A website called Your News Wire posted an article five months ago about the success of a charter school in Florida that ditched the Common Core curriculum and decided to focus on the principles of classical education to teach its students. I am not familiar with the site, so I went to the school’s website and starting reading. The information in the article at Your News Wire article was also posted at The Freedom Project in June.
The Mason Classical Academy website states:
The Hillsdale College Barney Charter School Initiative has deliberately taken a classical approach to education. By “classical,” we mean a form of education that could be called classical, civic, and liberal but in the school reform movement these days most often goes by the designation “classical.” Some might call it “conservative,” but we prefer the term “traditional.” That is, we adhere to an ancient view of learning and traditional teaching methods. Such a choice might at first seem paradoxical or even out- of-touch with reality. Why, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, in the age of the internet, in a country that has long been addicted to the revolutionary and the novel, when almost everyone in the world of K-12 education is singing the chorus of “critical thinking skills for a twenty-first-century global economy,” should cutting-edge schools root themselves so deeply in the past? Is not newer always better? What could today’s young people learn from old books? We must answer these questions clearly from the outset.
Classical education has a history of over 2500 years in the West. It began in ancient Greece, was adopted wholesale by the Romans, faltered after the fall of Rome, made a slow but steady recovery during the Middle Ages, and was again brought to perfection in the Italian Renaissance. The classical inheritance passed to England, and from the mother country to America through colonial settlement. At the time of this nation’s founding classical education was still thriving. Jefferson heartily recommended Greek and Latin as the languages of study for early adolescence. One of the Founding Fathers’ favorite books was Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans. Eighteenth- century Americans venerated and trusted George Washington in large part because he reminded them of the Roman patriot Cincinnatus. So important has classical education been in the history of the West that it would only be a slight exaggeration to say that the march of civilization has paralleled the vibrancy of classical schools. Unlike the old classical schools, today’s classical schools do not make the medium of instruction Latin and Greek (though to be classical they must require the study of Latin at some point).
Nonetheless, the Hillsdale-sponsored charter schools will remain classical by upholding the same standards of teaching, of curriculum, and of discipline found in the schools of old. Indeed, in these schools English will be taught using methods derived from centuries of teaching and learning the classical languages. Hillsdale thus takes stock in the tried and true rather than in the latest fads frothing forth from the schools of education.
So how has this approach worked? The article at Your News Wire reports:
What does the classical approach embraced by the Academy entail? According to their website, language-focused learning based on written and spoken words makes the brain work harder to convert words into concepts, while image-based approaches encourage passivity. The time-tested approach of phonics is very likely the reason you are able to read this article in the first place, and it’s hard to imagine why anyone would consider it inadequate.
Thanks to the classical approach of phonics, an impressive 90 percent of the third-grade students at Mason Classical Academy were proficient in English Language Arts, compared to just 58 percent in the county overall, most of whom rely on Common Core. In fact, the MCA third-graders were in Florida’s top two percent, while fifth graders from the academy ranked in the state’s top one percent.
These students look even better when you compare them to California, where the state average is just 43 percent proficiency among third graders. Even worse, six public schools in Baltimore do not have a single student who is proficient in either English Language Arts or math. It’s almost like students are being set up to fail.
Of course, not everyone is happy about this school’s success. Common Core proponents are panicking because these results expose the system for the fraud that it is. The school has been on the receiving end of criticism from everyone from the district’s superintendent to the local news outlet Naples Daily News, according to The Freedom Project.
So what can we learn from this? It really does not pay to try to reinvent the wheel. Classical education works–Common Core does not. We have been sold a bill of goods in regard to Common Core. Common Core puts our children in boxes they may not belong in and collects data that no one has any business collecting. The one thing it does not do is teach our children critical thinking skills and prepare them to live in the real world. The test results of Mason Classical Academy clearly illustrate what works in education. Now we need to pay attention to the facts and begin actually educating our children.