Monday, September 10, 2007

Latin-Based Classical Education

From Thursday Night Gumbo I learn about a "new" approach to classical education based on Andrew Campbell's book, the Latin-Centered Curriculim, that I'm quite sure I would be sympathetic with because of its emphasis on the Trivium and Quadrivium. The trivium seems like the more classical version than the neo-trivium of Dorothy Sayers.

Here's is a list of the characteristics of Classic Education that appear on the web page:

  • Classical education treats classical languages and mathematics as the organizing principles of education. These subjects can only be mastered by orderly, systematic study over a period of many years. They provide the best training for "learning how to learn" and the most solid foundation for further study in literature, history, and science.
  • Classical education recognizes that memory, analysis, and expression are important facets of learning at all levels. It therefore treats the medieval Trivium subjects - Latin grammar, logic, and rhetoric - as disciplines in their own right. It suggests that to place undo emphasis on “ages and stages” can lead to rigidity in the curriculum and an unnatural emphasis on technique in teaching.
  • Classical education is holistic: it trains not only the mind, but also the emotions, the will, and the aesthetic sense. It fosters love for the Good, the True, and the Beautiful wherever they may be found. Its goal is to produce men and women both knowledgeable and virtuous: good persons speaking well.
  • Classical education is traditional and conservative in the sense that it seeks to hand on to each new generation "the best that has been thought and said in the world." It stands for the Permanent Things. It mitigates against chronological snobbery by setting our current concerns against the backdrop of history and requiring us to take long views. It lays upon us the responsibility of doing our part to preserve and transmit the accumulated wisdom of the race.
  • Classical education rests on the principle of multum non multa: quality, not quantity. It does not let the good crowd out the best. Rather than rushing students from book to book, from author to author, classical education invites students to contemplate the representative masterpieces of each historical period. It gives entree into the Great Conversation by allowing students to speak at length with the master teachers of the last three millennia.
  • Classical education unites the great spiritual and intellectual streams of the West, rising from Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome. As such, it represents the common cultural patrimony of both Christians and non-Christians.
This is pretty much the position I've come to over the years. I'll have to look into this further.


Woodward said...

Robert --

I'm glad to see that the Latin Centered Curriculum sparked your interest.

Medieval pedagogical models have long been popular with Christian -- and even some secular -- home schoolers. Campbell's vision of that model is more historically (and culturally) rooted than most, and it makes a great deal of sense to me.

I'll be posting progress reports at Thursday Night Gumbo, in case you're interested in a "clinical trial" of the approach. We're not really a home school blog, but we are both home schoolers, so the subject does come up from time to time.

My primary sense of inadequacy right now has to do with teaching Greek -- a language and literature that Campbell regards as essential to the curriculum, but a language that -- alas -- I do not know. I recently found out that when St. Robert Bellarmine was assigned to teach classics to Jesuit seminarians, he learned the Greek lessons the day before he had to teach them to his students. I'm thinking about adopting that saintly approach....

LH said...

We are long-time homeschoolers. The LCC book seems to match a lot of what we do.
Focus on the basics, on the languages (math, latin, greek, music) and lots of reading.

J.C. said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but Andrew Campbell presents a critical view of what he regards as the corrupting influence of the Catholic Church on the ideals of classical liberal arts education. Basically, his premise seems to be that to be more genuinely classical (so to speak), you must try to expunge the Church's scholastic influence and emulate either the ancients or classicism after the Renaissance (i.e. Reformation). Catholics ascribe to classicism as a means to an end, namely, to better know God. Andrew Campbell, and the self-labeled non-denominational crowd at Memoria Press, are forced to secularize classicism. This leads Andrew Campbell to criticisms of scholastic era such as "Logic was studied less for its own sake than as a handmaid to law and theology (page 11, if my notes are right). I think this critical perspective may stem from his Eastern Catholic affiliation. I think that it's very fun and interesting to compare what he calls the Latin-centered approach with Trivium Classicism, if you will, but my primary objection is to his and Memoria Press's non-denominational philosophy. I love their products, but I differ in the belief that Catholic theology is the right end of education. If you want a real Catholic perspective on the liberal arts education, read Christopher Derrick's Escape from Scepticism.

J.C. said...

Whoops! I found this lone blog entry on a search and wasn't able to access the rest of your site. I see now that you have since discovered Christopher Derrick! Quite an improvement over Andrew Campbell, wouldn't you agree?

Robert said...

I haven't read Campbell's book, so can't evaluate his approach per se. I like this list, though because I tend toward the rhetorical, rather than the philosophical, to use Bruce Kimball's (and Christopher Dawson's) distinction.

I took the idea that the components of the trivium were disciplines in their own right not as a contrast with theology, but with Dorothy Sayers idea that all disciplines have their own form of the trivium.

I think the classical trivium studied as disciplines, good catechesis and mystagogia, and good literature are the proper preamble for what Andrew Seeley has called the sapiential disciplines--philosophy, theology, etc..

I also think a purely great books approach is inadequate, for the reasons Fr. Schall mentions in A Student's Guide to Liberal Larning, which I'm mentioned on this page. Wyoming Catholic college seems to recognize this by teaching the Trivium through the four years of undergraduate studies.

I agree with Newman that philosophy which opens up to theology is the coordinating discipline of undergraduate education and believe that scientific theology is an advanced study for upper classmen.

There. I've expressed all my main thoughts about these things.