Conference PaperPDF Available

Seven Arts for Freedom: Seeking an Understanding of Modern Classical Education


Abstract and Figures

Classical education is a growingly popular buzzword among parochial and home educators. Thus it is helpful to understand what is meant by classical education and to explore the value of classical education for instruction and learning today. This paper surveys literature on classical education to define the term, understand the rationale for classical education, and explore research on the merits of classical education. It finds that classical education is based on the seven liberal arts divided into the trivium and quadrivium and is designed to prepare students for lifelong learning in pursuit of truth through engaging in ideas from the Great Conversation. The paper proposes more empirical research into the merits of classical education and a continued analysis and critique of its philosophy and methodology.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Seven Arts for Freedom
Seeking an Understanding of Modern Classical Education
Timothy Hagen
Department of Political Science and International Relations
Epoka University
Tirana, Albania
Abstract—Classical education is a growingly popular
buzzword among parochial and home educators. Thus
it is helpful to understand what is meant by classical
education and to explore the value of classical education
for instruction and learning today. This paper surveys
literature on classical education to define the term,
understand the rationale for classical education, and
explore research on the merits of classical education. It
finds that classical education is based on the seven
liberal arts divided into the trivium and quadrivium
and is designed to prepare students for lifelong learning
in pursuit of truth through engaging in ideas from the
Great Conversation. The paper proposes more
empirical research into the merits of classical education
and a continued analysis and critique of its philosophy
and methodology.
Keywords—classical education; philosophy;
definition; trivium; quadrivium; liberal arts
In the last two decades, “classical education” has
become the new buzzword in some parochial and
home education circles. This trend was sparked in
part by Douglass’ Wilson’s [1] Recovering the Lost
Tools of Learning, which draws inspiration and much
of the title from Dorothy Sayer’s [2] essay, “The Lost
Tools of Learning,” in which she advocated an age-
appropriate re-appropriation and implementation of
the medieval trivium of study: grammar, logic, and
rhetoric. Wilson was among the founders of the
Logos School in Moscow, Idaho in 1981 [3], and his
book helped inspire the founding of the Association
of Classical and Christian Schools (ACCS), which
has grown from 10 schools in 1994 to 236 in 2014
[4]. A similar organization, The Consortium for
Classical and Lutheran Education (CCLE), began
publishing the Classical Education Quarterly (now
the Classical Lutheran Education Journal) in 2007
Classical education, both secular and religious,
has also grown in popularity among the large home-
education community in the US, as illustrated the
popularity of Jessie Wise Bauer and Susan Wise
Bauer’s [6] The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to
Classical Education at Home. Books by one or both
of the Bauers are often found in the top ten bestseller
positions in the “Homeschooling” category at [7].
Given the rising popularity of classical
education, at least in some circles, it is important to
learn more about this seemingly new movement,
particularly its effectiveness. In this paper I therefore
present an introductory overview of some of the
diverse manifestations of classical education in the
USA today, explore the limited literature on the
effectiveness of classical education, and call for
further research into its impact on children, culture,
and future citizens. I also suggest that on the basis of
literature, three key conclusions may be drawn
regarding classical education: (a) classical education
is understood in many ways in the USA today, but
there is consensus on it being a liberal, integrated,
and both process- and content-focused education; (b)
classical education does focus on perpetuating and
nurturing a culture that pursues critical thinking and
the pursuit of truth and goodness in a
developmentally-appropriate way; (c) empirical
research on the impact of classical education is
limited and more research needs to be done.
A definition of classical education may seem
difficult to find. True, the CCLE [5] offered a
succinct definition of classical education: “By
classical education, what is meant is simply the old
stuff-the older philosophy and approach to education
that dominated the western world for hundreds of
years before the advent of a more pragmatic,
progressive model” [5: para. 1]. However, simply
returning to “the old stuff” may be problematic, as
Marrs [8] noted in his ironic critique of Hanson and
Heath’s Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical
Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom: “In
any event, we are encouraged to act and think like
Greeks. But which ones? Should Socrates be our
model . . . or his accusers?” [8:53]. Of course, the
Christian and Lutheran background of the CCLE
would likely cause them to side with Socrates, whose
unjust conviction parallels the unjust persecution of
Luther and the crucifixion of Jesus because their
claims to truth challenged the powers of the day. Yet
Marrs [8] did make a valid point: a clearer definition
of classical education is needed.
The problem of defining classical education is
not a new one. Even Aristotle [9], himself an ancient
Greek, noted that although education in his day
traditionally consisted of four well-established
branches, but that there was not yet consensus on the
value and purpose of all those branches, nor of
education in general. He noted in Politics: “The
customary branches of education are in number four;
they are- (1) reading and writing, (2) gymnastic
exercises, (3) music, to which is sometimes added (4)
drawing” [9:8.3]. Yet earlier he wrote:
For mankind are by no means agreed about the
things to be taught, whether we look to virtue or
the best life. Neither is it clear whether education
is more concerned with intellectual or with moral
virtue. The existing practice is perplexing; no
one knows on what principle we should proceed-
should the useful in life, or should virtue, or
should the higher knowledge, be the aim of our
training; all three opinions have been entertained.
