The biggest difference that I see between the kind of education I received and the kind of education my students are receiving is located in the telos toward which each system of education is ordered. The kind of education I received was ordered toward me having success in college or in the workforce; it was concerned that I acquire the skills (skills that could be taught irrespective of the content) necessary for success later in life; it was interested in my social and civic formation as somebody who, having drank the koolaid for the myth of progress, participated in society according to the demands of the technocratic elite. In contrast, my students are receiving an education ordered toward them becoming virtuous, wise, and eloquent; it is concerned that students develop excellent moral and intellectual habits; it is interested in helping students synthesize their experience as people in the world with the wisdom of those who came before us.
One way that my school does this is by being a Great Books kind of place. The Great Books are the major works of the Western Canon that have enduring significance beyond their own time periods. These works are the great cultural and intellectual pillars of Western thought. Mortimer Adler had a famous and exhaustive list of almost 300 authors, not to mention works!, though other places (like the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola) have smaller lists. Actually, at Torrey, a college student seeking a B.A. reads all 130 books over the course of four years. The books are the curriculum. In my school, 3rd graders are readings stories gleaned from Shakespeare plays. Classical works of all kinds are unveiled for the students early on so that, by the time they enter 7th grade, they are prepared to dive deep into the Western tradition.
These great works shape their imaginations and shore up the intellectual and emotional pathways that help lead them to virtue. As Robert Woods recently wrote in the Dallas Morning News, It is not by accident that the terms literate, literature, library, liberate and leisure are all cousins in the history of words. Many people living today are intellectual and spiritual slaves to the present moment because they have not allowed themselves to be liberated by the pleasures and insights of some of the best books written by the greatest minds in human history. As a teacher, what I want is to help my students become readers of the Great Books and, in so doing, allow them to become truly literate (as described by Dr. Woods) for the duration of their lives. In so doing, I hope my students avoid the Scylla of technocratic elitism on one side and the Charybdis of reductionist intellectualism (what might charitably be called academics) on the other.