In large states public education will always be mediocre, for the same reason that in large kitchens the cooking is usually bad.
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) German-Swiss philosopher and writer.
(Every so often we like to have a Throwback Thursday and reprint a popular article. This originally ran on April 30, 2015.)
Apparently cafeteria food hasn’t improved over time. Education seems to be suffering the same fate – look at the history of education in our own country.
In pioneer days a school section (one square mile) was required by law. An area six sections by six sections would define a township. Within this area, one section was designated as the school section. As the entire parcel would not be necessary for the school and its grounds, the balance of it was to be sold with the monies to go into the construction and upkeep of the school. In those days a single teacher would typically have students in the first through eighth grades, and she taught them all. The number of students varied from six to forty or more. The youngest children sat in the front, while the oldest students sat in the back. The teacher usually taught reading, writing, arithmetic, history, and geography. Students memorized and recited their lessons. Sound like classical education? I think so too. Students educated in this way did not often go on to college, yet most ran businesses, farms, and households quite well.
“No, no,” Mr. Darling always said, “I am responsible for it all. I, George Darling, did it. MEA CULPA, MEA CULPA.”
He had had a classical education.”
We still fund public education in this country. We as taxpayers spend a lot of money, yet our nation’s children are behind most of the world academically. There are hundreds of studies trying to explain why and how to improve our situation. Some say we need more STEM; others say there is too much time in the classroom and the kids need more play; still others say the exact opposite. Let me proffer this idea: that a new and improved classical method along with an age-appropriate workload is the answer. While not every child will or should attend college, all our children need to be educated to become good, moral, responsible citizens.
Books are the bedrock of a classical education. The oldest trick in the book is to actually forget the books. As the popularity of homeschooling has increased more curriculum has become available. A good education does not require a kit or a set of workbooks. Classical education requires a teacher, a willing student, and time. You need only visit a homeschool convention for minutes before noticing the Thomas Jefferson was homeschooled t-shirts. The greatest minds of the ages were educated by reading books, learning to debate ideas, and discussing those ideas with teachers. None of the ancient Greeks ever had “box day.”
In our consumer-driven society it is easy to fall into a “needing the next new thing” mindset. It all comes down to trusting ourselves. Do we know the nature of our children? Do we understand the nature of education? Are we willing to put in the time and effort to make it happen? A classical education is worth working toward, but it is work. Will a classical education benefit all of us? I don’t know anyone who would argue that a country of children educated to think logically and to know the history they do not wish to repeat would be a huge benefit to all of us.
We need more than just a syllabus. Knowing the how’s and why’s of an education that most of us did not receive ourselves leaves us constantly running to catch up. The idea of an education that only supplies a student with skills to get ahead in the world is not an adequate preparation for even entry-level employment. An education rooted in the classics gives each student their own arsenal of information and experiences to draw from. This is where the non-classically educated teacher must accept the responsibility of continually self-educating.
If we accept the premise that classical education is the best that has been thought and said, then why wouldn’t that type of education be for everyone?