Our Founders and Our Future
Updated: Aug 23, 2020
Its an election year and election years make for the best teaching years. Not because it makes for great fodder for the perversion of debate and discourse into indoctrination, but rather the opposite. Election years allow for the teaching of Rhetoric, (written and visual) in a manner that is truly engaging for teenage students.
When teaching Rhetoric, it is most useful to have live examples of what works and what does not from a variety of perspectives. Live political speeches and debates provide a non-contrived venue for students to observe the delivery of rhetorical devices in real time. The ability to identify rhetorical devices in the words of others is one of, if not the most, important skill to master in a classical education. Socratic Thinking requires the constant questioning of ones' thoughts. Rhetorical devices, when used properly, are meant to either hinder or foster that very questioning. Questioning that can help an electorate to better communicate its ideals and pragmatic solutions.
Our Founding Fathers understood the value and importance of a Classical education. It was the very education they had received. It was the only educational model available. As the founders considered what kind of future the new country might have, they pondered on the infrastructure that needed to be in place for the young Republic's longevity. Thomas Jefferson is quoted as having stated "An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people" (https://www.monticello.org). Benjamin Franklin is credited with the creation of the first public library system, so the average citizen could become enlightened on any topic; the creation of the public education system, with one-room schoolhouses that provided all citizens with the fundamentals of a Classical Education (the Grammar phase of the Trivium - reading, writing, and "rithmetic"); the creation of the the first newspaper and more. Both Jefferson and Franklin founded universities that prepared young men in the arts and sciences within the context of the full spectrum of a Classical Education. They understood that what made the United States of America special was the the first amendment. Ultimately, the first amendment allows for the ability of all of America's representatives and citizens alike to comprehend each other through the written word on a basic foundational level. This allowed for open debate and discussion and most importantly compromise. It was Aristotle that stated "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it".
Lacking this fundamental ability to think critically in the way of the ancient philosophers would inevitably lead to civil unrest and possibly even civil war.
Today 244 years after the creation of our nation and a century or so after industrialization and urbanization completely altered the purpose of public education as Ben Franklin envisioned it, our public school system (and most of the private schools) no longer teach a Classical Education curriculum. From the need to teach children to follow rules and do one thing well to the current shiny bells and whistles of the technology heavy STEM movement and apparent pragmatic equalizer of the standardized exams have replaced learning for learning's sake. It is no longer the purpose of government run school to create an educated citizenry in order to maintain a free people, but rather to create a "productive" working class. This shift in our educational systems is significant and affects the way individuals exist and co-exist with each other and the world. It is not surprising that so many our our modern societal problems stem from the lack of virtue, honor, and introspection on one's humanity - all crucial components to Socratic Thinking and a Classical Education.
As a graduate of a Classical Education I know the feelings that emerge from being a classically educated student. I do not measure my success and therefore my worth through my financial status. I see myself as having a direct connection to all living things, my brain and my soul are equally important to nurture, and that my life is a success based on how I conduct myself in relation to my values, my honor, my virtue, and my soul. And while it is extremely thrilling to be the only student in a room of 300 that knows the answer to the question "in what year was the fall of Rome", it is equally satisfying to engage in a discussion without a "winner". My classical education has afforded me both experiences. I now seek to provide those experiences to my students. The idea that a thinker is a human being and a human being a thinker, and that an education is the structured opportunity to develop thoughts; not a structured opportunity to indoctrinate young people to become human drones more consumed by consumerism than by the contributions that come from deep conversations with one's self and each other. It is in the discovery of who we are that we discover our purpose.