Again, about the means there is no agreement;
for different persons, starting with different ideas
about the nature of virtue, naturally disagree
about the practice of it. There can be no doubt
that children should be taught those useful things
which are really necessary, but not all useful
things; for occupations are divided into liberal
and illiberal; and to young children should be
imparted only such kinds of knowledge as will
be useful to them without vulgarizing them [9:
This extended excerpt from Aristotle is
informative in a number of ways. It shows that the
argument over how to design an educational system
is not particular to the modern era, but has confronted
humanity for millennia. It anticipates the modern
debates on the place of “virtue,” particularly moral or
religious teachings in education, and it indicates that
the debate over whether education should be
designed to develop intrinsic qualities in people or
designed to equip young people with marketable
skills is also not a new one. Yet some of Aristotle’s
ideas are no longer current today: the division of
occupations into “liberal and illiberal” in the sense of
liberal occupations belonging to those who were
“free” and did not have to work for a living and
illiberal ones as the vulgar occupations of those who
had to work for a living. It appears that Aristotle did
not imagine public liberal education for all, but only
for the wealthy and the ruling classes. Thus Marrs’
[8] question about what exactly is meant by a
classical education is important. Would this mean
returning to Aristotle’s slave-holding or the pre-
twentieth-century, Western European class-based
society in which the free could pursue a life of
inquiry and the arts at the expense of the working
Although a detailed, primary-source based
survey of the development of educational theory from
the time of Aristotle to the twentieth century is
beyond the scope of this paper, one brief insight into
Martin Luther’s [10] contribution to the development
of education in general and classical education in
particular is helpful in an attempt to answer Marrs’
question before looking at possible answers from the
twentieth century. In 1524 Martin Luther [10] wrote a
letter, now called “To the Councilmen of all Cities in
Germany That They Establish and Maintain Christian
Schools.” In that letter, he argued that all children
should be given an education in the classical
languages—including Hebrew—for two key reasons:
a) to access scriptural teaching in the original
language (so as to avoid the errors in doctrine that
necessitated his own call to reform); b) to equip
citizens to be good government officials or
tradesmen. Thus Luther did not see a liberal
education as only appropriate for the leisurely
classes, but saw education as necessary for all people
to pursue truth, virtue, and practical professions,
whether in religious or government offices or as
craftsmen or merchants. Although writing before
Marrs [8] and after Aristotle [9], Luther [10]
provided a clarification to the question posed by
Marrs [8] and the questions noted by Aristotle [9]:
education should be for all, and it should equip
individuals to pursue truth and critique ideas on the
basis of primary-source evidence and to honor God
and serve others through high-quality professional
work in later life.
Moving five centuries later to the twentieth
century and early twenty-first century, I offer the
following definition as a synthesis of a number of
interpretations of classical education: Classical
education is an education in the liberal arts that is
designed to equip students to participate in the “Great
Conversation” in pursuit of truth. It is traditionally
understood to include: a) the classical trivium of
study of learning how to learn, think, and
communicate by studying grammar, logic, and
rhetoric; and b) the quadrivium of learning
mathematics and science through arithmetic, music,
geometry, and astronomy. The study of Latin and
Greek is often considered an important part of
classical education to improve both one’s
understanding of grammar and to make the works of
the ancient Greeks and Romans and medieval and
early modern scholars accessible in their original
First, classical education is designed to equip and
encourage students to pursue truth and goodness.
Although she did not limit liberal education to the
ruling class, Miriam Joseph [11], a professor for
almost 30 years at Saint Mary’s College in South
Bend, Indiana, built on Aristotle’s idea that the
ultimate goal of the liberal arts is the pursuit of truth,
illustrated in contrast to the “utilitarian or servile
The liberal arts, in contrast, teach one how to
live; they train the faculties and bring them to
perfection; they enable a person to rise above his
material environment to live an intellectual, a
rational, and therefore a free life in gaining truth.
As with Luther [10], Joseph [11] rejected
Aristotle’s [9] elite focus for education and drew on
the idea that all people should “come to a knowledge
of the truth” [1 Timothy 3:4] to argue that a classical
education is appropriate for all.
Robert Hutchins [12], former President of the
University of Chicago, also argued for liberal
education in the pursuit of that which is ultimately
good in his influential introduction to the Great
Books published by the Encyclopedia Britannica. He
titled this introduction “The Great Conversation”:
The aim of liberal education is human
excellence, both private and public (for man is a
political animal). Its object is the excellence of
man as man and man as citizen. It regards man as
an end, not as a means; and it regards the ends of
life, and not the means to it. For this reason it is
the education of free men. Other types of
education or training treat men as means to some
other end, or are at best concerned with the
means of life, with earning a living, and not with
its ends [12:49]
Joseph [11] from a Catholic tradition, and
Hutchins [12], with an obvious humanistic leaning,
may phrase their approaches to the ultimate goal of
classical liberal education differently. However, they
both likely agree with Mortimer J. Adler’s
understanding of the purpose and duty of inquiry
[13:79-81], which may be paraphrased in the
following syllogism that echoes Socrates’ exploration
of justice in Plato’s [14] Republic:
Humans should seek that which is really—and
not merely seemingly—good for them.
Knowing truth will help humans know what is
really good for them.
Thus humans should seek truth.
In this syllogism, the ultimate goal of truth that
Joseph [11] sought in classical education is shown to
facilitate the ultimate goal of human well-being that
Hutchins [12] likewise sought.
How does classical education help students
pursue the goal of truth and well-being? An answer
drawn from Joseph [11], Sayers [2], and Bauer and
Wise [6] suggests that this is done through the liberal
arts, a coherent historical, interdisciplinary approach,
and engagement with great thinkers.
A. The Seven Liberal Arts
The means by which classical education fosters
the pursuit of truth and goodness is through the
liberal arts, traditionally seven in number: the trivium
of grammar, logic, and rhetoric, and the quadrivium
of arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy [11].
The trivium is designed to equip the mind with skills
to understand and critique ideas and to clearly and
persuasively communicate them. The quadrivium is
designed to equip students with the tools to measure
and study the material world both in theory and
practice. Joseph [11] noted that just as music is the
application of arithmetic, the theory of number, so
too is astronomy an application of geometry, the
theory of space.
