Why North Carolina needs classical education

By Winston Brady

Raleigh, NC – Each day, it becomes more obvious the United States and the entirety of the Western world, including North Carolina, has lost its way. This is largely because we’ve lost the Western tradition that produced the world we live in. Having lost our roots, we have lost much (but not all) of our ability to engage in meaningful civic discourse, to contribute to the common good, and to cultivate a sense of charity and personal responsibility so desperately needed in the world today. To paraphrase CS Lewis, we have severed the tree from its roots yet still demand the tree bear fruit.

Thales Academy is the first planned school for Chatham Park.
Thales Academy was the first planned school for Chatham Park. (photo by Gene Galin)

The great irony of all this is that the key component removed from the curriculum is that of the liberal arts. Today, we look at the liberal arts as subjects like history and literature disconnected to practical, everyday jobs like farming or coding. Or, we view the liberal arts as progressive, left-of-center subjects dangerous to the American republic because they include degrees and concentrations that have no bearing with reality aside from the resentment and jealousy they sow.

The school choice revolution in our state has, thankfully, led to a lot more children being taught the liberals arts from a traditional classical perspective. So while the Western world seems to have lost its way, there is real hope that a new generation, given a quality classical education, can pull us back from the brink.

Historically, the liberal arts are so-named because they are the subjects that help make one free. The word liberal comes from the Latin libertas, meaning “liberty.” Herein, the word liberal enjoys some valuable connections with liber, meaning “book,” bringing together liberty and literacy in the classical mind. So how do the liberal arts prepare individuals for such a life?

In the ancient world, the liberal arts included grammar, logic, and rhetoric (the trivium), and another group including astronomy, music, arithmetic, and geometry (the quadrivium). Together, they formed the seven liberal arts. The liberal arts prepared students to use their freedom well by teaching them how to read, how to think, how to discern truth from error, and how to delight in what is true.

But what guided the liberal arts, and what was transformed through the worldview of Christianity, was the relationship between the liberal arts and the truth. What is true is what corresponds to reality, what can be proven through demonstration or supported with an argument. Truth provides a powerful check on the ambitions of unscrupulous politicians who care not for the truth but only for power.

Today, we have a host of politicians and ideologues sowing discord and manipulating citizens into supporting their agenda. Most Americans have no meaningful recourse to defend themselves against it and instead, get caught up in the flood of resentment and jealousy — and often enough, this occurs when they lacked the kind of education we call classical.

Not only were they denied the subjects that help students discern truth from falsehood, but they lacked the broad, content-rich survey of the Western canon that provides countless examples of what to do and what not to do. Indeed, the problems we see today are similar to those endured by the Greek city-states, the Roman Republic, and the nation-states of early modern Europe — and if we do not learn about them, we may make the same mistakes they did.

If individuals are to find real and abiding happiness, we have to go back to our roots — the books, ideas, concepts of the Western tradition. In short, the tree must be re-rooted if it is to bear fruit again.

I was classically educated, and I believe classical education offers the best opportunity for North Carolina students to cultivate their unique, God-given talents and abilities. The privilege I had in reading Homer and Virgil, Dante and Milton, helped me to turn from a debilitating depression and alcoholism to what I believe amounts to the kind of life classical educators extol as the “good life.”

Such a life is consumed not in idleness, resentment, or self-indulgence but is instead spent serving others, contributing to the common good, and talking about wisdom and virtue, the attributes of the “good life” Socrates praised as the only life worth living.

To this good and noble end, Thales Academy and Thales Press host an annual conference on classical education. The goal of the conference is to help school leaders at likeminded classical schools, from North Carolina and far beyond, focus on the mission and vision of educating students.

We want to invite readers to join us in this free, virtual conference on July 8 from 11 am to 12 pm via the following link: bit.ly/3V5L4Dm

This year, the speakers include: Robert Luddy, a respected North Carolina businessman, philanthropist, and the founder of Thales Academy and Thales College; Dr. Anthony Esolen, a world-renowned author and speaker and professor at Thales College; Matt Ogle, head of classical education at Thales Academy; and, the present author, Winston Brady, director of Thales Press.

The title for our 2024 conference is First Principles because we will be examining four ideas crucial to human flourishing and classical education. These principles include human dignity, moral philosophy, natural order, and our intellectual inheritance, that guide our school culture and curriculum at Thales.

As educators, we want to help our faculty, students, and parents understand the goals of classical education and how these goals influence kindergarten through 12th-grade classrooms. That way, parents, teachers, and, above all, students see their purpose in light of the kind of education we call classical.

Winston Brady is the director of curriculum and director of Thales Press at Thales Academy, a network of private classical schools in North Carolina. He has taught various humanities classes for the past 13 years at Thales Academy.