Thoughts for "On A Classical Education"

As I republish articles of interest from The Parents' Review, which can be found at the Internet Archive, I hope to post my thoughts about each article here on this blog.

Latin and Greek should form the foundation of a child’s education. This assertion is put forth by Charles D. Olive in his article “On A Classical Education”. Again, as with previous articles, I do not agree with each of his assertions or while I might have agreed with the assertion it was not to the same degree as his. But, also as with previous articles, I did find some important points to consider and did find the article very interesting and informative to read. This article is the first part of two.

He begins by explaining that children are generally ready to begin their study of Latin or Greek around age 8, give or take a year on either side, as this is usually when a child has some handle on reading, writing and math. A little way into the article he goes back to what it means to educate children and why we educate them. An education is “…the drawing out of a child’s faculties; the leading him up to something higher than he is likely to reach, if left to the unaided care of Nature” (Olive). Why we educate children is often answered with a multitude of reasons, some of them more meaningful than others. He suggests that as we are educators we should ask “What is the highest good?” (Olive) and that ultimately we should educate our children because it will allow them to be happy.

I appreciated his list of what he most wishes to develop in his children and agreed with him. He writes:

  • The power to discern between right and wrong.

  • Strength to choose the right.

  • Sympathy with all living things-especially with their own kind-with their countrymen.

  • The faculty of observation.

  • The art of reasoning correctly.

  • Ability to express their thoughts in clear intelligible language.

It is to the latter two wishes that he addresses first, showing how children who learn Latin and Greek also learn to express their thoughts clearly and reason correctly. Being adept at translating between Latin or Greek and English builds the skills needed to fully utilize their own language. “I am quite sure that nothing makes one understand a piece of English, whether prose or verse, like having to turn it into another language, and especially into a formal language, such as Latin” (Olive).

He continues by stating that he feels that children will practice the power of observation by working between and through the exacting rules of grammar from both Latin and Greek. As this work will so thoroughly develop these skills, nature study as a vehicle for building observation skills would not be needed; subjects such as botany, zoology and astronomy could then be treated more recreationally. While I agree that the detail-oriented particulars of the study of the ancient languages will certainly build children’s skills in observation, particularly attention to detail, I would disagree that the study of natural history should not be included as one in the forefront for building these skills. Variety in approaches allows children of all types to benefit; allowing everyone an opportunity to refine these skills, especially for those children who do not delight in the work of Latin and Greek but who do delight in the study of nature.

Overall, I do greatly appreciate the value in a thorough study of the ancient languages and I would agree that those who pursue these studies to an advanced level will reap many benefits from this. I would, however, insist that even a few years of study will still bring about great benefit for students, especially if the time not allocated to the advancement of this study is instead used in the study of mathematics, literature, music, sciences and other languages. The latter of which also contribute to the growth of a child’s ability to reason, to clearly articulate their thoughts and ideas and to observe, distinguish and discriminate between details.

I specifically was drawn to these words: “The exact meaning of all the words and phrases must stand out clearly in your mind and quite distinctly before you can turn them: words and phrases that perhaps your tongue has uttered glibly dozens of times before without realizing their depth-the ideas of the writer, the sequence of his thoughts, his intention must be grasped-his very mood or mental attitude…” (Olive). They caught my attention because I felt as if these words encapsulated some of the ideas often expressed as a benefit from narration, dictation and of keeping a commonplace book.

Please feel free to comment and share your own thoughts about the article. I will post this to the forum as well to make discussing this easier.

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