With Insights from Dr. Benjamin Beier
It is no secret that Florida public schools are failing our children. Issues ranging from abysmal literacy rates to politically charged curriculums have left parents, teachers, and guardians disillusioned with America’s default method of education. So, the following question has emerged: Is there a better way? In response, many figures have suggested classical education as an antidote to the ills of Florida’s current education system. While this alternative promises a better education for our children now, and consequently, better futures for them later, awareness for this method is still woefully lacking. Thus, the following is a crash-course on exactly what classical education is, why you should do it, and how. Contributing to this brief study is Dr. Benjamin Beier, who Florida Citizens Alliance recently had the pleasure of interviewing. Dr. Beier, who received his Ph.D. in English from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, is currently serving as an Education professor at Hillsdale College. His reflections on the value and nature of classical education are widely published and read, making him an expert witness for the following trial of merit. With his help, FLCA hopes to inspire a greater appreciation for and understanding of classical education as a viable alternative to the standard K-12 education Florida public schools offer.
Classical education, most simply defined, is an educative method based upon the liberal arts study of the Trivium and Quadrivium. The Trivium, which is studied first, consists of grammar, logic, and rhetoric, while the Quadrivium consists of the mathematical arts of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. Throughout this course of study, exposure to the Western literary Canon is emphasized. Additionally, the classical model of education typically entails the study of Classical languages, such as Latin or Greek. A full understanding of what classical education is cannot be established without also appreciating its historical basis. Classical education relies upon the solid, liberal arts foundation that has defined the West’s educative process for over 2500 years. Its practice can be traced from Ancient Greece and Rome to the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and finally, to the twenty-first century. Many of the world’s greatest innovators—such as Albert Einstein, Thomas Jefferson, and Marie Currie—were classically educated. There is a reason this method is so enduring and influential: it works.
Unlike the approaches utilized in most public schools, classical education does not emphasize college preparation for the mere sake of college preparation. Rather, it seeks the development of the whole person, and trusts that proper preparations for secondary-education pursuits will naturally follow. This philosophy has proven to be remarkably effective; classically educated students perform better on standardized testing, maintain higher college GPAs, and report feeling generally more prepared for their college experience than their publicly educated peers. Even more impressive is the effect classical education can have on the character of its students; classically-educated adults report having higher levels of gratitude, and claim a greater ability to withstand suffering. Clearly, there is no shortage of good reasons to seek a classical education for our children. Yet, the question remains: how?
Thankfully, due to the exponential growth it’s seen in the United States since the early 1980s, classical education is becoming more and more accessible. Still, transitioning out of the default methods of education offered in our public schools–though worthwhile—is not easy. We asked Dr. Beier to share what he thinks is the greatest challenge parents and guardians face when seeking to properly educate their children, and he responded as follows:
I think there are two related challenges. One is a lack of trust in themselves. Parents, as I understand and as I think is the case, are the primary educators of their children. Nobody has a better interest in the child’s good and future than the parent, and I think there was a time when parents maybe understood and embraced that a little better, and were decisive in making educational choices. Actually, I think maybe one of the pandemic blessings is a bit of a recovery of that. A lot of parents were forced into temporary homeschooling, who then realized “hey, I can do this!” or “I’m doing this better than what I’m seeing on the Zoom screen!” The second point is that I think sometimes parents are struggling with […] a lack of options. […] Getting parents options, though […] we talk about school choice, and that’s a step in the right direction, but then there are subsequent conversations to have about what the different ideal options would be.
As Dr. Beier notes, overcoming the intimidation of such an important decision and trusting oneself to choose what is right is oftentimes the first and most crucial step parents and guardians must take when seeking a classical education for their children. Additionally, Dr. Beier rightly acknowledges the persistent lack of choices parental figures face. This is an issue Florida Citizens Alliance was founded to resolve; in fact, one of the three pillars of FLCA’s mission is to provide alternative education resources through our Liberty Scholar initiative. FLCA is an enthusiastic partner in the parent and guardian’s pursuit of better education options, and we offer a plethora of resources aimed at this exact end. Above all, it is vital that we do not surrender in the face of challenges, but instead take courage, and continue seeking the very best—and preferably, classical—education for our children.