Joseph included all the new mathematical and
scientific fields that have developed since the time of
the ancient Greeks, whether algebra, calculus,
physics, or chemistry, as extensions of the
quadrivium. This interpretation helps bridge the gap
between the seemingly limited range of the liberal
arts in the medieval understanding and the liberal arts
as understood in modern American education of
encompassing a broad study of “literature, languages,
philosophy, history, mathematics, and science” [15].
This organization of classical education into the
seven liberal arts also hints at a developmental and
methodological approach to children and teaching.
Dorothy Sayers, to whom much of the credit for the
revival of classical education in evangelical circles in
the USA is given, argued that a child's development
matches the stages of the trivium very closely: “Now
it seems to me that the lay-out of the Trivium adapts
itself with a singular appropriateness to these three
ages: Grammar to the Poll-parrot, Dialectic to the
Pert, and Rhetoric to the Poetic Age” [2: para. 27].
This mapping of the trivium onto the developmental
stages of a child is a characteristic of modern
classical education by those in the traditions of
Wilson [1] and Bauer and Wise [6]. Susan Wise
Bauer and Jessie Wise, in their popular book on
classical education—The Well-Trained Mind: A
Guide to Classical Education at Home—argued that
“classical education follows a specific three-part
pattern: the mind must be first supplied with facts and
images, then given the logical tools for organization
of those facts and images, and finally equipped to
express conclusions” [6:15]. This mapping of the
trivium onto a child’s developmental stages has
become a characteristic of modern classical
education, but some argue that this is a modern
attempt to harmonize classical education with more
recent, progressive forms of education and that the
developmental stages have nothing to do with pre-
twentieth century classical education [16]. Indeed,
the parallels between the stages suggested by Sayers
and those of Piaget [17] are noteworthy, as illustrated
in Table 1.
Parallels between Modern Classical and Piaget’s
Developmental Stages
Trivium Sayers’
stages [2] Grades [6] Piaget’s Developmental
Stages [17]
Grammar Poll-
parrot Elementary Pre-operational (2-
7yrs) and concrete
operational (7-11yrs)
Logic Pert Middle Formal operational
Rhetoric Poetic High School
Piaget [17] argued that in the pre-operational
stage between the ages of two to seven, a child gains
language skills and classification skills, and that in
the concrete operational stage of seven to eleven
years of age, a child begins logical operations with
concrete concepts (not abstractions). These stages of
language, classification, and concrete logical thinking
would match well with Sayer’s [2] proposed stages
and Bauer and Wise’s [6] grade levels. Furthermore,
the formal operational stage that Piaget described
[17] in which children are able to think abstractly,
would fit well with Sayer’s [2] “pert” and “poetic”
stages in which children refine their logical thinking
skills. Piaget’s stages [17] do not as clearly parallel
the rhetoric stage, but Piaget would likely agree that
language and communication skills are refined with
age and with acquisition of more advanced and
abstract logical thinking skills.
Although Michael [16] disagreed with Sayer’s
interpretation of the trivium in a developmental
perspective, and although the participants in the
debates over social studies curriculum in Arizona
were seen as pitting a Piagetian philosophy against a
core-knowledge approach that Hinde and Perry [18]
associated with the classical education movement,
other evidence also suggests that the classical
education system has a developmentally-appropriate
Without explicitly saying that they were doing
this, Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren
followed the trivium model in their How to Read a
Book [19]. They began by describing elementary
reading, which focuses on understanding the text at
the elementary level—what the words and sentences
mean. They then progressed to analytical reading, or
reading to really understand the logic and argument
of the author. Here they focused first on how to
understand the argument of the author, then how to
logically critique that argument. Finally, they
concluded with a chapter on syntopical reading, or
reading that brings authors into conversation. This
level parallels the rhetorical level of the trivium.
Thus, without explicitly using the vocabulary of the
trivium, they precisely followed the grammar-logic-
rhetoric steps of the trivium in their work. The study
of the trivium in classical, liberal education is seen as
a way to equip the mind to later deal with the
“subjects” of other academic study [2].
The “grammar” element of the trivium does
leave room for some debate. The relevance of
classical languages to the classical education model
may not be agreed upon by all. Classical education is
rooted in the classical teaching and literature from
ancient Greece and Rome and for much of the history
of classical education, students have learned these
languages. Yet the learning of foreign languages has
not always been a part of classical education—Power
[20] noted that the ancient Greeks thought other
languages barbaric and only studied their own—but
since the time of the ancient Romans, students in
classical education have studied other foreign
languages to better access ideas from foreign writhers
in the purity of their original expression. Since that
time, many students have imitated the ancient
Romans and studied both Latin and Greek [20].
However, Robert Hutchins [12] noted that
overemphasizing the classical languages at the
expense of the ideas in the ancient writings has
prevented some from accessing the most important
part of a liberal education:
The classical books, it was thought, could be
studied only in the original languages, and a
student might attend courses in Plato and
Lucretius for years without discovering that they
had any ideas. His professors were unlikely to be
interested in ideas. They were interested in
philological details. The liberal arts in their
hands degenerated into meaningless drill [12:58].
Despite the unpopularity of studying classical
languages, some argue for its continued inclusion.
Cooper et al. [21] found that students who study
Latin had higher SAT results on average than
students of other foreign languages in the US. Sayers
[2] argued that the key criteria for the grammar stage
of the trivium is the study of a highly-inflected
language such as Latin or Russian to as to better
equip students with an understanding of grammar that
is difficult to grasp when studying a word-order-
intensive language such as English. Although any
highly-inflected language would serve the purposes
of learning grammar well, Sayers [2] favored Latin
because it allows students to access thousands of
years of scholarly, literary, religious, and historical
work from the Roman Empire and its successor
states. Furthermore, studying Latin simplifies
communication in the Romance languages and
improves one's understanding of English and
scientific vocabulary [2].
