Marcus Tullius Cicero knew the value of a well-rounded education.
The ancient Roman philosopher, politician and scholar owed his place in history to his unwavering commitment to learning; Cicero’s achievements as a lawyer, a speaker, a leader and a leading intellectual voice of his time all sprung from studies in a range of subjects.
As Cicero said himself, “A mind without instruction can no more bear fruit than can a field, however fertile, without cultivation.”
More than 2,000 years after Cicero wrote those words, the model of learning that typified his era is alive and well. Across the country, charter schools specializing in a “Classical Education” model are flourishing. These schools take cues from pedagogical traditions that have their roots in ancient Greece and Rome; simply put, the classical approach seeks to equip students with skills and learning that have been prioritized for millennia.
The Twin Peaks Classical Academy in Longmont specializes in a classical approach to education, with a mission statement that stresses “the foundations of virtue and character,” and “building cultural literacy through a content-rich curriculum in an encouraging environment.”
According to Twin Peaks Director Joseph Mehsling, that curriculum stresses fundamental skills that have been keys to successful learning for the entire course of human history.
“Classical education is what’s worked for thousands of years,” Mehsling said. “In order to build their knowledge and foundation of facts, students need to be good readers, writers and mathematicians … Broadly speaking, elementary, middle and high school students with a good liberal arts background are going to be able to tackle any topic.”
At Twin Peaks, stressing those fundamentals means learning from the examples of the past. Elementary students have early access to learning Latin, which opens the doors to any of its derivative Romance languages. High school students find the great works of the ancients on their reading lists, epics like Homer’s “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” and Virgil’s “The Aeneid.”
What’s more, students are encouraged to balance technology with tactile, timeless skills.
“We’re not Luddites. We have technology. But we reject the one-to-one device model that’s taking the world of education by storm,” Mehsling said. “My belief is that the kinesthetic element in education cannot be undersold. Technology is a supplementary tool; it’s not the focus of the classroom. We teach cursive in elementary. Students write their essays out by hand before they get on a computer. Every one of our students has access to lots of books, and those are those child’s books, to write in and highlight.”
Mehsling is quick to add that the purpose of the classical approach isn’t to isolate students from the modern world. Rather, the curriculum at Twin Peaks seeks to equip its students with practical skills that will help them succeed in the modern world with fundamental, proven skills. This approach doesn’t shy away from looking at the history of Western civilization with a critical eye, he added.
“Classical education celebrates Western civilization, even as it takes responsibility for West civilization. You need to own some of its flaws,” he said. “I think it goes all the way back to the purpose of education … The whole reason we want kids in our building is to seek out truth, beauty and goodness.”
By Adam Goldstein for Raised in the Rockies