Real Progressives Study the Classics

Classical education has a marketing problem

Across the nation, schools that use a classical curriculum—one that emphasizes traditional methods of teaching the basics and a knowledge of ancient literature—are producing remarkably well-educated students. (For an example of a classical curriculum, check out this school near the Intellectual Takeout offices.)

Yet, at the same time, these schools still only cater to a small portion of the population. That’s in part, I think, because of the adjective “classical” that has been affixed to this style of education by its enemies. For most of the West’s history classical education was simply known as “education”. Now that it’s known as “classical,” it’s associated in most of the public’s minds with being “nostalgic,” “irrelevant,” “useless” to modern society, and an obstacle to progress.

But according to former Harvard professor Bernard Knox (1914-2010), nothing could be further from the truth about the classics. In particular, of the Greek classics he writes:

“[I]t is strange to find the classical Greeks today assailed as emblems of reactionary conservatism, of enforced conformity. For their role in the history of the West has always been innovative, sometimes indeed subversive, even revolutionary.”

Knox then offers some of the following examples:

– The translation of Arabic versions of Aristotle into Latin had a powerful influence on scholastic philosophy and Christian theology in the Middle Ages.

– The revival of interest in neglected Latin and newly-discovered Greek classics led to the Renaissance—“that age of renewed intellectual and scientific inquiry, of exploration and colonization.”

– Greek was a favorite area of study of the leaders of the Reformation.

– Thomas Hobbes, the father of modern analytic philosophy and the author of the Leviathan, began his career with an English translation of the Greek historian Thucydides, and later published verse translations of the Iliad and Odyssey.

– The French Jesuit Gassendi’s presentation of the atomic theory of Epicurus “was to have an immense influence on modern atomic theory.”

– Before Friedrich Nietzsche upended much of recent Western philosophy, he was the chair of Classical Philology at the University of Basel.

He concludes:

“All through the history of the West the Greeks have continued to spur innovation; the contact of the modern mind with the ancient has time and again resulted in a renewal or (Nietzsche’s phrase) reversal of values.”

Out of a desire to be “progressive,” the trend in modern schools is to dramatically limit students’ exposure to ancient works and classical languages. But the fact is that progress in the West has always been catalyzed by these very things!

Most people today feel that the West is in decline. If Western civilization is to halt the decline and experience renewal in the coming years, I believe it must also be through a rediscovery of the past and a creative application of it to the present.

This post Real Progressives Study the Classics was originally published on Intellectual Takeout by Daniel Lattier.


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Liberty Classroom 1

Liberty Classroom 2

The Morality of Modern Education is Relativism

It would be a mistake or, at any rate, an exaggeration to say that modern education has turned its back on morality.

It has not. It’s just that the morality it pursues is that of radical relativism with its radical skepticism about the benefits of the “great conversation” that has animated educated discourse for almost three millennia. Its morality is, therefore, that of Polonius in Hamlet whose declaration to his son Laertes as the latter prepares to leave for college serves as the motto for all modern secularized and relativized education: “This above all: to thine own self be true.”

‘The Penis as Social Construct’—Spoof Article Gets Published by Academic Journal

Another postmodernist academic journal falls for a hoax.

Several years ago, Alan Sokal, a professor of physics at New York University and University College in London, decided to demonstrate exactly how nonsensical postmodernist cultural studies had become.

To do this, he submitted an article to the postmodernist journal Social Text claiming to demonstrate that quantum gravity is a social and linguistic construct—in other words, completely dependent on cultural and linguistic factors rather than objective reason and evidence.

The article was filled with meaningless postmodernist jargon, and claimed that scientific research was “inherently theory-laden and self-referential” and “cannot assert a privileged epistemological status with respect to counterhegemonic narratives emanating from dissident or marginalized communities.” The journal fell for the hoax and published the article. It and its editors became the laughing stock of the academic world.

Is School Driving Kids Crazy (Literally)?

According to the CDC, the suicide rate among 10 to 14 year olds has doubled since 2007.

May can be a particularly dangerous month for schoolchildren. According to 13 years of recent data collected on mental health emergency room visits at Connecticut Children’s Mental Health Center in Hartford, May typically has the most.

