Is Classical Education Practical?

Aug 27, 2018

Someone recently told me that I'm practical. I’m not sure exactly what that meant, but it provoked my thinking, because that was probably true. But I’m also wildly impractical in some ways, because I love and work in classical education. That work is all about spending two decades on an education that teaches people to know and love what is true and good and beautiful. It spends a lot of years on an education that doesn’t have anything to do with job training! But it seems that if a person knows and loves what is true, then he can learn to do just about any job, and make good decisions in any field. Of course I want my dentist to have plenty of job training, but if that training followed an education that helped him to see what is true and to love what is good, then that would be a beautiful thing, and I’d feel safer with his tools in my mouth.

This education has friendship as one of its main goals. That doesn’t seem like a practical education, but maybe friendship is practical too—it’s not what puts food on the table, but it’s what makes a meal a joy.

Someone said that a classical education is the one that equips you to appreciate the things you’ll never be able to afford. Haha! But recently I did hear about a finance firm that hired mostly liberal arts majors because those were the people who made the best decisions about investments and helping people.

I never like to think alone; I don’t trust myself to see enough to reach proper conclusions. In fact (and I’m not sure if this is practical either) one of my favorite ways to spend time is in conversation. It seems that when two people exchange ideas, they build a third idea that is bigger and better than either could reach alone. A music analogy might help here. That kind of conversation prevents two people from playing only their own separate melodies (which could be nice), but instead allows them to create a harmony—music that’s deeper and richer than either could produce alone. Is it practical to spend so much time just talking? Maybe it is. Is music impractical? Surely something that so enriches, fills, and colors life is a practical thing. I hope it is.

Maybe we ought to think some more about what is practical. It might even deserve a long conversation.

Camille Goldston

The opinions and arguments of our contributing writers do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute or its leadership.

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