Don’t Cancel the Classics, Broaden and Diversify Them

The knives were again used for Julius Caesar — ​​and Homer, too.

As Tennessee expands the possibilities for new charter schools, critics are advocating a classical education. Some schools teach students about the sages and scoundrels of ancient Greece and Rome. In the New Republic, Annie Abrams, a public school teacher from New York, complains that these schools promote “retreat from the public sphere” along with Christian humanism “” upholding nationalism. of “Western civilization”. ”

Other critics associate the classics with white nationalism, implying that the proponents are pedagogical and bigoted, and object to classical educators calling the subjects subjects Their reviews are “awesome” and “most important”, since all things are equal to all others (unless those critics don’t like them).

However, excellence and diversity can coexist with a classic education. The classics should be enhanced and extended, diversifying through context and accumulated knowledge. And they have much to teach us, with a proven track record of enhancing student achievement, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

In Chicago, most of Cambridge Classical Academy’s African-American students learn through an integrated model of the methodological tradition of Marva Collins, the distinguished black educator outlined in “60 Minutes” on her work with disadvantaged students, with instruction based on the Socratic method. The Living Water School in Virginia, led by Anika Prather, uses an online model to reach parents and children around the country. Ms. Prather combined classical learning with the study of the black intellectual tradition. My own organization, the Nyansa Classics Community, develops curricula that combine diverse voices, artists, and texts with classical discipline.

These three institutions, all led by black women, are part of a growing group of classical schools — public, charter, private, and religious — that provide a rich education. , deep and wide. Rather than reduce the presence of classics in our curriculum or eclectic mix among diverse writers, we build on the classic core by including tell and story variety to the top. These have been in the tradition, but they have not been fully heard. Many later great writers, including people of color, were inspired and built upon the classics.

My institution’s curriculum combines Homer’s Odyssey with paintings by African-American artist Romare Bearden reinterpreting the story as an allegory for the transatlantic African diaspora Positive. To understand novelist Toni Morrison (a classic fiction student herself at Howard University), one must read her work alongside her influences: Ovid and Euripides.

Critics, including some progressive college administrators, scorned the movement’s main exam, the Classical Learning Test, for being accused of “hierarchy” and fetishism. white. In fact, CLT has already begun to diversify the voices it represents (a process that I helped lead as the chair of CLT’s academic advisory board). The classical world consisted of a great diversity and many people of color, as ancient Rome scholar Mary Beard recorded. The sources and perspectives of the exam are becoming more and more complex and inclusive.

Although the old classical forms of education were far from perfect, its foundations are solid and provide a rich feast for debate and intellectual formation. Arabic-speaking scholars engaged in a centuries-long intellectual exchange with ancient Greek writers, creating their own classics and enriching both intellectual traditions Western and Muslim. Thomas Aquinas, for example, often cites Avicenna and Averroes.

The famous Renaissance mathematician Fibonacci trained in North Africa, where he was exposed to breakthroughs from India and the Middle East. His famous work, “Liber Abaci,” introduced Europe to a numbering system based on the sophisticated Indian system, using the figures 1 through 9 and the Arabic numeral zero.

Many people of African descent in the 18th and 19th centuries used classical texts to argue against their enslavement and fight for their freedom. These celebrities include Phillis Wheatley, David Walker, Frederick Douglass, Anna Julia Cooper and WEB DuBois. It is ironic that critics consider the classics a racial monopoly when blacks fought so hard after the Civil War for the right to classical education.

And now black students are being reminded once again that a classical education is not for them. “The Apology,” Plato’s account of Socrates’ death, was given by Pastor Martin Luther King Jr. quoted in “The Letter from the Birmingham Jail”. King reused the works of a dead white man to revive and free his people — and all of us. Today we still have to learn, like so many before, what the classics have to teach.

Parham is a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, a senior fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study of Culture, and a co-author with Anika Prather of “The Black Intellectual Tradition: Free Reading in Literature” classic” released in June from Classical Academic Journalism.

Wonderland: Despite repeated threats to “our democracy,” a political fix for November won’t repair the damage progress has done to the United States. Ky. Image: Getty Images / MG21 / The Met Museum / Vogue Composite: Mark Kelly

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