Thus many classic schools today do advocate the
study of classic languages, both to improve one’s
understanding of grammar through the study of a
highly inflected language such as Latin, and to equip
students to authentically connect with the original
ideas of writers in the “Great Conversation,” many of
whom wrote in the classical languages.1
B. Interdisciplinary Integration of Knowledge
A second characteristic of the implementation of
classical education is its interdisciplinary integration
of knowledge. Joseph [11] cited John Henry
Newman for the coherent, sense-making and
knowledge-webbing characteristic of liberal
In true liberal education, as Newman
explained, the essential activity of the
student is to relate facts learned into a
unified, organic whole, to assimilate them as
the body assimilates food or as the rose
assimilates food from the soil and increases
in size, vitality, and beauty. A learner must
use mental hooks and eyes to join the facts
together to form a significant whole. This
makes learning easier, more interesting, and
much more valuable. The accumulation of
facts is mere information and is not worthy
to be called education since it burdens the
mind and stultifies it instead of developing,
1 It may be worthy of note that Albanian is a highly inflected
language; thus Albanian students have the advantage of learning
grammar well without needing to study a foreign language.
enlightening, and perfecting it. Even if one
forgets many of the facts once learned and
related, he mind retains its vigor and
perfection gained by its exercise upon them.
In fact, the argument that students with a liberal
education work towards making sense of the facts
they learn in order to “form a significant whole”
suggests that fundamentally, classical education, for
all its seeming modern rejection of the constructivist
learning of the twentieth century, is not unlike forms
of constructivist learning insofar as it asks students
“to grapple with facts and ideas” and seek a coherent
sense and meaning in them.
Although the human, constructivist tendency of
trying to create narratives to explain what we see may
be described as the “illusion of causality” [22: p. 76],
classical education does try to find coherence and
unity through placing learning in the context of
history. Bauer and Wise [6] noted: “to the classical
mind, all knowledge is interrelated” and that a
classical education takes “history as its organizing
outline, beginning with the ancients and progressing
forward to the moderns in history, science, literature,
art, and music.” This focus on the interrelatedness of
knowledge fits with the Greco-Roman tradition of
trying to learn about the material world and the
Abrahamic faith understanding that the universe is
created by a rational being and is following a
trajectory of history with a beginning and an end;
thus the world is knowable and history is meaningful
C. Engagement with Great Thinkers.
History not only provides an integration of
knowledge for classical students, but it also provides
a broad canon of literature from which to draw ideas
and lessons that may be of use in the present.
Hutchins referred to this historical canon as the Great
Conversation: “The tradition of the West is embodied
in the Great Conversation that began in the dawn of
history and that continues to the present day” (12:
48]. Sedlacek [23] noted that the study of history is
not “a useless display of its blind alleys” but rather
“the fullest possible scope of study of a menu that the
given field can offer” [23:4]. That is, studying history
provides us with a broad spectrum of ideas that may
challenge our own thinking or provide us with
excellent models that we can imitate or appropriate.
History, thus, has both a unifying function in
classical education and a “menu” function of
providing students with a range of ideas and truth-
claims to analyze, critique, and perhaps appropriate.
A brief look at classical education thus shows
that it is intended to help humans find truth and in
finding truth, to find goodness. It seeks to pursue
truth by nurturing students in the seven liberal arts.
The trivium equips students with the mental skills to
define, analyze, and communicate ideas as well as
critique those of others. The quadrivium equips
students with the theoretical and practical skills to
make sense and master the material world around
them. Sayer’s [2] suggestion that the trivium provides
a model of a developmentally-appropriate approach
to education does seem to agree in part with Piaget’s
[17] understanding of cognitive development, despite
many opinions to the contrary [16, 18]. Classical,
liberal education is based on the idea that the
universe as a knowable place with linear history and
thus worthy of careful, integrated study. Furthermore,
a study of history unifies knowledge into a coherent
story and provides learners with a wide range of truth
claims to analyze, critique, and perhaps use. Finally,
classical education is designed to familiarize students
with the “Great Ideas” in “Great Books” by
influential authors and thereby facilitate discussion in
search for truth.
Before moving on to the theoretical and
empirical evidence for classical education, a further
note on the history of classical education in the USA
during the last century may be helpful. Although
classical education seems to be making a comeback
after decades of decline, the roots of its revival are
not as recent. It is true that the focus on classical
languages and instruction experienced a decline in
popularity in the early twentieth century [8, 24]. Yet
as evidenced by Sayer’s [2] essay, classical education
experienced had supporters in the mid-twentieth
century. This support gained momentum, albeit
without the focus on classical languages, with the
Great Books program promoted by Mortimer J. Adler
and Robert Hutchins in the 1950’s [12] and the
Paideia Proposal by Mortimer J. Adler [25] and the
Paideia Group in the 1980’s, 1990’s. The Great
Books [12] and the Paideia Proposal [25], focused
on critical, logical inquiry into the great ideas of
human history through reading and discussing key
texts. This movement continues through the present
[26, 27, 28, 29, 30] and has often been adapted to
include a body of literature much more diverse than
originally proposed by Adler [25] and Hutchins [12],
but still with the originally-intended critical, Socratic-
discussion-based approach. As Hinde and Perry [18]
noted, the core knowledge movement initiated by E.
D. Hirsch may be loosely linked to the classical
education movement insofar as it focuses on the need
to acquire familiarity with the terms and concepts of
a culture in order to effectively engage with texts
from that culture, with his main focus on western
civilization [31]. The Core Knowledge Foundation
speaks of more than 1,000 schools that have adopted
its curriculum [31], thus the impact of this type of
content-rich education is apparent. Although classical
education in terms of schools that focus on classical
languages did decline in popularity in the early
twentieth century and only recently has experienced a
small comeback, other key ideas of a liberal
education and the need to critically engage with
primary sources from the Great Conversation in an
integrated manner have achieved widespread
popularity in the USA during the twentieth century.
