With debates over K-12 curricula dominating national conversations, a new issue brief makes the case for returning to a traditional, liberal arts education
NEW YORK, NY — A year of lockdown schooling may not have taught kids much, but it did remind parents that alternatives to public school exist. One such alternative has stood the test of time, borrowing principles from the foundation of western civilization. Classical education—whether in the form of private and charter schools, homeschooling, or micro-schooling—is heavily oriented toward the liberal arts, guided by the Western canon, and grounded in Greek and Roman traditions of academic excellence. The model is unique for its emphasis on teaching students to be scholars and active citizens. In a new Manhattan Institute issue brief, City Journal contributor Brandon McCoy highlights the history, features, and successes of the classical education model by profiling three classical-model charter schools: Nashville Classical Charter School, South Bronx Classical (SBC), and Washington Latin Public Charter School.
In each of the schools profiled—which are notable for high academic performance and because they serve disadvantaged majority-minority communities—graduation rates, college admissions testing, and K-12 test scores are superior to those of surrounding public schools. They follow in the style of other contemporary classical schools, which are influenced by the ancient learning stages of grammar, logic and rhetoric. These stages offer structure to a liberal arts education, progressing from the basic elements of a given subject to the logic that binds it together. Ultimately, students learn to think critically, communicate fluently, and debate civilly using the language and concepts of each area of study.
The classical-education approach has lofty goals – preparing students to participate meaningfully in free society and sending them into the world with a core set of moral values. But it also produces concrete educational outcomes. Parents and policymakers who are looking to either escape the public school system or offer students more choices should take notice of the academic rigor, remarkable outcomes, and strong values-based tradition of classical education.