all men are created equal. But their ideas, philosophies, art, literature, governments, cultures are not. Sound pretentious, even anti-democratic? Consider the alternative.

Democratizing knowledge yields not excellence, but a triumph of the mediocre and a taste for the ordinary. Such schooling can be “excellent” only in the same way that a bulldozer can be “excellent,” i.e., to the extent it is effective at abolishing distinctions and demolishing hierarchies.

Classical schools teach every student not what is most appealing to democratic sensibilities, but what is most excellent for an educated citizen: Goethe, not Grisham; Prokofiev, not Presley; Machiavelli, not Maddow.

As C.S. Lewis observed, “[b]eauty is not democratic; she reveals herself more to the few than to the many, more to the persistent and disciplined seekers than to the careless. Virtue is not democratic; she is achieved by those who pursue her more hotly than most men. Truth is not democratic; she demands special talents and special industry in those to whom she gives her favours. Political democracy is doomed if it tries to extend its demand for equality into these higher spheres. Ethical, intellectual, or aesthetic democracy is death. A truly democratic education—one which will preserve democracy—must be, in its own field, ruthlessly aristocratic, shamelessly ‘high-brow’”.

Do you desire an excellent education for your child? One befitting a citizen of our democratic republic? It begins with renewing our belief in excellence itself.