The Purpose of Classical Education – An Unintended Dialogue

Every so often we need to remind ourselves of the point of a classical education. As readers of these pages know, the phrase classical education is just a clever way to cloak our real meaning which is Liberal Education. But present fashions dictate that we avoid this hateful phrase and speak about it under the veil of a more acceptable one,  namely classical education. And so we ask: What is the point of a classical education?

Lion: Pardon me, I hate to interrupt, but why don’t you just go ahead and say Liberal Education if that is what you mean?

Ox: That’s a silly question Lion. Everyone knows why Langley avoids uttering the words Liberal Education. He just told us that the present fashion frowns upon these words. What more do you need to know?

Lion:  This is most disingenuous. Appalling! I am disappointed! Why doesn’t he say what he means? I think he insults his readers by this kind of intellectual subterfuge.

Ox: Lion, it doesn’t surprise me that your mind lacks the subtlety to see his clever teaching method. Langley doesn’t use words that he knows will upset people and strike dead the attention of his readers at the very outset.  He always proceeds wisely and slow.

Lion: he would be far more clever if he could only say what he means with succinct brevity!

Ox: sometimes teaching requires a little finesse, Lion. Sometimes a teacher has to employ Rhetoric – which is chiefly an art concerned with persuasion; an art that enables one to attract others towards accepting a position through sweetened language. Something which you may not be able to appreciate. Think about that for a moment Lion…persuading others…. Teaching is not just a matter of throwing around muscle and bombast like some people do.

Lion: I know that, Ox.

Ox: Rhetoric enables the speaker to communicate with words most suitable to persuading this or that audience. Sometimes, we, like Langley, need to speak about things indirectly.

Lion: Does the rhetorician ever get to his point?

Ox: Lion, teaching is not simply a matter of posturing and bellowing as is perhaps your own custom.

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Lion: Bellowing? Why, Ox, this is the pot calling the kettle black!

Well as I was saying, the point of a classical …

Lion: If you want to speak about the point of liberal education, then just go ahead and say liberal education.

Ox: Lion you are so naive! You have no sense. No sophistication. Think for a moment. What do people think when they hear the phrase Liberal Education?

Lion: Well I don’t know and frankly, what do I care?

Ox: That is just the problem with you. I will tell you what they think since you are evidently so dull, so out of touch with the “sensus populi,” so unfamiliar with common parlance.

Lion: Please do–and I would prefer an explanation from you without your usual condescension and ad hominem attacks. Personally, I find your manner offensive and your arrogance intolerable.

Er…excuse me gentle-beasts, no need for any unpleasant altercations between you. I could simply use the phrase Liberal Educ…

Ox: No, no, Let me clear up this matter with Lion quickly and then you may proceed as you had first planned.

Well as you like Ox, I don’t mean to stand in the way–just wanted to proceed with my point before we lose sight of it altogether.

Ox: Lion is simply too used to the discussion method to sit still and listen. He feels that he must always say something.

Now listen to me Lion, in the first place the phrase liberal education is widely misunderstood and associated with things that it is not.

For example people often confuse liberal education with the liberal arts.

And to make matters worse, people often confuse a liberal education with an education in the so-called humanities. And what are the humanities? Pray tell me.

The humanities appear to cover just about anything that is produced by humans. Literature, the arts, history, you name it. There are many who assert that the highest sciences and even Theology are included in the humanities as if they were no more than human products.

There are many who simply think that liberal education is a phrase that signifies any sort of non career oriented, non practical general study; liberal education amounts to no more than general studies.

In other words, liberal education is the education for people that have no specific interests. An education for people who have no direction in their lives except to be professional students perhaps.

Under these mistaken views liberal education is a sort of education for losers.

It is an education with no practical value which is another way of saying the same thing.

As if that wasn’t enough Ox, the phrase liberal education is fraught with other pejorative connotations like ‘an education for snobs’, ‘an education for armchair philosophers’, ‘an education for jacks of all trades but masters of none’.

As if America needs more of those to be competitive in the global economy. No wonder a leading presidential candidate has spoken against liberal education.

And I won’t even mention the fact that the leading colleges and universities that espouse liberal education have also seemingly been co-opted by those who espouse so-called liberal politics or liberal ideologies. Hence liberal education is the education for liberals.

And so I think Langley is very clever to avoid all reference to liberal education whenever he can, even though it appears to be the second love of his life.

These days we must be clever as fox….er..I mean clever as Oxes!

Lion: Ox, you have spoken for a long time and I lost you somewhere in the beginning.  I still think Langley should say what he means in the clearest terms possible without compromising to those who are mistaken. If he means liberal education then let him say liberal education!

Ox: Lion, it is precisely thinking like you do that has kept your species in the inferior intellectual position that you occupy. No wonder Konrad Lorenz thinks that your entire race is so lazy!

My friends, I am sorry to have introduced the subject today. Let’s discuss the purpose of a libe…I mean a classi…or rather a lib… or perhaps a…Classeral…..

Lion: liberal education

Ox: Classical education

Lion: liberal education

Oh what’s the point? Let’s change the subject.

About marklangley

Presently, the founding Headmaster of Our Lady of Walsingham Academy in Colorado Springs (see www., former headmaster and Academic Dean at The Lyceum (a school he founded in 2003, see Mark loves sacred music and Gregorian Chant and singing with his lovely wife, Stephanie, and their children.
This entry was posted in classical education, discussion, Liberal Arts, Newman, Shakespeare, truth for its own sake and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Purpose of Classical Education – An Unintended Dialogue

  1. TheThinMan33 says:

    Well said, although I sort of side with Lion but you can call it whatever you like, no one today understands what you mean and anyway. Keep up the good work.
    P.S. Have you ever thought of getting a night job as a welder?

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