Advertisement

What is the classical education curriculum model?

The model puts a strong emphasis on the “centrality of the Western tradition.”
 
The classical education curriculum model emphasizes a return to “core virtues” and subjects like math, science, civics and classical texts.
The classical education curriculum model emphasizes a return to “core virtues” and subjects like math, science, civics and classical texts. [ SARAH A. MILLER | Idaho Statesman ]
Published Feb. 17, 2023

TALLAHASSEE — The classical education curriculum model has been gaining traction in Florida in recent years.

So what does that entail? Do Florida education officials support it? What do its supporters and critics say about it?

For starters, its curriculum emphasizes a return to the foundations of Western civilization, classic texts and focuses on a “back to basics” education model.

In Florida, the model has largely been used in charter schools and private Christian schools. It could soon expand to the higher education system as Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republican lawmakers try to mandate courses in Western civilization, a main focus of a classical education.

Related: Florida is considering a ‘classical and Christian’ alternative to the SAT

Here is a look at what we know about classical education:

What is the focus?

A classical education focuses on cultivating wisdom and virtue “by nourishing the soul on truth, beauty and goodness,” according to Mason Classical Academy, a classical charter school in Naples, Florida, founded in 2014.

The model, which has been around for decades, emphasizes a return to “core virtues” and subjects like math, science, civics and classical texts.

It puts a strong emphasis on the “centrality of the Western tradition” — or a historical focus on white, Western European and Judeo-Christian foundations — and “demands moral virtue of its adherents.”

Many institutions uphold the “Pillars of Virtue,” which highlight courage, courtesy, honesty, perseverance, self-government, service and responsibility.

Some schools, which are backed by Hillsdale College’s Barney Charter School Initiative, focus on the “core disciplines of math, science, literature and history,” and adhere to music, art, physical education and foreign languages.

Hillsdale College is a small private Christian college in Michigan that’s recently had a heavy hand in shaping education policy in Florida.

Related: Conservative Hillsdale College is helping DeSantis reshape Florida education

Who is tied to the development of the curriculum?

In Florida, there are at least a dozen private and public charter classical schools at the K-12 level.

The growth of classical charter schools in Florida is backed by groups such as Hillsdale College, which has seven member schools in the state, according to its website.

The Optima Foundation, a nonprofit organization, is another group that supports the establishment and expansion of “superior quality schools of choice.” It is led by Erika Donalds, an avid school choice proponent and the wife of Republican Congressman Byron Donalds of Naples. The company operates six schools across Florida, including one online school.

Former state education commissioner Richard Corcoran’s wife has also founded one of these charter schools: Classical Preparatory School in Pasco County. Corcoran, who now serves as the interim president of New College of Florida, has been supportive of the classical education model.

Why do supporters like it?

Hillsdale College is one of the most prominent proponents of the classical education model. The university’s classical charter school initiative is designed for “modern times,” and it is viewed as part of a school reform effort.

Hillsdale’s classical education model views its approach as the “surest road to school reform and one that emphasizes core subjects like phonics and science and the importance of studying Western history.”

Some supporters argue classical education offers an alternative education model to the traditional public school, which in recent years has been accused of focusing too heavily on discussions of race, gender identity and other social issues.

In the last two years, DeSantis and state education officials have put a spotlight on classical public charters by holding events at these schools to announce education policies, including politically divisive measures.

Gov. Ron DeSantis displays the signed Parental Rights in Education bill flanked by elementary school students during a news conference on Monday, March 28, 2022, at Classical Preparatory school in Shady Hills.
Gov. Ron DeSantis displays the signed Parental Rights in Education bill flanked by elementary school students during a news conference on Monday, March 28, 2022, at Classical Preparatory school in Shady Hills. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

DeSantis signed into law the Parental Rights in Education Bill at a Hillsdale-affiliated charter school in Spring Hill. The bill, which critics called “don’t say gay,” prohibits instruction related to gender identity or sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade or older grades if the topic is not “age appropriate.”

What do critics say about it?

Some observers say that a classical education’s hyper-focus on Western civilization assumes that the tradition and historical legacy of white Europe and America is the most important thing students should be studying.

Leaving out more contemporary subjects could put some kids at risk of missing out on a well-rounded education.

Others have criticized the rosy spin on American history. Educators and historians, for example, have raised questions about Hillsdale’s charter schools, citing their negative take on the New Deal and the Great Society and cursory presentation of global warming, according to The New York Times.