Classical Education

(primarily the learning of the Latin and/or Greek languages, history, and literature)

The teaching of Latin and Greek to enable pupils to read and to use those languages is a discipline which has been handed down from the earliest times

The primary justification for teaching Lain and Greek consists of the intrinsic merit of the great humanitarian writers of the classical periods when the civilizations of Greece and Rome were at their peak.

That these works have withstood the test of time is felt to be ample testimony to their worth. In addition, as the civilization of western Europe has its roots in Greece and Rome, an understanding of origins is deemed to be a valuable preparation for the proper appreciation of modern languages and human problems.

  • Many religious, political, and social institutions had their birth in classical times.
  • The ideas associated with their genesis were often presented with such striking clarity that they are eminently suitable for young minds.
  • In the western world, the expression "classical education" refers to Latin and Greek studies.

  • The directness and precision of the Latin and Greek languages, the orderly logic of Latin and the flexible beauty of Greek, impart a training in clear thought and expression which is difficult to equal; much less, to surpass.
  • The close and concentrated study of words, the meanings of which must be clearly understood before they can be translated, whether one is translating into or out of English, gives a constant practice in English comprehension and composition unequaled by similar exercises in modern languages.
  • Classical education in the United States began with the founding of Harvard college and the Boston Latin school in about 1683

  • Following the English model (probably Cambridge), the only requirement for entrance to Harvard was the ability to read and speak Latin and some knowledge of Greek forms, and this was also the aim of the Latin school.
  • All lectures were in Latin, the curriculum consisted almost wholly of the classics and students were required to speak Latin on the campus.
  • Classical education has been divided into three periods

    The subsequent progress of classical education has been divided roughly into three periods:

    1. The prerevolutionary period.
    2. The period to the close of the Civil War.
    3. The modern period.

    During the first period admission requirements remained much the same as at Harvard; even arithmetic was not required until 1693, and then not universally.

  • In the colleges, the classics remained supreme, although arithmetic, geography and anatomy were included in the curriculum of William and Mary in 1693, and physics in that of Yale in 1701.
  • Also, the forerunner of the University of Pennsylvania, under the influence of Benjamin Franklin, made considerable provision for science, and an impressive program in science and history was announced by Columbia in 1754.
  • The middle period was one of great educational expansion.

  • Many new colleges and secondary schools were founded, and the states began to make provisions for higher public education in the state universities.
  • Public high schools also began to multiply.
  • The curricula of the colleges were greatly extended, and the appearance of new subjects in the requirements for entrance involved provision for them in the preparatory courses.
  • At first Greek and Latin, later Latin alone, were obligatory for all candidates for degrees, and while in some academies, notably those for girls, and in the state universities, the tendency was for greater freedom of choices in the curricula.
  • Still the general tone of education was cultural, interpreted as classical.
  • The modern period has been one of revolution, both in ideals and practices.

  • The carrying out of the theory of universal education and the rapid growth of industrialism demanded greater provision for vocational and scientific training.
  • The public high schools still clung closely to the classical tradition, but they showed the new influence in the great broadening of their curricula.
  • Where this was not done, vocational and trade schools discarded the classics for a more immediately "practical training".
  • In higher education, either separate scientific and technical schools were established or increased provision was made for science in the colleges and universities, and modern languages and the social sciences competed with the natural sciences in pressing their claims.
  • Room for the new subjects could be obtained only at the expense of the classics

  • The first to be seriously affected was Greek, which though vigorously defended, had by 1928 been eliminated almost entirely from the curricula of the secondary schools and was studied by very few undergraduates in colleges.
  • Latin was also severely curtailed and at one time seemed likely to go the way of Greek.
  • Following World War I, there was a reaction in favor of Latin in colleges; however, it did not continue to hold as big a place in the schools as it did formerly, although it was still included among the requirement for entrance to college.
  • The number of students studying Latin dropped from 50% of students enrolled in 1900 to 7% by the 1950s.
  • It was not the Latin of former days

  • In 1920, the General Education board arranged with the American Classical League to conduct an investigation of the classics (primarily Latin) in the secondary schools.
  • In the report, published in 1924, the aims of the teaching of Latin were set forth as follows:
  1. To read and to understand Latin.
  2. To increase the pupil's ability to understand the Latin element in English, and to read, speak, and write English.
  3. To develop historical and cultural background, correct mental habits, and right attitudes toward social situations.
  4. To increase the ability to learn foreign languages.
  5. To give an elementary knowledge of the principles of language structure.

The rapid increases of enrollments in the high schools in the following decades changed the character of the schools and the future of Latin became precarious and has now almost disappeared in the secondary curricula of high schools and even colleges and universities.

—Excerpts from "Classical Education",
Encyclopedia Britannica, William Benton, Publisher;
Chicago; 1968; pages 875-876.

The unit of class words.