Under Pressure

Boston College psychology professor, Peter Gray, looked more closely at this data and found that children’s mental health is directly related to school attendance. Dr. Gray found that children’s psychiatric ER visits drop precipitously in the summer and rise again once school begins. The May spike likely coincides with end-of-school academic and social pressures.

Barbara Oakley Explains One Huge Flaw in U.S. Education

Barbara Oakley offered a blunt assessment of U.S. education in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal.

What does an expert in learning think about how to learn math (and other things for that matter)?

Barbara Oakley is the author of A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even if You Flunked Algebra) and Mindshift: Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential; she is also a distinguished scholar of global digital learning at Ontario’s McMaster University.

In an interview published in last weekend’s Wall Street Journal, Oakley did not have good words for the permissivist way math is taught in the United States.

By her own account, Oakley was not a good math student: “I just came to the conclusion at that time that I really couldn’t do math,” she says. “I flunked my way through elementary, middle and high school math and science.” She joined the Army out of high school, took a degree in Slavic languages at University of Washington on a ROTC commission.

‘Empathy’ Might Be the Most Overused Word in the English Language

A word analysis shows that people are using the word 'empathy' an awful lot these days. Why?

“You completely lack empathy.”

This was what a longtime acquaintance said to me a few months ago after I shared on Facebook a quote from Jeffrey Tucker, a prominent libertarian scholar, which touched on federalism and Donald Trump’s rescinding of an executive order on transgender discrimination.

The comment stuck in my craw.  I place high value on human compassion. And the comment completely sidestepped Tucker’s actual points.

How One Mother Sends Her Kids to College at Age 11

By now, you may have heard of Carson and Cannan Huey-You. The two brothers hail from Texas and are making news this graduation season as one is graduating from Texas Christian University with a degree in physics, while the other is graduating from a local Christian high school.

Their respective graduations are no big deal – except for the fact that the boys are ages 14 and 11.

As The Washington Post explains, the two are definitely advanced students with brilliant minds. But while their brilliant minds likely played a role in their accelerated status, one has to wonder if those minds would have been allowed to nurture and grow in the traditional education system.

Today’s Schools Are Producing ‘Hollow Men’

One of the most heinous crimes against humanity that modernity has perpetrated is its war on the humanities. And let’s not forget that the humanities are thus called because they teach us about our own humanity. A failure to appreciate the humanities must inevitably lead to the dehumanizing of culture and a disastrous loss of the ability to see ourselves truthfully and objectively.

The follies and fallacies of modernity and their dehumanizing consequences have been critiqued by some of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. T. S. Eliot’s Modern Education and the Classics, published in 1934, complements C.S. Lewis’s own ‘Reflections on Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English’ which was the sub-title of Lewis’s book, The Abolition of Man. Both works insist that education cannot be divorced from morality and that the latter must inform the former. Similarly Eliot’s The Idea of a Christian Society (1939) and his Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1948) dovetail with Lewis’s position as regards the necessity of Christianity to any genuine restoration of European culture. Most notably, Eliot’s depiction of ‘The Hollow Men’ in his poem of that title, published in 1925, prefigures Lewis’s ‘Men without Chests’ in The Abolition of Man who are fictionalized to great satirical effect in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength, the latter of which contains a delightful parody of the disintegration and dumbing-down of the modern academy.

New Survey Shows Americans Have Soured on Higher Education

The end of the school year is always greeted with great pomp and circumstance. But while many exult over the completion of high school, college, and other levels of schooling, support for higher education as usual seems to be waning.

According to a survey from the New America think tank, the American public agrees that it is easier to be successful with a sheepskin in hand, but also believes it’s time to change the iron grip which a college degree holds on society. As the graph below shows, nearly 70 percent disagree with the statement that “higher education in America is fine how it is.”

Education Used to Happen Outside of School

Schooling as a forced societal construct is a fairly recent phenomenon

Prior to passage of America’s first compulsory schooling statute, in Massachusetts in 1852, it was generally accepted that education was a broad societal good and that there could be many ways to be educated: at home, through one’s church, with a tutor, in a class, on your own as an autodidact, as an apprentice in the community–and often all of the above.

Even that first compulsory schooling statute only mandated school attendance for 12 weeks of the year for 8-14 year olds–hardly the childhood behemoth it has become.

Acknowledging that schooling is only a singular model of education opens up enormous possibilities for learning. Looking to successful education models of the past and present, we can imagine what the varied and vibrant future of education could be.