The Case for Classical Education: Training the Mind

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The classical view of education holds that human beings are thinking creatures. Unlike other living beings, humans live by their intelligence. We want to know things. Specifically, we want to know the truth. From birth, the curiosity of children is astounding. Children observe everything around them. They pick up language at an astonishing rate. And as soon as they begin to speak, they ask the question “what is it?” of everything that catches their attention. Children demonstrate what is true of all people: we are natural learners. Therefore, any plan of education should take advantage of young people’s natural curiosity. Schemes that stall children in their learning because “they are not ready for it,” or that use various gimmicks that sugar-coat learning as though children take to their books as they do their medicine, are not only unnecessary but counterproductive and insulting to humanity.

As children grow, their questions become more complex and their abilities to assimilate their observations more advanced. At every child’s disposal is a veritable arsenal of mental capacities: memory, reason, imagination, a sense of beauty, a facility for language. Yet classical education does not simply leave children to their own inclinations. Rather, it feeds and directs and strengthens children’s mental abilities in the same way that sports exercise their physical abilities. The mind, like the body, atrophies when not well-trained. The emphasis on rigorous mental training is an important difference between classical and modern, progressive education. By stressing childhood “creativity” and “spontaneity,” without making children do much work or work on anything important, the modern school turns bright young children into bored adults who do not know very much. It is the old story of the tortoise and the hare. Falling in love with our talents, without making any substantial effort to improve them, leads nowhere.

So classical education puts young minds to work. It leads young people to understand themselves and the world around them. Students do not learn in the abstract. They must acquire concrete skills and gain knowledge in certain disciplines to participate fully and effectively in the human community.

Excerpt from What is Classical Education? by Dr. T. O. Moore, first principal of Ridgeview Classical Schools