The Founding Fathers, Classical Education & a New Hope

Climbing Parnassus: A New Apologia for Greek and LatinAmericans view the Founding Fathers in vacuo, isolated from the soil that nurtured them,” says Traci Lee Simmons in his book, Climbing Parnassus: A New Apologia for Greek and Latin.

It is certainly true that little thought is given by the everyday American as to what the foundation of our own founders was.
This is to our own detriment, for if we paid attention to this we would see a way forward for education in America. So, how were the founders educated?  Through a Classical education. Simmons elaborates,

“These men, had read and digested Polybius, Aristotle, and Cicero, and they used the ancient luminaries to frame and illustrate their ideas before the assembly…These heated yet erudite debates, along with the Federalist Papers, fairly pullulate both with subtle classical allusions—with which Madison, Hamilton, and Jay assumed readers to be tolerably familiar—and direct references to the leagues—Amphictyonic, Achaean, Aetolian, Lycian—formed by the ancient Greeks in order to achieve political and physical security.”

Why is this important? Because it is through the prism of this classical background that they were able to see the way to a future that we enjoy today. Do we have the same faith in our current political leaders? Recent polls and common sense says no. The lack of depth in modern political discourse, which I have written about in the recent past, has its roots in a lack of serious thought in education.
However, there is hope out there. And ironically the seed of the future may indeed be in Washington, D.C. But it has nothing to do with The U.S. Congress. Instead it is a small Catholic school, the St. Jerome Classical School in Hyattsville, a suburb of D.C. Last spring, St. Jerome’s began transforming itself into an experiment for one of the more promising trends in education. It is one of a handful of Catholic schools in the country reinventing itself  as a classical academy . The Washington Post  recently ran had a great story on the school where they define the classical curriculum as:
Classical theory divides childhood development into three stages known as the trivium: grammar, logic and rhetoric. During the “grammar” years (kindergarten through fourth grade), children soak up knowledge. They memorize, absorb facts, learn the rules of phonics and spelling, recite poetry, and study plants, animals, basic math and other topics. Moral lessons are included. 

 I, for one, wish them well and hope the experiment works. Until we have a generation of citizens capable of the critical thought that the 21st century will require we will be stuck with the back and forth political ping pong that we have been subjected to over the previous century. Coincidentally, this is exactly the same time period during with Dewey’s practical philosophy of Progressivism dethroned classical education from our schools. On second thought, maybe it is not such a coincidence after all.