What is Classical Education?

Classical schools are unique among school options in two main ways:

Philosophically.
Classical education begins with the end. What is the end of man? What is man’s life ordered towards? What type of life is befitting of man, and why? If we can understand the end of man, then we can understand how to properly attain that end. If men are meant to be happy and free, we must first understand what happiness and freedom are, then we will know how to pursue those things both as individuals and as societies. Classical education is an education befitting a free and happy human being.

No other creature on earth enjoys the level of rationality bestowed upon man. This faculty, therefore, is essential to our nature as man and we have a duty to rightly order this faculty. When reason is ordered by virtue, man finds himself both free and happy. Free because man is no longer enslaved to his passions, but rather has the ability to do what he ought. Happy, because the virtuous life is enriching to the human soul, breathing fresh air into the recesses of his being.

To accomplish this requires participation in great conversation. At CCA, we do not teach students to banter or simply dismantle their opponents’ arguments piecemeal. Rather, we seek the best kind of conversation, the one that asks: what is good for a human being? What is beautiful? How should I live my life in accord with those things?

Practically.
Through a rigorous curriculum and conducted in a traditional classroom environment, classical education challenges students to conquer their vices, encounter the greatest thinkers in history, and ultimately engage with the world as a virtuous, rational being capable of self-government. To this end, a classical education delivers real content. Students engage with texts that have stood the test of time for their ability to speak to the intrinsic questions that come with being human. A classical student uses primary sources to enter into the conversation of the good, the true, and the beautiful with the greatest philosophers who ever lived. The student learns about historical events, characters, stories, fables, myths, scientific facts, and mathematical proofs. They read whole literary works in great depth, master Latin, memorize poetry, and learn to approach books both with moderation to learn and courage to question.

The end result: Joyful people, and societies, who experience true freedom because of their rightly ordered lives.

“It ought to be the oldest things that are taught to the youngest children, the assured and experienced truths that are put first to the baby.”
~G. K. Chesterton

Curriculum Overview

We are returning to age-old wisdom that has traditionally been used to educate and form our young people and preserve our rich western heritage.

Here’s how we do it:

  1. Teacher led classrooms: Modern education emphasizes what is often called “child-centered” learning. We agree that students are the object of a proper education and that the purpose of teaching is to ensure that each student masters the material and develops the personal discipline that gives rise to knowledge and virtue. This requires teachers who are attentive to the unique strengths and weaknesses of their students and who are adept at imparting knowledge to every child in their classroom, without compromising either curricular rigor or pedagogical soundness. Historically, this was not always the case in American schools.

    But too often today, “child-centered” learning makes students not only the object, but also the subject and the author of their own education, where the primary purpose of teaching is no longer to impart true knowledge and virtue but rather is to come alongside students on their own, unique path of “self-discovery” and “self-expression.” This approach, like the harsh indifference of some traditional schooling before it, is an abdication of the teacher’s obligation to lead all of her students to a knowledge and love of what is true and good and beautiful.

  2. Primary sources in physical books: Books have always been the main source of knowledge and wisdom in the human experience. We believe children should read the greatest books ever written. To that end, we prioritize books over experience, utilize primary sources whenever possible, and use textbooks that convey knowledge, rather than another’s interpretation of history. Why read what someone else thinks Socrates said or meant? Why not read what Socrates said for himself? If we want our children to be able to make well-informed opinions and become strong thinkers, we should not give them textbook information tainted with an author’s bias. Rather, we should return to the source and engage with the original author himself so that, through question and discussion, the student can join the great conversation.

  3. Developing the whole person through mastering our core virtues: We believe in the strength and enduring truth of the 7 classical virtues. To this end, we emphasize mastery of the traditional 7 virtues and trust in their formative influence: prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude, faith, hope, charity.

As a Hillsdale College Curriculum School, we use the Curriculum developed by Hillsdale, a sample of which you can view here. Some highlights include:

  • Core Knowledge Sequence (not to be confused with “Common Core”)
  • Explicit Phonics
  • Singapore Math, a traditional approach to mathematical thinking
  • Integrated fine arts and music
  • Reading the classics and great books in literature classes
  • A classical approach to science
  • Study of Latin
  • Grammar and composition instruction

We intend to add a grade per year until K-12 is served. Looking ahead, our high school curriculum highlights:

  • 4 years of in depth study of history
  • 4 years of in depth study of literature
  • 4 years of in depth study of science (biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy)
  • 4 years of in depth study of mathematics (geometry, algebra I & II, pre-calc, calculus)
  • American government
  • Moral philosophy
  • Logic and rhetoric
  • Economics
  • Art and music

The Role of Technology

The primary use of technology in the modern classroom is the immediate access to vast amounts of information, with little concern paid to proper understanding or contextualizing of this information. Used in this way, the role of the teacher becomes little more than a facilitator of on-going fact acquisition, rather than a steward of wisdom to be passed down to and inculcated in the minds of students. The students, meanwhile, are reduced to little more than “empty vessels” who have a vast knowledge of how to access information, but lack understanding of what to make of this information or how to own knowledge for themselves.

Coupled with this problematic approach to technology is the grave temptation toward endless distraction from social media, gaming, videos, and communication available at a moment’s notice from the student’s pocket. Exposure to this level of temptation before discipline of the mind has been attained condemns the student to never master these base inclinations and order the mind toward contemplation. In addition to these distractions, personal devices often enable unvirtuous and cruel behavior in a realm beyond the reach or guidance of adults.

Our extraordinary advances in technology are in many respects the product of our free society founded upon classical principles and, properly utilized, can be employed to great human benefit. But because technology should serve people and not the other way around, CCA has adopted a strict cell phone and technology policy in our school. If our children’s experience of the world is constantly filtered through technology, they will be far less likely to enjoy the benefit of genuine human interaction or engagement with the true beauty that abounds in our world. Healthy human connection is the foundation for their development into men and women of character and virtue.

Resources

We recommend the following resources for learning more about classical education.


Articles


Books

  • The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis
  • The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom
  • Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America by Gene Edward Veith, Jr. and Andrew Kern
  • The Making of Americans: Democracy and Our Schools by E. D. Hirsch, Jr.
  • Cultural Literacy by E. D. Hirsch, Jr.
  • The Great Tradition: Classic Readings On What It Means To Be An Educated Human Being edited by Richard Gamble
  • The Seven Laws of Teaching by John Milton Gregory
  • Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong: and What We Can Do About It by William Kilpatrick

Videos

“Observe well how I pass along this way
to the truth you seek, so that in time
you may know how to ford the stream alone.”

~Dante, Paradiso