Guest column: A CLASSICAL APPROACH TO EDUCATION

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By Dave Trecker

Pelican Bay

There's nothing like forward thinking.

The Collier County School Board recently did some by approving two new charter schools that offer very different approaches to public education. One increases the use of online teaching, and the other offers so-called "classical education."

The latter, the proposed Mason Classical Academy, is championed by Kelly Lichter, a high-school teacher who wrote convincingly about its potential in the Naples Daily News.

What's striking about Lichter's vision is that it seems radical! We're so used to soft curricula and mediocre results that education based on core subjects and grading based on facts learned somehow seems foreign.

It's not, of course. A classical education goes back hundreds of years. Many of our country's leaders well into the 20th century benefited from a classical education. They were force-fed literature, math, history, the sciences and the arts. They were challenged. There were absolutes to be learned. And, of course, there was no feel-good grade inflation in those days.

Suppose you could wave a wand and convert our public school system to one that offered only classical education. What would result?

Standardized test scores would soar, at least for those who made it through the system. We would move from 27th in the world in reading and 31st in math to near the top. We might even challenge the Asian countries.

College preparedness would soar. Graduate school and professional school preparedness would improve dramatically. We would lay the foundation for turning out graduates who were well trained and employable. We would have to import fewer foreign scientists and engineers to meet our needs.

All good. What's the downside?

It's an elitist approach. It assumes everyone is smart enough and motivated enough to get through the system. And that's not the case.

There are other problems. In Collier County, forty-some percent of public school students come from homes where English is the second language or is not spoken at all. That's a big barrier to learning. A "classical education" may simply not be possible for those students.

And there's more. An old friend who teaches in inner-city schools in New Jersey tells me the biggest problem he faces is lack of parental support. Teachers may care about minority students, he says, but all too often the parents do not. A tougher curriculum would simply lead to more failures.

In fairness, Lichter is not claiming a classical education is for everyone. But she says it should be a choice. And it should be.

No question, the opportunity to get a classical education is an exciting prospect, at least for some.

It will be interesting to see what kind of support the Mason Classical Academy gets as it moves forward. I suspect it will be tough sledding. Collier County is not an easy proving ground.

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