The Future of Classical Education: A Symposium

Many people have already noted that the coronavirus outbreak accelerated a variety of trends already occurring in the United States, and nowhere is this clearer than in education. With school-age children and college students alike consigned to Zoom School, parents and students improvised—both out of necessity, and out of the openness to change that necessity breeds—using new tools and arrangements they would not have considered before.

And as parents and students have sought out new learning formats, they have also expressed increased interest in new approaches to educational methods and even the very goals of education. Homeschool co-ops, microschools, private and charter schools (including religious and classical schools), online academies, hybrid schools, alternative educational publishers, edtech platforms, and a number of variations on the modern classroom have been the beneficiaries of this change. 

Combine all this with the American educational establishment’s outright rejection of the standards and truths that parents expect to find in their childrens’ schools, and that college students hope to encounter in their lectures and seminars, and the need for an historically grounded and high-quality alternative to the educational establishment becomes painfully obvious.

In short: It is time for classical education to shine.

In many ways, the classical education movement is indeed shining. More and more, private and charter schools are taking up the mantle of the classics, new colleges built on the great books are being founded, new think tanks and publishers are arising, all while the established players of the movement grow and increase their offerings and influence. Many of these institutions, new and old, are represented in the symposium contributions below.

But on the other hand, the movement has come under criticism, even from its allies, including us at the Ancient Language Institute when we said last year that “Classical Schools Are Not Really Classical.” 

Dorothy Sayers’ “Lost Tools of Learning” appears increasingly imperiled as a reliable “founding text” of the movement. 

At many classical schools, the commitment to the actual classical texts and approaches can sometimes look more like marketing than a holistic pedagogical approach. 

Are classical schools in danger of unwittingly dressing up in a toga the “progressive education” that they say they reject?

These are open questions, and there is no doubt that many teachers, headmasters, and professors do indeed guide their students into a profound investigation of the literary, artistic, and philosophical roots of the classical tradition. But how durable is the movement? What does it need to do to shore up its methods, its institutions, and its goals in order to effect successfully the cultural transformation that it seeks?

The Ancient Language Institute has invited a distinguished list of teachers, scholars, and leaders in the education world to weigh in on the future of the classical education movement. Through this symposium, we hope to host a wide-ranging conversation that provides both a descriptive account of education in the past and present, as well as a prescriptive account of where the classical movement should head towards in the future. 

We hope that you will join us in following along. Please continue to check back as, once a week, we publish new installments in the symposium. We’ll maintain a running list of the contributions below, as well as on the ALI blog.


The Future of Classical Education: A Symposium

Shawn Barnett: The Blind Guides of the Classical Education Movement
Jonathan Gregg: COMING UP NEXT


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