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Classical public education coming to Florida: Teaching students how to think

The Classical Academy of Sarasota (TCA) is currently in the application process with the Sarasota County School Board. According to its website, “After approval in the fall of 2013, TCA intends to open its doors in August of 2014. TCA is a tuition-free public charter school that has partnered with Hillsdale College to open a classical K-12 school in Sarasota, Florida.”

Phil Kilgore

Phillip W. Kilgore, Director, Barney Charter School Initiative

TCA is part of the Barney Charter School Initiative. Phillip W. Kilgore, Director of the Barney Charter School Initiative (BCSI) states, “The Barney Charter School Initiative is a project of Hillsdale College devoted to the education of young Americans.  Through this initiative, the College will support the launch of K-12 charter schools.  These schools will train the minds and improve the hearts of young people through a rigorous, classical education in the liberal arts and sciences, with instruction in the principles of moral character and civic virtue.”

“Reform of American public education, to be successful and good, must be built on a foundation of classical liberal arts learning—the kind of learning best suited to a free society and most needed for its preservation.  The Barney Charter School Initiative is an important step in that direction,” notes Kilgore.

TCA will use Core Knowledge curriculum for preschool through Grade 8 developed by E. D. Hirsch, Jr., founder and chairman of the Core Knowledge Foundation and professor emeritus of education and humanities at the University of Virginia. Core Knowledge is not to be confused with Florida’s implementation of Common Core.

What is Classical Education?

According to TCA’s website Classical Education is:

  • Back to Basics

Classical education is a back to basics education with a foundation in history, especially civics, reading, and virtue. All core subjects are taught with the goal of building a foundation of knowledge.   Classical education emphasizes content-rich literature, a deep understanding of constitutional history, fundamental principles in math and science, and a deep appreciation for art and music. Rather than moving quickly through topics and gleaning only the highlights, classical education advocates for the mastery of subjects.

There is a clear focus on direct instruction. Teachers will be up front teaching rather than students placed at centers around the room learning through self discovery. Technology does not take the place of excellent instruction or instructors. Teaching facts and directing students with logical questions are the guiding principles in every classroom.

Reading is the foundation for learning in all subjects and students will be exposed to age appropriate exemplary literature and first source documents. Students should not be taught from textbooks but rather from the writings and documents of the individuals who are the original experts in their field. For example rather then reading a few pages or paragraphs about the Revolutionary War from a textbook, students will understand this struggle through the writings of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and John Adams.

  • Standard of excellence

Classical education emphasizes excellence in everything. Students learn excellence through the example of their teachers and the through the curriculum taught in class. Excellence will be expected in everything from academic work to behavior throughout the school day. An “A” will be given for mastery not for effort. In math, students learn that all the numbers in an equation must be perfectly lined up in order to properly solve the problem. Handwriting is not just an afterthought but is taught with precision and accuracy. Students will dress in a way which reflects this same level of professionalism and excellence. Students will be held to the highest possible of standards. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” Aristotle

  • Rooted in History

History is viewed as a guide when teaching other subjects within classical education. For example, when studying American history and the founding our great nation students will be learning about the artwork and music of that era. They will read great literature and memorize poetry from that time.   They will also learn American geography and how the US changed from the first 13 colonies to the Louisiana Purchase to the complete 50 United States. Classical education teaches that when learning is systematic it makes more sense and students begin to see the connections.

  • Moral Virtue

Classical education maintains that virtue is the foundation upon which a great education is built. A student must understand virtue and practice those virtues in order to become a thoughtful and productive citizen. Virtue is not a program but an integral part of life and is taught in every subject throughout each day. For example when reading Tom Sawyer students will discuss the merits of the comment made by Judge Thatcher when he calls Tom a “noble liar” or when reading Pride and Prejudice students will discuss Mr. Darcy and the idea of being a true gentleman. In math the virtue of wisdom will be discussed when talking of the importance of study for a test.

  • Latin

Classical education holds that a solid understanding of literacy and grammar are critical for a mastery of all subjects. To this end Latin will be taught in all grade levels because it is the foundation upon which the English language is built. Over 60% of the English language is based on Latin and a strong knowledge of Latin advances understanding in both math and science. Latin will be taught informally in elementary and formally in middle and high school.

Dr. Richard Swier

Dr. Rich Swier is Publisher of www.DrRichSwier e-Magazine. Twitter: @drrichswier He holds a Doctorate of Education from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, CA, a Master's Degree in Management Information Systems from the George Washington University, Washington, D.C., and a Bachelor's Degree in Fine Arts from Washington University, St. Louis, MO. Richard is a 23-year Army veteran who retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1990. He was awarded the Legion of Merit for his years of service.

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