Thursday, October 06, 2011

Classical Education: Part I

This is Part I in a series on Classical Education written by Troy Wathen.  Troy is our Associate Director as well as a Lower Middle School teacher on Track A.  He and his wife, Summer, moved here recently with their two daughters, Faith Marie and Grace.  Both girls are in Lower  Middle School.

School of Athens ~ Raphael

I have been asked to write a series of blog posts answering the question  “What is classical education?” Anybody who has spent time studying and practicing classical education should approach this topic with a fair amount of humility, recognizing that all of us are on a path at various states of ignorance. This was made even more clear to me as I came to be part of the SLO Classical Academy faculty. I have spent the last ten years building a classical school from the administrative side and trying to read about classical education and read classical literature, while many of the teachers here at SLOCA have been in the midst of learning alongside the students in their classes. At a recent meeting, I was amazed at the background knowledge our faculty possesses and how that understanding enriches the education our children are gaining.
In this first post, I want to highlight some of the insights SLOCA offers to classical education that might be lagging behind in other schools I have observed. First and foremost, classical education is a communal activity. Here at SLOCA, the whole family has the opportunity to learn together and within a community of other families. This is significant! In many classical schools, families pay to have their children educated by the faculty alone. This creates a subtle schism between the child’s learning and that of the rest of the family. Ideally, children should see that learning is a lifelong pursuit. I have seen that modeled here in the involvement of the parents and the teachers to be co-learners with the students.
A second exemplary area is the way learning is integrated. All classical schools attempt, and many succeed, in integrating the subjects. I believe this to be one of the hallmarks of a classical education—that the students recognize the world is cohesive. Literature does not stand alone as an island of study, but is influenced by the historical events, scientific discoveries, and the literature that has proceeded. The themes of history such as “Conflict and Conquest,” “Trade and Commerce,” and “Philosophy and Religion” that you will find in the Parent Handbook provide a clear system for unifying the study of all academic areas. These should be seen, not as unrelated ideas, but rather as interrelated concepts. The ancient university was built on the principle that knowledge is unified. I think we have all experienced the excitement of seeing how some bit of new learning fits with something we already know. At SLOCA, I have seen teachers and parents working to draw out those “aha” moments when students make a connection. Put all these connections together and the result is a well-educated and insightful young person who is able to think and communicate on a host of topics.
I believe that, just as the Renaissance brought about a re-birth of innovation in a host of disciplines, classical education in the 21st century will have a profound effect on this generation. Students at SLOCA are learning how to think and how to make connections, enabling them to solve some of the problems facing our society in this age just as classically educated men and women did in ages past. 

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