A liberal education trains students to be moral leaders who think critically, communicate effectively, and serve others selflessly. The difficulty in cultivating the latter attribute in democratic leaders has been a central dilemma for scholars from Plato's The Republic to The Federalist Papers. Since human nature tends to seek personal self-interest, how can a self-governing society survive? The common consensus among scholars in tackling this issue is that students should be trained from their youth to understand others' points of view, to make wise long-term choices, and to overtly grapple with the difficulties inherent in democracy and leadership. This focus on empathy, compassion, analysis, and long-term decision-making is critical for effective leaders and is purposely fostered within the context of a liberal education.
Core, liberal arts curriculum
Scholars need tools that will help them begin to make sense of the world and categorize the large amount of information that constantly bombards them. This knowledge is needed for complex thought; a content-less vacuum of ignorance is not helpful soil for making the connections necessary for critical thinking. This is why the liberal arts require students to take a core curriculum. In elementary and middle school, the curriculum is planned, sequential, and focused on mastery and attainment of the knowledge needed to proceed to higher level learning. In high school, four years of math, science, English, and history, along with classes in the fine arts and the humanities are required, exceeding state standards in content and duration, as well as meeting admission standards to selective colleges.
Critical and analytical thinking are learned processes. Each student is required to take two logic courses in middle school. They are then encouraged to practice this systematic training through rhetoric and philosophy classes in high school, as well as through the Socratic discussion that takes place throughout upper level courses. Socratic teaching helps students to understand fallacies in their own thinking through strategic questioning which reveals error in logic This allows students to wrestle with difficult ideas and find their way through arguments to a conclusion or perhaps merely a clearer view. As students learn to become reasoned thinkers, dialogue is our preferred pedagogy.
Communication - Writing
Writing well requires much practice and training. At Classical Prep, we are committed to giving students the skills and ability to accomplish this, since writing well is essential to thinking well. Elementary school is critical to achieving this ability, as skills in grammar, spelling, organization, and effortless reading are acquired at this stage. We focus heavily on giving students these tools in the lower grades. In middle and high school, courses dedicated to composition are required, as well as the writing of extended essays throughout upper school English, history, and humanities courses.
Communication - Public speaking
In De Oratore, Cicero states that mastering the art of speech involves mastering all the arts. Learning to speak well sharpens thinking, memory, and writing skills. We require public recitation and presentation at all grades in the elementary and middle schools, as well as a rhetoric course in high school. In addition, students will practice public speaking through Socratic teaching and declamation.
Language-Focused, including Latin
The study of language is the cornerstone of a liberal education. Mastery of language is needed for higher level thinking on any subject. With the ability to understand and wield words well, a person can think and express meaningful independent thought; without this ability, a person is in danger of being easily manipulated. As Dorothy Sayers noted, "[O]wing to the emphasis placed on scientific and technical training at the expense of the humanities, very few people have been taught to understand and handle language as an instrument of power...The defense against the misuse of words is not flight...but the wary determination to understand the potentialities of language and to use it with resolution and skill...The language of the imagination can never be inert; as with every other living force, you must learn to handle it or it will handle you."
Along with the study of grammar, literature, poetry, and modern language, Latin is central to a liberal education because it is the root of our spoken language. It improves English vocabulary, understanding of English grammar, familiarizes students with references from the classical world essential for understanding most literature, allows easier learning of other Romance languages, and encourages logical thinking through its structure.
Classical education requires students to challenge themselves both in their behavior and in their academics. It requires students to not only know things but to understand them. Therefore, scholars must not merely engage superficially but must make the intellectual effort to contemplate and comprehend knowledge on a meaningful level.