My Case for Classical Education

A week or two ago, I wrote a statement of interest for Signum University's summit on teaching the humanities, and realized that in order to talk about why I was interested, I needed to start by talking about my education before college.  It always feels to me like a gross misrepresentation when job applications only give the option of reporting educational history beginning with college -- the years that came before were incredibly formative and what I did in college felt like a continuation of my previous education, not like the beginning of something new.

I was talking with my friend Catie (currently getting her MA in Higher Education) about this and she made the point that college really should be a capstone.

And then I was talking with my mom about it all, and she said that it was encouraging and why didn't I publicly share what I had written, so that others who are deep in educating their kids might also be encouraged by the perspective of a formerly homeschooled student a few (ha!) years out from the experience?

So here you go.

photo by Francesca Tosolini, from Unsplash

"My interest stems first from my own experiences as a student, and then from my experience as an educator. My education through high school was driven by attention to the classics, and while I can’t say that I always appreciated or enjoyed having to study Latin as a young student, I had a sense that I was being given a rich heritage by having access to and familiarity with primary sources and the voices of authors from across a wide span of history. I was expected to read their works for myself and to interact with them, and from doing so, I gained a confidence that I too could have a place in the conversation which they seemed to be having — that they were, in some sense, my teachers and mentors, and that my work and life would be a continuation of this conversation. Literature, history, and theology in particular intertwined to shape me and I always felt welcomed into the dialogue of the ages. This education laid a path for me to study Biblical Languages as an undergraduate major, along with an independent major in Cross-cultural Studies; having developed the habit of getting to think about issues from a variety of perspectives to inform how I should live, I wanted to be able to continue that on a global scale.

This feeling of access, of being welcomed into a great conversation that has been going on for ages and across cultures, of grappling with and hearing others’ perspectives on what it means to be human and how to live well (from decisions of historic monument to apparently mundane ethics of everyday life), has been a major motivation to me in championing the importance of the humanities. If education is only about training specific skills sets for a job, we lose something of the depth and beauty of what it means to be human. As educators, I believe we bear a responsibility for helping to develop that depth in our students.

I worked as a teacher for four years in two colleges in China; first for one year in the northeast, and then for three years in the southwest. Although the stated subject of the courses that I taught was English, I quickly realized that learning English as such was not the main problem that most of my students were facing — they had a much greater need to develop their ability to think both creatively and critically. They had to learn, often, to care — and that it mattered what they cared about, that what was needed wasn’t simply perfect grammar or standard pronunciation, but their own voices and ability to effectively communicate their own experiences and views of the world, to interact with others and negotiate about what they believed to be beautiful and true. Both inside the classroom and outside, during shared meals and open office hours, many of my interactions with students were aimed at helping them to see a bigger picture of the world and to, in the words of Steve Garber, both know the world and love it. For two years of my time in Sichuan, I served as the Teaching Specialist for English Language Institute China (ELIC)’s Chengdu-based team of teachers, helping to develop resources that would be used across the Asian and Middle Eastern countries where ELIC places teachers. A facet of my role was also meeting with and mentoring teachers, helping them to think through educational and relational issues that they faced in the classroom. 

All of that background is in order to explain that, although I have not taught humanities per se, I have considerable experience in helping to think through issues involved in non-traditional education and in being a part of developing and implementing solutions. I bring the joy and richness of my own experience as a student who was always confident that I had a place at the table and a voice worth hearing, along with familiarity with some of the foundational Western languages (Latin and Koine Greek) and a good bit of experience engaging in the works of theologians and philosophers. I have tutored for these subjects, both formally and informally, and made a practice of integrating their themes in cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural ways."

Studying the humanities, the classics, offers students the chance to learn from those who have come before us and to contribute to the flourishing of the world, as well as their own growth. 

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