Truth-seeking can be difficult or simple depending on your perspective. Everyone says something true about the nature of things, so even though individually we each contribute little or nothing to the truth, a sizable amount is amassed when we all work together, which is an indication that no one is able to attain the truth adequately. On the other hand, we do not collectively fail. by Aristotle
There are many different ways to view education. According to one theory, it serves in part to transmit the collective wisdom of a society, as described above by Aristotle. Children lack culture at birth, but as they mature, it shapes their attitudes and behavior to prepare them for their eventual place in the community. Education in prehistoric cultures frequently consists of little formal instruction and possibly no actual schools. In others, only one or possibly a small number of holy books are studied. Even when divided into specialized areas of study, in more complex societies the sheer amount of accumulated knowledge can take many years of formal education to transmit to the next generation. In such developed cultures, education itself becomes a subject of study due to the increasing importance of effective and comprehensive methods of knowledge transmission. In this article, we’ll compare classical education to modern (primarily American) progressive education and discuss how well or poorly they educate our kids.
What does “classical education” mean? The definition of the word “classical” according to the dictionary is: of, relating to, or in keeping with ancient Greek and Roman precedents. Classicism refers to aesthetic principles and attitudes based on ancient Greek and Roman literature, art, and culture. Thus, classical education refers to the academic standards of ancient Rome and Greece.
What do we mean by modern or progressive education? According to the dictionary, progressive education refers to, is related to, or is influenced by a theory of education that places a focus on the unique needs and abilities of each child as well as the informality of the curriculum. Modern refers to the present or recent era; it does not mean ancie
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EDUCATION’S GOALS As was already mentioned, different people have different perspectives on education and its goals. Almost no one anymore views education as a goal in and of itself. An end in itself is not education. As a result, any change in the desired outcome will inevitably reflect in the education methods chosen. The means of educating coal miners will be straightforward if our only objective is to produce good miners who will toil until they drop without causing any trouble. The means of education will be much more difficult to implement if our aim is to produce well-rounded, cultured gentlemen and ladies who are capable of handling any challenge or situation in life with the greatest likelihood of both success and personal happiness. The achievement of the end may be impacted by any change in the means.
As we mentioned above, the aim of contemporary, progressive education is to meet the unique needs, aptitudes, and interests of each student. This emphasis places a strong emphasis on what makes each student unique and, consequently, on the differences among students, as if these differences were crucial in determining the type of educational strategy to be used. It is simple to see that the emphasis of progressive education is misplaced if such differences as there are among students are secondary to what they share in common with one another.
Given that no two bodies (not even those of “identical” twins postpartum) are exactly alike, if children only have similar physical characteristics, then differences in height, genetic make-up, health, test-taking ability, IQ scores, and other characteristics that distinguish them from their peers are in fact of primary importance because they differ in nearly all such things that can be measured physically. Then, no two children are actually equal (except before the law, in some countries). However, if all children share something in common much more important than their similar yet differing bodies, then that shared commonality, that likeness will be of paramount importance in determining how best to educate them.
Here we come to the crux of the matter. Different conceptions of the nature of man result in different educational goals and means. For those who think or believe that all men share a common human nature and like, immortal souls, then that reality becomes of paramount importance in determining the goals and means of education, which will certainly not be focused primarily on the less important measurable, individual differences of their physical beings (except perhaps in the most unusual cases of physical disability) (except perhaps in the most unusual cases of physical disability). Instead, education will be focused on the care of that shared human nature on their immortal souls.
Now the prevailing view of the ancient Greeks, certainly from the time of Socrates on, was that we do have immortal souls. So their education aimed at the care and nurturing of the soul, as being more important than the body. Even so, “a sound mind in a sound body” was one of their key educational notions, but the body was nevertheless viewed as a sort of tomb or prison for the immortal soul – merely an instrument the soul must be housed in and use in this life – from which it would be released at death. Since he believed the soul was immortal and would have some eternal fate based upon its goodness or lack thereof (as do all the major Western religions Christianity, Islam, Judaism), Socrates’ views on education reflected that belief, as did that of his ancient Greeks and the ancient Romans who followed the Greeks. Hence Socrates taught that the one thing needful for the soul was that it should strive after goodness.