For all the impressions of revival, some, such as
Michael [16], would argue that some schools, such as
the Classical Liberal Arts Academy, maintain a form
of classical Catholic education that is not “pseudo-
classical” but provides instruction in the classical
languages, engagement with primary sources in the
original language, a rejection of “progressive”
educational techniques, and an education in the spirit
of the “Blessed John Henry Newman, St. Ignatius, St.
Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, Cicero, Aristotle
and all of history’s wise men” [16:8]. It is possible to
find common themes in many forms of classical
education and its spin-offs, but the definition is not
wholly agreed-upon.
What, then, is the evidence for the effectiveness
of classical education? I will survey two types of
evidence: theoretical/deductive arguments and
empirical studies.
A. Theoretical and Deductive Arguments
Peter Kreeft [32:26] stated that in a deductive
argument, “all the terms must be clear.” The
preceding attempt to define classical education may
not fulfill the standards for a definition of terms;
however, the author hopes that it has decreased the
ambiguity of the term “classical education.”
Following a clarification of the terms, Kreeft states
that “all the premises must be true” and “the
argument must be logically valid” [32:26]. In this
section I attempt to review the deductive argument
for classical education by looking at the premises and
logic used in its favor. The subsequent section will
explore the inductive, study-based arguments and
evidence for classical education.
The deductive argument for classical education
is based on need to find truth. If humans want what is
best, then they must know the truth in order to know
what to want. This argument was presented above as
a paraphrase of Mortimer J. Adler’s argument in Six
Great Ideas [13]. He argued that we should seek truth
because we have “a categorical prescription that is
self-evidently true, the injunction that we ought to
want and seek whatever is really good for us” [13:
81]. Thus the following logic emerges:
“We ought to want and seek whatever is really
good for us” [13:81].
A liberal education helps us seek whatever is
really good for us.
Thus, we should implement a liberal education.
Obviously, Adler assumes that ultimate truth
exists. Although some disagree, the assumption is
self-evidently true because the contrary claim—that
ultimate truth does not exist—is itself a claim of
ultimate truth and is thus a self-contradictory,
untenable statement.
Because a classical, liberal education equips
students with the trivium of critical thinking and
persuasive speech, the quadrivium of mathematical
and scientific analysis, an introduction to “the Great
Conversation that began in the dawn of history and
that continues to the present day” [12:48], and critical
discussion on the Great Ideas in that conversation, it
is an excellent tool to prepare individuals for life-
long learning in pursuit of truth, which in turn should
lead us to “whatever is really good for us.” This is the
essence of the deductive argument for classical
Knowing the truth—or at least that which is most
probably true—about what is really good for us helps
us to put the productive arts into their proper place.
Humankind’s ability to manipulate the material world
through applications of math, science, and
technology creates tremendous potential to do good
or inflict evil. Seeking and trying to understand truth
helps us know better how to use and constrain our
influence over nature—to use our powerful means for
worthy ends.
Furthermore, pursuing truth enables us to make
better decisions as citizens. Margaret Nussbaum
argued that a liberal education draws “on Socrates’
concept of ‘the examined life,’ on Aristotle’s notion
of reflective citizenship, and above all on Greek and
Roman Stoic notions of an education that is ‘liberal’
in that it liberates the mind from the bondage of habit
and custom, producing people who can function with
sensitivity and alertness as citizens of the whole
world” [33].
Drawing from Martin Luther [10] and Dorothy
Sayers [2], the argument for the classical languages
could be given as follows:
Important ideas should be accurately understood
and communicated.
Reading important ideas in the original language
is the best way to accurately understand and
receive communication from wise people of the
Thus, we should learn the languages in which the
most important ideas were originally written.
Furthermore, drawing from Dorothy Sayers [2],
Piaget’s theories [17] and the implicit arguments in
Adler and Van Doren [19], the theoretical argument
for a child-development-oriented approach to
classical education is as follows:
Children should be taught in the scope and
sequence that best fits their developmental
Children and novices in any subject learn best in
the following sequence: grammar, logic, rhetoric.
Thus the grammar, logic, and rhetoric stages can
be used in organizing the scope and sequence of
education for children and novices.
The deductive argument for classical education
is thus founded on the pursuit of truth and the need to
clearly communicate ideas and to follow human
developmental patterns.
B. Empirical Evidence
An inductive approach of drawing conclusions
based on examples may help in evaluating the
success and usefulness of classical education.
The ACCS [4] claimed that students in its
member schools score higher on average on SATs
than students in public, private religious, or private
independent schools in the USA. The data for public,
private religious, and private independent schools are
taken from The Council for American Private
Education [34], and the ACCS SAT scores are taken
from a survey of 417 students in 31 member schools
[4]. Presumably students attending classical and
Christian schools would not be significantly different
demographically from students attending private
religious or private independent schools, which gives
some credence to the statistics showing an advantage
from classical and Christian education; however,
such demographic variables were not explicitly
controlled for.
A study by Splittgerber [35] comparing student
scores in non-classical Lutheran schools in the USA
with those in classical Lutheran schools showed
opposite trends in student scores over time. In the
lower grades, students in non-classical Lutheran
schools scored better than students in classical
Lutheran schools, yet starting in fourth grade and
continuing through eighth grade, the scores of
students in classical Lutheran schools outperformed
students in the non-classical Lutheran schools.
