Classical Education: A Brief Defense

classical greek

Over the course of the next several weeks, I intend to present several articles on the nature and value of what is known as a classical curriculum. This is generally defined as studying the acknowledged great works of Greek and Roman history and literature, usually in tandem and sequentially. This week, we will start with a brief defense of using a classical curriculum.

What is a Classical Education?

So, what exactly is classical education, particularly in a Catholic environment? A classical, liberal arts-based curriculum focuses on studying the greatest spiritual, literary, artistic and cultural achievements of Western civilization, particularly of the ancient Greeks and Romans, by reading the original sources whenever possible. For us as Catholics, you can’t separate the study of Western Civilization from the Church. A classical curriculum grounded in the Faith brings intellectual knowledge of the Faith into the heart by introducing the student to the great works of Christendom and the pre-Christian masterpieces that influenced and inspired Catholic Europe. The intent and purpose is to deepen and strengthen the student’s commitment to the Faith and move the student to accomplish great deeds himself.

Classical Education Under Attack

In some circles, the idea of studying the classic works of Greek and Roman literature and history is criticized. Modernists dismiss all but the latest and “greatest” advances in education (sometimes known as fads…). However, some religious people, even in Catholic homeschooling circles, criticize the use of a classical curriculum. Often, this comes down to the idea that studying the classics is somehow un-Christian and akin to “studying paganism.”

Why Study the Classics?

The study of a classical curriculum serves several purposes:

  • It focuses on the highest spiritual, literary and artistic achievements of Western Civilization, thus elevating the mind and soul
  • It introduces students to the greatest books in their original sources, not just textbook summaries, thus encouraging critical thinking
  • It integrates the study of different subjects, showing the interrelationships that exist among them
  • It provides a solid grounding in the basics, emphasizing the technique of learning by memorization in the lower grades

A Defense from a Great Source

Nothing could be further from the truth! Most of the early Church Fathers studied the classic works of the Greeks and Romans. St. Augustine not only studied the classics, but utilized them extensively (while being appropriately critical). No less a source than St. Basil the Great, Bishop of Caesarea and Doctor of the Church, specifically advocated for studying the classics. The whole article is well worth reading, especially if you have found the need to defend your use of a classical curriculum. You can find the article here: http://kolbe.org/index.php/download_file/1946/.