Since the fate of one’s immortal soul hinged on its goodness, then the pursuit of goodness became the principal occupation for the ancient Greeks. Goodness for them consisted of the virtues or habits of good action and thought, in proper order and harmony, leading to wisdom. So to pursue wisdom, and goodness, was to be on one and the same path. But how best to advance on this path? Beyond all of his philosophical discourses, Socrates considered the following to be the most significant: “[I] thought that, because I loved him, my company could make him a better man,” [Socratic Aeschines fr. II c, p. 273 Dittmar]. This was the Socratic approach to education in its core: education through love. The emotions as well as the reason, since both are integral parts of human nature, must be included in any education leading to the good. Indeed, education did not mean for Socrates the cultivation of the intellect alone to the neglect of all else but since man is attracted to the good first by what is beautiful, education must first begin with the senses, proceed on to the memory, imagination, intuition and intellect, spurred on to all by love. Socrates clearly loved his students, who became his friends as many as would.
Modern, progressive education, in either denying or ignoring the soul is left with nothing else but the body the brain, to educate (with competitive sports added helter-skelter) (with competitive sports added helter-skelter). The brain thus conceived as a sort of computer that moves about, rather than goodness or wisdom the goal of human education becomes knowledge in the sense of data storage and retrieval (in the better of the modern schools), and mere political indoctrination in most. Love is irrelevant in such an environment. Indeed, it becomes a distraction from the business at hand and it is considered a defect in a teacher to love his students as friends.
Here now we come to the single greatest advantage homeschooling has over modern public (or private school) education love. No one can love a child like his or her own parents. A loving parent does, in fact, make for the better person at which Socrates aimed. What empirical science cannot measure (love and goodness), common sense and experience abundantly confirm. The opposite consequences of the absence of love are likewise confirmed.
What of the genuinely “abusive” home situation or parent? Hard cases make bad law. Because some men are thieves does not mean all men ought to be put in prison. A few rotten apples does not mean we all should quit eating apples. If the alleged abuse is real, then the state may step in, and some sort of public schooling may be the only alternative. But this the unnatural case – says nothing about the norm, about how children should be educated in the vast majority of families where they are loved. In those families in does not “take a village” it only takes a loving family.
In the same fragment quoted from above, Socrates stated he believed, “the love I bore…[allowed me to] draw honey and milk in places where others cannot even draw water from wells.” That is, love has a power to motivate, an attraction to goodness, beyond the rest of nature, bordering on the miraculous. Ignore the souls of children and so remove love from education and what do you get modern, progressive “dumbing-down” education where fear and hatred stalk the halls and all too often explode into violence and despair.
Very, very few can learn well in such environments as sinking test scores and poor academic achievement (such as the growing inability of high schoolers even to read) increasingly confirm.
Homeschooling is so successful relative to public and private school education, despite many obstacles and disadvantages, primarily because children have souls and thrive in every way – in the loving environment of their families (however small that family may be two can make a very loving family) (however small that family may be two can make a very loving family). Scratch the surface of a modern educator in our schools today and you will find either admirable, well-meaning, dedicated teachers who are increasing forced to truncate their personalities and genuine love for their students by a frustrating, bureaucratic, politically correct, progressive educational model, or someone who is simply up to no good. The newspapers are full of many examples of both types, almost on a daily basis.
In the Athenian custom, the ancient Greeks homeschooled their children until their seventh year, in the poetic mode described elsewhere in this issue. Modern, progressive education pushes taking children from their homes earlier and earlier. The adoption of the German kindergarten model in this country stole one more year from the natural, early home formation of American children. Plans are afoot now to allow the schools to reach back even earlier to age 4, 3 and even 2 to take children from the loving culture of their homes. So “successful” are our public schools that they imagine more of the same will solve the very problems they have created.
Classical elementary and secondary education is addressed in other articles in this issue, as is the “poetic” mode of educating via the senses, emotions and intuition. But lest we get lost in the details, it is important occasionally to remember the core of the classical, Socratic way of educating love.