Splittgerber [35] claimed to be perplexed by the
findings but speculated that perhaps the introduction
of Latin in third grade may contribute to the
subsequent fourth-grade and following advantage for
students in classical schools. This finding may
suggest that for the younger grades, the
memorization- and grammar-intensive approach may
not be the best, but that the appeals to grammar and
logic in the middle grades are very beneficial to
students. It may be helpful to research whether the
study of Latin or other highly inflected language
before third grade would improve the scores of the
younger students earlier. Learning a language earlier
through immersion and memorization would accord
with Sayers’ [2] and Piaget’s [17] developmental
Splittgerber’s [35] study noted the lack of
empirical quantitative data on the outcomes of
classical education. His study was a quasi-
experimental one in which he matched six classical
Lutheran schools with 587 student test scores
reported with nine similar non-classical Lutheran
schools with 462 reported test scores. His article
does provide some evidence that classical education
is beneficial for middle-grade students and that an
advantage appears and continues the year after
students begin studying Latin.
Mortimer J. Adler’s The Paideia Proposal: An
Educational Manifesto [25] was an attempt to
encourage schools to use a more classic-based
coaching and Socratic discussion approach to
teaching in addition to traditional didactic forms [36].
Studies found that teachers, students, and parents
liked Paideia programs [26, 29, 30], that critical-
thinking tests showed inconclusive results on that
advantages of the Socratic seminars [28, 29], but that
writing tests suggested and advantage for students
who participate in the Socratic seminars, most likely
because the seminars encouraged critical, discussion-
based engagement with texts, which in turn improved
a student’s ability to analyze a text in writing [27,
Hinde and Perry [18] associated the core
knowledge program proposed by E. D. Hirsch, Jr. in
a larger content-focused education philosophy with
Susan Wise and Jessie Bauer [6], who are proponents
of classical education. Hinde and Perry [18] noted
that little research has been done on the effectiveness
of the “expanding communities” or the “core
knowledge” social studies curricula in fostering
democratic values. The authors did cite a few studies
noting slight advantages in creativity and learning for
programs committed to the core knowledge
philosophy, but critiqued those who reject the
content-focused philosophy of education as basing
arguments on “strongly held philosophical positions
concerning developmental appropriateness rather
than on valid assertions based on research” [18:70].
They noted that these “philosophical positions” are
based on Piaget’s theory of child development, but
cited evidence showing that children can learn
abstract time concepts at young ages [18:71].
Although there seems to be little other empirical
or quantitative evidence for the benefits of classical
education, some hints of its value may be drawn from
studies on the influence of studying Latin, albeit with
mixed results. Splittgerber [35] reviewed four
studies, three of which showed significant gains in
students scores as a result of Latin study, and one
which was inconclusive. Cooper et al. [37] showed
such mixed results from 1987 and 2008 on the SAT
scores and Latin study. They reported an earlier study
by Cooper from 1987 from the southeast US that
showed high school students who studied German did
best on the verbal section of the SAT, followed by
students of French, Latin, and Spanish. The order
changed in the 2008 study of a larger sample of
“Covariate adjusted SAT verbal means” scores, in
which Latin students scored highest, followed by
German, French, and Spanish students [37:207].
Richard LaFleur [38] found that of students
taking the SAT and foreign-language tests of
German, French, Spanish, Hebrew, Russian, and
Latin, Latin students scored higher than all other
foreign-language test takers on the verbal section of
the SAT and higher than all others on the math
section except for students of Russian.
A more recent study from Germany comparing
the Spanish-language ability of students who studied
French or Latin as their second foreign language in
high school showed that those who had studied
French did better on a test of Spanish than those who
studied Latin [39]. The authors concluded that
“Knowledge of Latin is probably not an optimal
preparation for modern language learning” [39].
Although classical education does not necessarily
require the study of Latin and Greek, some
proponents [16] believe it is important, thus finding
an advantage—or not—in verbal or other language
scores by students who study Latin may suggest the
benefits of the stricter definition of classical
Although studying higher education, not grade-
school education, Seifter et al. [40] found that the
interconnectedness or integration of learning in a
supportive learning environment in liberal arts
education programs in higher education were
associated with greater openness to diversity,
stronger scores in civility and citizenship, but were
not associated with any advantage in moral reasoning
or problem solving. While the study was a limited
one of only four institutions and may not be
representative of other programs, it does raise many
questions about why liberal education, for all its
focus on critical thinking, was not associated with
improved moral reasoning or critical thinking by
students in liberal arts programs.
Learning in an integrated, contextualized way is
linked to improved ability to remember [41],
something that may suggest a benefit to classical
education’s integrated learning framework.
Overall, however, the empirical, quantitative
data on the effectiveness of classical education
methods on learning outcomes or democratic values
is sparse [18, 35]. Splittergerber’s [35] study is one of
the most promising in the field, yet further research
must be conducted to better ascertain the effects of
classical education on student learning, critical
thinking, creativity, citizenship, and other variables.
This introductory exploration of modern
classical education highlights the ultimate function of
classical education—the search for truth—and the
means for furthering this goal through the trivium
and quadrivium. The exploration includes a broad
definition of classical education as liberal education.
Through the deductive arguments for classical
education, I found extensive philosophical reasons
for the practice, but an examination of the inductive
arguments for classical education reveals a dearth of
empirical studies on its merits. Thus further research
on the impact of classical education is essential to
better evaluate this growingly popular movement.
Classical education appears to be making a
comeback [4]. It carries great promise to equip
students with the liberal arts to be life-long, critically-
thinking, reflective learners in pursuit of the truth that
puts all other things into perspective. Despite its lofty
goals and ample theoretical support, classical
education will not in itself solve all social ills. Like
liberalism, it is a tool to help individuals discover
truth, but is not necessarily the ultimate end of
humans. Furthermore, classical education is in need
of extensive empirical studies into its effectiveness in
delivering the successes for which its supporters
hope. Finally, just as classical education is designed
to encourage critical thinking, so too must the
philosophy and methodology of classical education
be frequently and thoroughly critiqued to test it for
truth, effectiveness, and possibilities for
[1] D. Wilson, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning. Wheaton,
IL: Crossway, 1991.
