Wednesday, November 11, 2015

What Classical Education Means

Way back when, I earned my undergraduate degrees as a double major in Philosophy and Classical Languages from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa (with a year studying Philosophy abroad at the University of Nottingham.)  Pretty much from its inception in 1861 through my graduation in 1992, the majority of those who served as President and Deans of Luther College were Classics Professors. In this environment it was stressed that Classical Philosophy is the pinnacle of Education, developing skills transferable to all disciplines.

Why is that so? Well, At the heart of Classical Philosophy is Investigation and Analysis.  The developed method and refined skill, for sifting through (and acknowledging) prejudice and bias in pursuit of some underlying Truth.  It is with this background (or chip on my shoulder) with which I approach issues of education and life.  Ensuring that we are careful to define our terms with appropriate meaning and acknowledgement of the history of their concepts.  So that when we discuss things like “Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Happiness, Liberty as well as the traditional 4 Cardinal Virtues: Justice, Temperance, Prudence, and Fortitude --  that we not rely on our everyday common usage, but rather their deeper philosophical understanding.

Today, there are many schools out there which bear the moniker "Classical" and even more which boldly proclaim "Academy."  Yet a careful look at their curriculum demonstrate their casual usage of these meanings.  So in the interest of clarity, I would like to share below the impression that faculty at Institutions of Higher Learning understand when they discuss the words “Classical” and “Academy.”

When a school adopts the appellation  "Classical Academy"   they communicate a commitment to an educational pedigree inherited from the first Academy founded by Plato in Athens in 387 BCE.
Since Socrates first challenged the convictions of the Athenian elite, we see in example after example --from antiquity through our modern age -- that our shared purpose as Classical Educators is to build character through the continued Pursuit of Truth. This is quite a different task than teaching students to "know Truth."  For Classical Philosophy as well as our modern common sense demonstrate that "knowing Truth" is available only to the omniscient (All-Knowing).
The frustrations faced by Socrates, and the inheritors of Classical Education, is embodied by those who claim special privilege in knowing Truth.  While perhaps well meaning, they assert dogma as universal without aid from the tools developed from Classical Philosophy.  They are unable to challenge their own cultural, temporal, and personal biases and become enslaved to their Convictions.
Convictions are the traditional enemy of Learning for it presumes that Truth is known.  If truth is known, then there is no further need for inquiry, and thus no need for Education and the Pursuit of Truth.  Convictions are often rooted in misinformation and fear and sustained by arrogance.  They provide a convenient excuse for willful ignorance. When held fast they provide self-justification for bullying. They are the un-virtuous stain on the character of the Warlord and thus a detriment to a just and virtuous Democratic citizen.