Articles From The Classical Teacher In Defense of Classical Education
Tracy Lee Simmons Classical Teacher, Summer 2005
Readers of English novels or American biography have often noticed the peculiar spectacle of young innocents getting carted off to school only to be cast into the thorny thicket of two ancient and difficult tongues, Greek and Latin. By threat of stinging rod, they were made to memorize the words and rules of two languages they would never speak. It was a curious affair. What was the point of it all?
Latin and Greek discipline and form the mind, but they can do far more. Taught with an aim to cultivate and humanize, they can render something more and greater to the intelligent, talented, and patient. While a classical education (defined by Latin and Greek language study) is not the only one worth having, its passing from schools and colleges has impoverished our culture and, incidentally, degraded our politics. The classical languages can shape and enhance one’s intellectual and aesthetic nature, shaping both the mind and heart.
The American soil, however, is not naturally fertile for classics, whose seed falls on hard clay. As another man of letters told us nearly eighty years ago, we as a nation possess a “weakness for new gospels,” a vital but hazardous trait, as we stand in danger of discarding both the good and useful in a quest for the dubious and untried. We pride ourselves on our capacity to reach far and entertain the fantastic idea. And we think ourselves more as doers than as thinkers. While others waxed about going to the moon, we went. We are forever on the move.
But this restless drive, which Americans are wont to think unique to us, also fuels the rest of the frenetic world, particularly in the West where – despite some multi-culturist claims - our civilization supplies the model most peoples around the globe wish to emulate. We spell Progress with a capital. Here the new is always better, the old worse; the new is always rich and relevant; the old threadbare and obsolete. Ours is the “shining city on a hill,” in John Winthrop’s memorable coinage, a city that could begin afresh because it had no past. We could start from scratch and travel lightly.
Yet having crossed the millennium, we feel a few spiritual tremors. Impetuosity does not reflect. The super-annuated, ever-changing mind cannot speak to the whole of life. It cannot contemplate; it cannot assign value. It can drive us to build new roads but it cannot explain where we want to go. It can build rockets to Mars and beyond, but it cannot tell us whether it’s wise to go there. It cannot answer questions it long ago lost the wisdom to ask. The life of the minds and souls it leaves are bereft of standards, those talking points of judgment, which are acquired only with time and patient effort...Tracy Lee Simmons is the director of the Dow Journalism program at Hillsdale College and holds a masters degree in classics from Oxford University. This article is an excerpt from his Climbing Parnassus, published by ISI (www.isi.org). memoriapress.com [ from The Daily Goose by Matthew]