[2] D.L. Sayers, “The lost tools of learning,” [Vacation Course in
Education Oxford, 1947]. Available:
[3] Logos School, “History,” 2015. Available:
[4] Association of Classical & Christian Schools, “What is CCE?
Statistics at a glance” 2015. Available:
[5] Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, The
Classical Lutheran Education Journal, 2015. Available:
[6] S.W. Bauer and J. Wise, The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to
Classical Education at Home, 3rd ed. New York, NY: W.W.
Norton and Company, 2009.
[7] Amazon, “Amazon best sellers: Homeschooling,” 2015.
[8] C.W. Marrs, “Paideia in America: Ragged Dick, George
Babbitt, and the problem of a modern classical education,”
History of Education Quarterly, vol. 15, pp. 39-56, 2007.
[9] Aristotle. Politics, 350 BC. Transl. B. Jowett. Internet
Classics Archive. Available:
[10] M. Luther, “To the councilmen of all cities in Germany that
they establish and maintain Christian schools,” 1524, The
Works of Martin Luther, vol. 4. Transl. Albert Setinhaeuse.
[11] S.M. Joseph, The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic,
Grammar, and Rhetoric: Understanding the Nature and
Function of Language. M. McGlinn, Ed. Philadelphia. Paul
Dry Books, 2002.
[12] R. Hutchins, “The Great Conversation,” Great Books of the
Western World. 1st ed. Britannica, 1952. Available:
[13] M.J. Adler, Six Great Ideas. New York: Touchstone, 1981.
[14] Plato, Republic, 360 B.C. Transl. B. Jowett. Internet Classics
Archive. Available:
[15] Britannica, “Liberal arts,” Encyclopædia Britannica, 2015.
[16] W. Michael, “Against the Dorothy Sayers movement,”
Classical Liberal Arts Academy, 2011. Available:
[17] J.S. Atherton, “Piaget,” Learning and Teaching, 2011.
[18] E.R. Hinde and N. Perry, N., “Elementary teachers’
application of Jean Piaget’s theories of cognitive
development during social studies curriculum debates in
Arizona,” The Elementary School Journal, vol. 108, pp. 63-
79, 2007.
[19] M.J. Adler and C. Van Doren, C., How to read a book. New
York: Simon & Schuster, 1972.
[20] E.J. Power, “Persistent myths in the history of education,”
History of Education Quarterly, vol. 2, pp. 140-151, 1962.
[21] T.C. Cooper, D.J. Yansoky, J.M. Wisenbaker, D. Jahner, E
Webb, and M.L. Wilbur, “Foreign language learning and
SAT verbal scores revisited,” Foreign Language Annals, vol.
41, 2008. Available:
[22] D. Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar,
Strauss, & Giroux, 2011.
[23] T. Sedlacek, Economics of good and evil: The quest for
economic meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street. New
York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
[24] D.W. Howe, “Classical education in America,” The Wilson
Quarterly, vol. 35, pp. 31-36, 2011. Available:
[25] M.J. Adler, On Behalf of the Members of the Paideia Group,
The Paideia Proposal: An Educational Manifesto. New York:
Simon & Schuster, 1982.
[26] L. Billings, and T. Roberts, “Think like a seminar,”
Educational Leadership, vol. 70, pp. 68-72, 2013.
[27] W.D. Chesser, G.B. Gellatly, and M.S. Hale, “Do paideia
seminars explain higher writing scores?” Middle School
Journal, vol. 29, pp. 40-44, 1997. Available:
[28] T.E. Teagle, The Socratic method of teaching: Its effect on
the development of critical thinking skills of upper grade
elementary school students (problem-solving, questioning,
inquiry). (Doctoral dissertation). Northern Arizona
University, 1986. Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and
Theses. (303537510)
[29] S.A. Tarkington, Improving critical thinking skills using
Paideia seminars in a seventh-grade literature curriculum.
(Doctoral dissertation). University of San Diego, 1988.
Retrieved from ProQuest, UMI Dissertations Publishing.
[30] A. Wheelock, “Chattanooga’s Paideia schools: A single track
for all—and it’s working,” The Journal of Negro Education,
vol. 63, pp. 77-92, 1994. Available:
[31] Core Knowledge Foundation, ‘Learn about us,” 2013.
[32] P. Kreeft, Socratic logic: A logic text using Socratic method,
Plantonic questions, and Aristotelian principles. Indianapolis,
IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2008.
[33] M. Nussbaum, Cultivating humanity: A classical defense of
reform in liberal education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 1997.
[34] Council for American Private Education (CAPE). “Private
school students surpass SAT benchmark,” CAPE Outlook,
no. 378, October 2012. Available:
[35] A.B. Splittgerber, “The effects of classical education on
achievement in Lutheran schools,” A research project
presented to Concordia University, Nebraska, 2010.
[36] M.J. Adler, How to Speak How to Listen. New York:
Touchstone, 1997.
[37] T.C. Cooper, et al., “Foreign language learning and SAT
verbal scores revisited,” Foreign Language Annals, vol. 41,
pp. 200-217, 2008.
[38] R.A. LaFleur, “Latin students score high on SAT and
achievement tests,” The Classical Journal, vol. 76, p. 254,
1981. Available:
[39] L. Haag, and E. Stern, “In search of the benefits of learning
Latin,” Journal of Educational Psychology, vol. 95, pp. 174-
178, 2003. Doi 10.1037/0022-0663.95.1.174
[40] T.A. Seifter, et al., “The effects of liberal arts experiences on
liberal arts outcomes,” Research in Higher Education, vol.
49, pp. 107-125, 2008.
