Friday, February 23, 2024

Five Best Books on Classical Education

I frequently get the question from classical educators which books about classical education are the best. Here are my top five:

1. A Defence of Classical Education, by R.W. Livingstone, 1917. This book is written by someone who was a prominent classical educator in the days when classical education was the primary mode of education, but was being called into question by advocates of educational progressivism. He articulates the structure classical education as it was actually practiced in its heyday and the purpose that has always animated it.

2. Climbing Parnassus: A New Apologia for Greek and Latin, by Tracy Lee Simmons, 2007. While Livingstone describes classical education from the perspective of having taught it, Simmons speaks to it from the perspective of having gotten one in high school and in his time as a graduate student at Oxford. Beautifully written and convincingly argued, Simmons discusses the history of classical education from the ancient Greeks to the colonial and founding periods of the United States to the fateful showdown in first two decades of the 20th century, when a rising progressivism unseated the classical education that had been the only kind of education anyone knew.

3. Why Knowledge Matters: Rescuing our Children from Failed Educational Theories and The Schools We Need: and Why We Don't Have Them, by E. D. Hirsch. Hirsch doesn't call himself a "classical" educator, but his emphasis on the necessity of factual knowledge, the case for which he makes in Why Knowledge Matters, was an unstated assumption in the old classical education, and his insights into the genealogy of the progressivism that displaced classical education in the 1920s and the need to cleanse our schools of Rousseauian Romanticism that infects them in The Schools We Need is unparalleled.

4. Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture, by Werner Jaeger, 1933. Written in a time when scholars wrote not for other specialists, but for an intelligent public. Masterfully explains the classical culture of Greece, with an emphasis on how it viewed education. Jaeger wrote two doctoral dissertations on Aristotle's Metaphysics at the University of Berlin: one in Latin and one in German. It was translated into English by Gilbert Highet, a legendary American classical scholar. One of the greatest scholarly works ever written. Its two sequels, are almost as good, and his Early Christianity and Greek Paideia  (1961), which focused on classical education in the Christian tradition, should also be read by classical Christian educators.

5. Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, by Jacques Barzun. I'll just state this bluntly: Jacques Barzun was the greatest pedagogical authority since Quintilian. He was also one of, if not the greatest humanities scholar of the twentieth century, and one of the clearest writers you could ever hope to read. One of the things that distinguishes him from most of the pedagogical thinkers who dominate modern educational thinking is that he actually taught students. In a classroom. His book Teacher in America, written in 1953 was considered one of the great statements of the principles of education. Begin Here is a collection of shorter speeches and articles he wrote later in the 20th century. Each is a model of clear writing and thinking about how to educate children. It's not explicitly classical (that term was resurrected only shortly after the last of these essays was written). But insofar as they deal with real education, they can be considered classical. An ideal first book to give to a beginning classical educator and a great one to give older classical educators to remind them of the common sense principles of their craft. Available free online.

1 comment:

Heather said...

Curious to hear what book #5 is!