A pioneer in the rediscovery of classical education died last week. Marva Collins was an inner-city school teacher who rebelled against the failures of the educational establishment by teaching her students Shakespeare, Socrates, and other challenging–but inspiring–subjects. The obituary excerpted after the jump is illuminating but it calls her method “back-to-basics,” as if Shakespeare and classical philosophers were merely “basic.” Rather, her method, which employed great books and dialectical pedagogy, was genuinely classical, as is evident in her book The Marva Collins Way. She is important in showing that classical education is not “elitist,” as it is often described, but that it can be especially liberating for the poor or otherwise disadvantaged.
Some years ago when I was at Concordia Wisconsin, we had a Martin Luther King Day program. The speaker was one of her students. He couldn’t have been more than 13, but he gave an oration, in his high piping voice, that was as eloquent, learned, and inspiring as anything I had heard from a student at any age.
The Common Core requires that at least half of what elementary and middle school students read be non-fiction. By 12th grade, that goes up to 70%. And the non-fiction being read is not that of the great minds of our heritage but online posts, government documents, and United Nations proclamations.
The New York Times has an article on what the Common Core is doing to English classes. Notice how educators are taking the opportunity to politically indoctrinate their pupils. Notice how the approach forces what classic literature that is still read into a contemporary grid. Notice how the whole enterprise is not raising standards, as the Core claims to do, but is rather dumbing down the curriculum. [Read more...]
Progressive education, which tries to reduce everything to a narrow academic specialty, thinks “liberal arts” means “humanities.” But in reality, the classical liberal arts refers to a whole approach to education– one that is broad rather than narrow, connected rather than fragmented, open to the past rather than favoring whatever is new, etc., etc.
It’s called “liberal” from the Latin word for “freedom.” It goes back to the distinction in ancient Greece and Rome between the “servile” education given to slaves (nothing more than training for a job) and the “liberal” education given to free citizens of the Greek democracy and the Roman Republic–one that required the cultivation of the intellect and other human powers, as well as knowledge of the cultural heritage that must be transmitted to the new generation. (I argue that much of “progressive education” is a revival of “servile education.”) Interestingly, when Melanchthon and other Reformers opened schools to teach the masses how to read the Bible, they instituted a liberal arts curriculum, an education for freedom.
The British have done much with liberal education, and the schools they started throughout the British empire tended to follow this approach. Today, the still-Communist Chinese are blaming the liberal arts curriculum in the schools of Hong Kong for the pro-freedom movement currently roiling that city, with the protests generally led by liberal arts students. The movement is being called “scholarism.” In the mean time, the Chinese government wants to impose a pro-government purely economic curriculum. Sound familiar? [Read more...]
Last summer I blogged about what I consider to be possibly the best book on classical education, Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child (Memoria Press). It’s by Cheryl Swope, my fellow board member on the Consortium for Classical & Lutheran Education (whose conference is next week in St. Louis–join us!). Cheryl tells about how she applied classical education in homeschooling her daughter Michelle, a special needs child who is afflicted with autism and a number of other heart-breaking mental problems. Whereas progressive education, with its reductionistic view of human beings, would have just tried to program her with some basic survival skills and stop there, the humane, personal, inspiring approach of classical Christian education caused Michelle to blossom. To bloom. Not only was she achieving academic levels that her doctors thought were impossible for her, she was awakening to the realm of the true, the good, and the beautiful. You have got to read Cheryl’s account of her daughter, who emerges, despite her continuing difficulties, as a complex, accomplished, and compelling young woman.
Anyway, Michelle–now 19–has now published a book of her poetry. It will blow you away. By any standards, the poems are extraordinarily meaningful and touching, filled with vivid imagery and lovely language. To know Michelle’s background, though, is to appreciate her all the more and also to appreciate the potential of classical learning for shaping a young mind and a young heart. But that’s not all. Her poetry is profoundly Christian. She writes about the Law & the Gospel, about experiencing the Sacraments and what they mean, about the Cross, about Jesus and what He did for her. She shows just how deep catechesis in God’s Word can go, even in someone whom we might not expect. After the jump, I will give you two of her poems, quoted with permission, along with a link so that you can buy the whole collection. [Read more...]
The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education will be holding its annual conference July 15-17 in St. Louis on the beautiful, historic gothic campus of Concordia Seminary. This year there will even be child care!
I’ll be there–talking about George Herbert, the Christian poet whom I’ve been featuring here lately–along with many others (check out the list along with links to registration details after the break). Show up and we can have a Cranach summit meeting! [Read more...]