Classics Make Comeback

By Duin, Julia | Insight on the News, November 16, 1998 | Go to article overview

Classics Make Comeback


Duin, Julia, Insight on the News


America's schools need to return to the great books, according to cultural critics who argue that 3,000 years of Western civilization need to be cherished, not forgotten.

Schools around the country, from elementary grades to colleges, are focusing more on "basics," a phenomenon that has captured the attention of scholars and publishers as well. Several authors have produced books on classical education in recent months, among them:

* Vigen Guroian, a theology and ethics professor at Loyola University in

Baltimore and author of Tending the Heart of Virtue: How Classic Stories Awaken a Child's Moral Imagination.

* Gene Veith, dean of arts and sciences at Concordia University in Wisconsin, and Andrew Kern, director of classic instruction at Foundations Academy in Boise, Idaho, coauthors of Classical Education: Towards the Revival of American Schooling.

* Os Guinness, a senior fellow at the Trinity Forum in Burke, Va., and Louise Cowan, dean of the graduate school at the University of Dallas, coauthors of Invitation to the Classics.

Knowledge of the classics wets basic to America's founders, notes Guinness, whose 365-page heavily annotated book was six years in the making, with contributions from 50 scholars. "The framers [of the Constitution] ransacked the past in a self-conscious attempt to use history to define history," he says. "They knew all the classical republics had declined and fallen, so they wanted to create a republic that was free and would remain flee."

The classic literary works, Guinness argues, have provided Western civilization with the basis for its thought. "One of the reasons classics have stood the test of time is their extraordinary depth of insight into human experience," Guinness says, especially a belief in God. "A faith perspective gives you a vantage point from outside history so you are not captive as a child of your time."

Colleges and schools rooted in religious faith are among the most committed to the liberal arts, agree authors Veith and Kern, who note that classical education is aimed at the appreciation of the true, the good and the beautiful. In their book, they review the history of classical curriculum that remains relevant.

Classical education was divided into the seven liberal arts in the Middle Ages: the trivium of grammar, logic and rhetoric, and the quadrivium of mathematics, music, astronomy and geometry. Once these arts of learning were mastered, students were equipped for the study of the sciences: natural science, moral science and theological science.

The trivium remains the foundation of learning applied to young children, who learn the basics of language (grammar), how to reason clearly using language (logic) and how to apply language personally in an effective way (rhetoric). …

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