Classical Education

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Classical Education


a type of general secondary education, based on the study of Latin and Greek and of classical literature.

Classical education began to develop in Europe during the Renaissance, when great interest was aroused in the cultural heritage of the classical world. In the 14th and 15th centuries humanists regarded Latin and especially Greek as the sole means of approaching the science and art of ancient Greece and Rome, forgotten in preceding centuries. Among the first classical educational institutions were the schools of the Italian humanists Guarino da Verona and Vittorino da Feltre. Toward the end of the 15th century, however, classical education underwent major changes. In the overwhelming majority of schools the main goal became the mastery of the formal aspect of Latin and the cultivation of an elegant style. There was a general predilection, known as Ciceronianism, for the language and style of the great Roman orator and writer Cicero (106–43 B.C.). This confined classical education within narrow philological bounds and contributed to the revival of formalism in schooling. Erasmus of Rotterdam, J. Vives, J. Reuchlin, P. Melanchthon, and many other humanists attacked the emphasis on the external aspect of Latin. Nevertheless, Ciceronianism continued to predominate in higher schools down to the 18th century. The Gymnasium was the most striking example of the secondary school based on such a onesided approach to classical education.

The development of classical education entered a new stage in the mid-18th century with the spread of neo-humanism in Western Europe, especially in Germany. Latin and Greek were once again regarded as the principal means of assimilating the cultural heritage of the ancient world. To the foremost thinkers of the 18th century the ancient Greeks represented the ideal of harmoniously developed man, an ideal to which education must aspire. Henceforth the task of classical education was the development of the ability to think, the cultivation of aesthetic taste, and the formation of a world view. Accordingly, much attention was devoted to mathematics in the curriculum of Gymnasiums and similar secondary schools, such as Latin schools, grammar schools, and lycées. The study of mathematics, together with the study of the grammar of the classical languages, was considered the chief vehicle for acquiring a formal education. Gymnasiums also offered instruction in the native language of the student, in history and geography, and to some extent in the natural sciences. Classical education came to be viewed solely as preparation for the university and became the primary form of secondary schooling. In this form it was preserved in Europe and North and South America without essential alteration until the end of the 19th century.

Today there are classical lycées in France and Italy, classical Gymnasiums in the Federal Republic of Germany, and classics departments in grammar schools in Great Britain. Belgium, Brazil, and other countries have classical secondary schools. Nowhere, however, is classical education encountered in its pure form. The curriculum includes different subjects, chiefly the humanities, although natural sciences and mathematics are also studied. Ancient languages are allocated only about 28 percent of class time in Italian classical lycées and only 12 percent of class time in the classics departments of secondary schools in the Federal Republic of Germany.

The concept of classical education spread to Russia in the 17th century, when Greek and Latin schools appeared and the Kiev-Mogila and Slavonic-Greek-Latin academies were opened. The first Gymnasiums in Russia were established in the 18th century and included the St. Petersburg Gymnasium (1726, attached to the Academy of Sciences), the Moscow Gymnasium (1755, connected with the university), and the Kazan Gymnasium (1758). The schools offered a mixed curriculum that combined aspects of the formal-grammar and neo-humanist schools with elements of the Realschule. The charter of 1804 established state Gymnasiums as general-education secondary schools, in which classical education in Russia subsequently developed. The first state Gymnasiums did not provide a narrow classical education, for only 13 percent of class time was devoted to the study of Latin. Efforts to encourage neo-humanism in classical education were evident in the preparatory work for the Gymnasium charter of 1828, which called for a greater proportion of class time to be devoted to classical languages. (In Gymnasiums offering only Latin, 17 percent of class time was allocated for Latin, and in Gymnasiums offering both Greek and Latin, 30 percent of class time was apportioned for the study of both languages.) The greater emphasis on classical education strengthened the class character of Russian secondary schools. The classical languages became a barrier preventing children of the nonprivileged classes from gaining access to secondary schools. The charter of 1864 provided for the creation of Realgymnasiums alongside the classical Gymnasiums. However, as before, only a classical education was deemed adequate preparation for admission to the university.

The second half of the 19th century witnessed a struggle between the proponents of classical education and those who stressed instruction in mathematics, sciences, modern languages, and practical arts. The Revolutionary Democrats, K. D. Ushinskii and his followers, and the majority of progressives advocated the latter. During the term in office of the reactionary minister of education D. A. Tolstoi (1866–80), classical education was once again given a formal-grammar orientation. Government circles saw value in studying the classical languages only because they developed formalistic thinking and distracted students from the pressing problems of the day. The classical languages were considered a means of preventing the development of materialist views. Divorced from life, classical education was unpopular in all circles of society, with the result that at the beginning of the 20th century the number of class hours devoted to Latin was somewhat curtailed, and instruction in Greek was suspended in most Gymnasiums. Classical education nevertheless remained the predominant type of secondary education in Russia until the Great October Socialist Revolution.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
Foreign words in the text annoyed her and made her bemoan her want of a classical education - she had only attended a Dame's school during some easy months - but she never passed the foreign words by until their meaning was explained to her, and when next she and they met it was as acquaintances, which I think was clever of her.
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MEA CULPA, MEA CULPA." He had had a classical education.
Now old man, let us 'pud' along; it 's getting late for the chicken," he added, relapsing into the graceful diction with which a classical education gifts its fortunate possessor.
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At FreedomProject Academy, our abiding mission is to change the culture and restore the nation through classical education, imparting a Judeo-Christian worldview to our students and preparing the next generation of patriot leaders, equipping them to promote, defend, and advance the causes of liberty and civic responsibility across America.