[41] J. Mistry, and B. Rogoff, “Remembering in cultural context,”
In Physchology and Culture, W. J. Lonner & R. Malpass,
Eds., 1994, pp. 139-144. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
... Gender will also be included as a demographic predictor. Given that one of the purposes of liberal western education is to enable students to engage with a wide spectrum of ideas and make up their own minds on such ideas (Hagen, 2015a), I hypothesize that increased educational attainment by respondents will predict more permissive attitudes toward marriage and sexual behavior, something suggested by preliminary research in the field (Hagen, 2015d). Given documented trends toward more liberal attitudes with increasing economic prosperity and decreasing religious belief (Inglehart & Baker, 2000), and given preliminary evidence of a positive relationship between increased religiosity and increased valuing of fidelity in marriage (Hagen, 2015d), I hypothesize that decreased religiosity with predict more permissive, "confluent love" or individualized norms in intimate relationships. ...
... In secular states, government-run and non-religious private institutions may attempt to instill liberal ideas of free discussion of concepts and values (Hagen, 2015a), but may feel themselves constrained from pursuing truth claims to their logical ends for fear that such inquiry may inadvertently lead to conclusions that overlap with certain religious understandings and thus violate the separation of church and state. Students in such institutions may assimilate the inferred value that certain topics relating to sexual morality are off-limits for concerted intellectual discussion because of their overlap with certain religious worldviews. ...
Full-text available
Because attitudes toward marriage impact the lives of many members of society, it is important to understand what those attitudes are and what predicts such attitudes in order to inform future research and marriage advocacy. Furthermore, to design studies to examine attitudes toward marriage, it is important to have an understanding of the power of previous studies. Towards those goals, this study attempted to answer two questions: a) To what extent do attitudes of Albanians toward marriage parallel theorized typologies of attitudes? b) What predicts membership in attitudinal groups? To answer these questions, this study examined attitudes toward marriage among Albanians using data from the 2008 European Values Study. It tested the hypothesis that institutional, companionate, and individualistic attitudes toward marriage documented in literature from Europe and North America would emerge in the data from Albania, alongside a hypothesized fourth “façade” attitudinal grouping. It further tested the hypothesis that lower educational attainment, higher religiosity, increasing age, being male, living in rural areas, having a lower income, reporting lower parental educational attainment, living with both parents at age 14, and having no history of cohabitation would positively and significantly predict membership in more traditional attitudinal clusters. A hierarchical agglomerative cluster analysis with a forced four-cluster solution and a follow-up discriminant analysis were used to test the first hypothesis and a multinomial logistic regression analysis was used to test the second hypothesis. In order to inform future studies, a power analysis of the multinomial logistic regression results and sample size estimates for forthcoming studies were also conducted. The study found that the three attitudinal groups in literature emerged in the cluster and discriminant analyses. The façade group did not emerge. Using weighted data with replacement of missing values, the study found that age and degree of urbanism were significant predictors of membership in attitudinal groups. The power analysis indicated that the study was robustly powered, while sample size estimates suggested that between 600 to 1400 respondents will be needed for future studies of similar variables in a similar population. The findings show that Albania is very similar to the rest of Europe in its place on the map of attitudes toward marriage. The study lays the groundwork for future studies and can inform advocacy for stronger marriages and families in Albania.
... Concerns of sovereignty and cultural preservation by host countries may be alleviated through collaboration with potential host governments and voters, and with possible plans for HongKong style integration into the host country upon completion of the tenure of the technocratic government. Concerns of latent human tendencies for corruption, selfishness, or violence may be addressed through education (Hagen, 2015b), appropriate screening (Kerwin, 2016), and focus on the value of liberal space in society for fostering the pursuit of truth, with the qualification that such a pursuit is most effective when conducted in love for one's neighbor, with love understood as concern for the ultimate well-being of one's neighbor (Hagen, 2016). Even ancient sanctuaries prohibited refugees from entering unless such refugees surrendered their weapons (Cox, 1911); similar checks to ensure peace and protect citizens from violence would be appropriate for a new generation of sanctuaries (Kerwin, 2016). ...
The current international refugee regime is well-intended yet tragically inadequate in response to the growing number of refugees. The situation of refugees in protracted refugee situations (PRS) is particularly concerning, as refugees in PRS often face severe restrictions on freedoms of work and mobility. In response, this paper adds to a growing literature calling for innovative, "moonshot" solutions to the refugee crisis and argues that a network of world-class cities and a form of sanctuary citizenship should be developed to provide a durable solution at scale to the problem of massive displacement and PRS. While the paper argues that current solutions of refugee return, integration, and resettlement should still be pursued, it also argues that those solutions are not yet adequately scaled up and a further option must be sought to address the plight of refugees, particularly those in long-term encampment. The paper responds to anticipated objections and seeks to change the narrative of refugees from being a burden, unwanted, and a threat to being valued individuals and communities who can contribute to their own prosperity, peace, and the larger human community.
In different disciplines or departments of learning, progress in the pursuit of truth is accomplished in different ways—by the employment of different methods and by resorting to different devices for correcting errors or expanding knowledge. The way in which mathematicians arrive at new and better formulations has little in common with the way in which historians make new findings and revise earlier views of what happened in the past. Different from both are the procedures of the experimental sciences and the data-gathering routines of the social sciences. Differences aside, the pursuit of truth in all branches of organized knowledge involves (1) the addition of new truths to the body of settled or established truths already achieved, (2) the replacement of less accurate or less comprehensive formulations by better ones, (3) the discovery of errors or inadequacies together with the rectification of judgments found erroneous or otherwise at fault, and (4) the discarding of generalizations—or of hypotheses and theories—that have been falsified by negative instances. By all such steps, singly or together, the sphere of truths agreed upon enlarges and comes closer to being the whole truth. As the wheat is separated from the chaff, as agreed-upon errors or falsities are eliminated, it also comes closer to being nothing but the truth.