Return to the Future of Classical Education
Three reflections toward the acceleration of traditional knowledge.
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Dorothy Sayers and the New Classical Schools
Americans should stop grumbling about the education system. In this country, it's entirely possible to establish your own school and offer excellent—even elite—education to your children and others' children.
Over the past few decades, numerous "classical schools" have sprung up, most of them starting as relatively homespun initiatives. These schools often teach Latin, canonical texts, grammar, logic, and rhetoric, following Renaissance templates. A key inspiration for most of these schools was Dorothy Sayers, who delivered an influential speech on the subject in 1947 at Oxford. Some of these schools are Christian, but not all. It's a feasible endeavor; it's not rocket science, just demanding. It seems that the main barrier is the time and effort involved.
Interestingly, the old elite prep schools are pretty much dead. They may still be elite sociologically, but no longer educationally. Like many institutions, they've been degraded by bureaucratization and rationalization (obsessed with grades, SATs, etc.)
These classical schools are now doing what the elite prep schools stopped doing. The movement is expanding, with over 450 member schools in one of the main national conferences (the ACCS). Classical Conversations, a homeschooling tutorial company, serves over 125,000 students. In general, these schools promote personal formation, wonder, virtue, habit, and character.
If you don't like the education system, consider building your own.
Inspiration/source: Classical Education's Aristocracy of Anyone
How to Raise Superintelligent Children
It seems that 1-1 tutoring is the most effective form of education. The problem is, historically, the cost. It requires genuinely educated adults to dedicate huge amounts of time to young people. This has limited tutoring to the privileged few, like Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Virginia Woolf, and several others mentioned in Erik Hoel's widely-shared essay—all of whom were apparently surrounded, constantly, by armies of personal tutors.
Interestingly, much of the time was spent just hanging out—one element of the tutor's contribution was simply showcasing what smart people sound like, asking the young one questions, making suggestions, and so on. Not necessarily working through curricula.
In this context, AI strikes me as incredibly exciting and immediately promising. AI will allow us to create and deploy countless, extremely well-educated tutors, available around the clock, at a cost that even working-class families should be able to afford.
If I were founding an AI tutor company, I would start by creating tutors specialized in the classical trivium: Grammar, rhetoric, and logic. Latin, Greek, mathematics, then just move right into computer programming and skip everything else. Just build 10 different specialized AI tutors on these topics and between the ages of 3 and 13 you can turn your kid into an absolutely terrifying beast of knowledge and agency. For maybe $100/month? At 13 they can decide which other fields they wish to explore. But they'll already be about as educated and capable as our average college graduates are today. The alpha here is just so insane.
In the next few years, a manual laborer living on the edge of poverty might give his or her child a better education than the richest families in the world are giving to their children right now.
Inspiration/source: Why We Stopped Making Einsteins
Plato on Liberal Education and Freedom
Yesterday was our seminar on Plato’s Republic and it was great—thanks to the ~15 people who came out with astute observations and interesting questions.
I’d like to expand on a point that came up, about education and philosophy.
I said yesterday that one of my favorite aspects of the Republic is its veneration of the philosopher. Arguably the vocation is receiving its first definition in these pages.
What’s striking to me is that Plato is quite radical about the difference between philosophers and non-philosophers.
For Plato, a liberal education is necessary to become a free man. A liberal education is oriented toward the highest things (essentially philosophical), whereas an illiberal education is oriented toward usefulness.
You can be a free man, a philosopher, liberally educated and concerned with observation of the truth.
Or you can be useful, in which case you are servile, not a philosopher, and not liberally educated.
For Plato, just about anyone concerned with usefulness is essentially a slave.
Plato is suggesting that even many elites—businessmen, politicians, and impressive artists—who generally consider themselves superior to servile laborers are, in fact, of the same class.
Liberal education is not a luxury, it’s not a little layer of enlightenment laid atop a normal, successful, useful life. It is the decided priority of any free man, rich or poor.
Liberal education is a radical initiation into a completely different way of life: The greatest and highest way of life.