Tuesday, June 08, 2010

On a return to Classical Education

"A mind without instruction can no more bear fruit than can a field, however fertile, without cultivation." - Cicero (Roman author and statesman, 106 BC - 43 BC).

Found my way to this New York Times piece from Stanley Fish entitled, "A Classical Education: Back to the Future". Here's an excerpt from Fish' commentary:

"I wore my high school ring for more than 40 years. It became black and misshapen and I finally took it off. But now I have a new one, courtesy of the organizing committee of my 55th high school reunion, which I attended over the Memorial Day weekend.

I wore the ring (and will wear it again) because although I have degrees from two Ivy league schools and have taught at U.C. Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, Columbia and Duke, Classical High School (in Providence, RI) is the best and most demanding educational institution I have ever been associated with. The name tells the story.

When I attended, offerings and requirements included four years of Latin, three years of French, two years of German, physics, chemistry, biology, algebra, geometry, calculus, trigonometry, English, history, civics, in addition to extra-curricular activities, and clubs — French Club, Latin Club, German Club, Science Club, among many others. A student body made up of the children of immigrants or first generation Americans; many, like me, the first in their families to finish high school. Nearly a 100 percent college attendance rate. A yearbook that featured student translations from Virgil and original poems in Latin.

Sounds downright antediluvian, outmoded, narrow and elitist, and maybe it was (and is; the curriculum’s still there, with some additions like Japanese), but when I returned home I found three new books waiting for me, each of which made a case for something like the education I received at Classical..."

Reading through this editorial on educational standards, and the comments it brought forth from readers, helped me to understand more about an issue I've been mulling over these past few years. Have we, chiefly those of us in the younger generations, been severely shortchanged by the American school system in recent years?

Upon finishing the article, I spent a few moments reading through the reader comments to get more feedback on this issue. If you do the same I think you'll find a worthwhile array of thoughts on why a grounding in the classics, with an understanding of reason, logic, and the timeless wisdom of the ancients, is imperative for any member of a civilized society.

As for my own schooling (pre-college) I recall being taught Greek mythology in two different years by two separate teachers (both knowledgeable and passionate about their subject), but I never read Milton's Paradise Lost or Pope's Essay on Man, and I don't recall seeing them on any course syllabus.

I started to realize how much we missed later on in college, and quickly came to the conclusion that any revisiting of these lost subjects would have to be done on my own. This essay serves as a reminder that I never made much progress here, as my book sale copies of Homer's Iliad and The Autobiography of Ben Franklin remain,
to this day, largely unread.

Was your educational experience strengthened by a foundation in the Classics? Do you feel this exposure (or lack of exposure) to a time honored curriculum helped (or hindered) you in life? Has it made you a better citizen, thinker, and/or investor?

We seem to have a very international and broad reader base here at Finance Trends, so I'd be interested to hear from you all on this subject. If you have some thoughts you'd like to share, please do so here with a comment. In the meantime, enjoy the Times piece and the e-book classics linked above.