Should I use Classical Curriculum? No. It sucks.

Before we can even talk about the merits of Classical Curriculum we need to talk about the mob-like business of creating confusion to generate profit.

There are laws governing trademarks so that people don’t trademark names that cause confusion. For example, people constantly grab Penelope Trunk when there is a new social platform, and they think I will buy the account from them. But I can just write an email to the owners of the platform and they will give me my name because giving anyone else my name will be purposely causing confusion for the consumer.

That’s why I’m shocked that a company can trademark “classical curriculum.” It seems to me we have been using this term since the Middle Ages. In fact, claiming ownership of classical curriculum seems like claiming ownership of Middle Ages. There is no way to not have confusion. And, of course, this is the very point. If you own a term, then you can have a lawyer stop anyone else from saying they provide classical curriculum, and you can look like you are the only source.

Ironically, the company was able to get a trademark on Classical Curriculum because it’s grammatically incorrect. Classic means high-quality and traditional. Classical is an adjective to describe the art and music movements of a time period that has nothing to do with classic curricula. So the reason the company can trademark Classical Curriculum is that it makes no sense.

1. A classic education is grammar and logic. That’s it.

The classic education that has persisted in Western history is grammar and logic. The core of the logical part of this education is Plato. And he is one of the most anti-Christian philosophers I can think of. Plato thinks there should be a caste system. And some people are stupid and should have lives for stupid people. And people with the highest IQs should be treated like kings, Philosopher Kings. Whether or not you agree with this premise, it’s definitely not what Jesus taught in the New Testament.

Classical Curriculum is a distorted version of classic education, but Malcolm Tozer shows us there is a long history of organizations tweaking classic education to include a wide range of convenient topics, including gambling. So you could say that Classical Curriculum’s corruption of a classic education is classic.

2. The classical Christian education requires very little emphasis on learning.

The last time people were teaching their kids a classic education was at the beginning of the Renaissance. If you want your kid to be educated like monks and nuns in the Middle Ages, then you can just send them to Sunday school. They will learn everything they need to know there. Remember: monks and nuns were primarily scribes and caretakers of orphans.

Today our mechanisms for learning are much more efficient than during the time when people were getting a “classic, Christian education.” So it doesn’t take very much schooling to get your kids up to speed. Reading the Bible in Latin? No problem. Jewish kids learn to read the Bible in three years of bi-weekly Hebrew school. I’m sure Christian kids can do the same with Latin—those Bible stories have a relatively limited vocabulary.

3. Parents feel good about Classical Curriculum because: Latin.

Yes, this is petty, but I can’t help feeling that incessant parental chatter about Latin is lame. It’s been a long time since Latin impressed anyone.

In the Middle Ages when there were few books and few teachers, the kids who knew Latin were geniuses (and probably autistic). But today Latin is one of the easiest languages to learn because you never have to speak it. It’s literally 50% easier to learn than any other language.

On top of that, by the middle of the Renaissance, Latin was not the language of scholars. Some of the people most knowledgeable of Latin were orphans. Because the only use of Latin at that point was Christian mass, and the only people cheap enough (i.e., free) to hire to sing mass were orphans.

This discussion of Latin makes me think, if you’re willing to learn a language you can’t speak, why not learn one of the languages that are on the verge of extinction?

4. Classical Curriculum is a series of totally inappropriate books.

Take, for example, The Story about Ping. It’s in the first-grade reading list, but the book would require historical context in order to understand the story in any beneficial way.

The story is about the very outdated practice of Chinese fishermen capturing ducks and putting rings around their necks so the ducks cannot swallow a fish. Every time the duck catches a fish the fisherman breaks off a little piece to feed to the duck. This keeps the ducks catching fish all day long because they are starving, and it means the fishermen don’t have to fish—they wait for the ducks to bring fish.

As if the premise isn’t offensive enough, the story is about Ping, the small duck who gets beaten every day for not doing what the fisherman wants. At the end of the book, Ping finally follows the rules and does not get beaten. I read this book with my kids when they were pre-teens so we could talk about cultural change. I have no idea what message people would expect first graders to get from this book except that it’s normal to get hit until you do whatever the person in charge says to do.

5. Classical Curriculum is multi-level marketing.

You pay to join by getting trained, which means buying the stuff. Then you gather up lots of people who want to join, and they buy the stuff. And you rise up in the system because you have a lot of people under you. But you don’t get any of the money for bringing people into the system. You get status because you are a leader and supposedly more knowledgeable. But it looks to me like leadership in this organization is less Dean of Students and more like Mean Girls. And it looks to me like the education you get from Classical Curriculum is how to get to the top in a world where people have little understanding of the data behind contemporary theories of education and a huge understanding of social pecking order behind the Christian community building.

5 replies
  1. Menu
    Menu says:

    We just started a classic education for my 10-year-old daughter and really like it. Yes, I’ve recognized a risk of embracing something antiquated in this modern world but overall believe the risk is small and that the approach will give her an advantage.

  2. aquinas heard
    aquinas heard says:

    I’m very surprised to hear you write that Plato represents the logic part of the classic education. That would be Arisitotle; he is referred to, often, as the “father of logic”. You are way off when you describe Plato as one of the most anti-Christian philosophers out there. How about this? If it was not for Plato’s powerful philosophical influence after his death, it is very unlikely Christianity would have spread as pervasively as it did. See Augustine. I’m surprised you don’t see any connection between Plato’s philosopher kings and the rise of the Catholic church. You are focusing on Plato’s politics, which is derivative. It’s a philosopher’s views on epistemology and ethics that has the greatest historical/cultural impact.

    When I had my elementary school, many years ago, we used Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise’s The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home as the framework for our curriculum. I still think there are some merits to it – if the child says that is how they want to learn.

  3. Aquinas
    Aquinas says:

    Rereading your post got me thinking about how The Classical Curriculum company is very similar (in its approach – according to your description) to the Scholatics during the Middle Ages all the way up to and a little past Galileo’s time. They took the Ancient writers and made their works into authority type texts; especially to my favorite ancient philosopher, Aristotle. The Scholatics were often (always?) on guard to make the Ancient writers’ works seem to comply (or be compatible) with church dogma. They did so by how they taught, what they emphasized, and what they excluded.

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