The radio and podcast “Issues, Etc.” has been hosting a series about classical education with Dr. Thomas Korcok, who has theological and academic degrees from American, Canadian, Scottish, and Dutch universities. He is currently an associate professor at Concordia University in Chicago and director of the Center for the Advancement of Lutheran Liberal Arts.
You will find all the discussions interesting, and here on the RCS blog we’ll post quick summaries to pique your interest and introduce each episode, as we think they are well worth listening to.
In episode one of the series, Korcok and host Todd Wilken discussed the major differences between classical and conventional educational approaches to methods and content: what children learn and how they are taught. Often, Wilken noted, we hear today that facts are outdated because people can just Google for whatever they don’t know. That’s a popular misconception, Korcok said, and he explained why.
“We’re trying to measure education by the wrong standards…that are put forth by a progressive model of education that sometimes may be not what parents are really after when they try and think of education,” he said.
While most of today’s teachers are taught to think of a good education as being determined by the process and methods they use with children, historically teachers focused on the knowledge parents commissioned them to teach their children. With little knowledge, of course, methods are empty and ineffective. People cannot think critically or creatively about nothing. They must have mental material to work with.
“If I’m going to look up something on Google — and of course I do that all the time — we have to know what we’re looking for in the first place,” Korcok noted.
He then went on to explain that for 1,800 years, until very recently, western and Christian education was synonymous. The educating that took place was largely under the auspices of local churches, cathedrals, and other Christian authorities and institutions.
“The church has been the leader in education and we have produced some of the finest educational minds in history,” Korcok said. “So when the church was in charge of education, the church recognized that what was necessary for a child to be a leader in society, and also a leader in the church, is they needed a storehouse of facts and information which would enable them to apply themselves to a new situation.”
He gave an analogy. If someone draws a squiggle on a page and says “This is the letter S,” someone might say, “Well, what good is a little bit of information like that?” But if you combine that bit with other bits of information about other squiggles that are the letters of the alphabet, and then combine those, you learn how to read and form an almost infinite variety of words, phrases, sentences, and ideas. The information is a small but essential building block for larger endeavors.
“If you take all the essential information that a child should know — a lot of facts, a lot of information — and give that to the child, and place that information in context, then as they go through life they’re going to be able to draw on that information and apply it in new and unique ways,” Korcok said.
Korcok told of seeing this in action in real life when he was teaching college students and brought up Brexit, Great Britain’s vote to separate from the European Union. He mentioned it could be understood in the context of England’s history back to 1066, and his students looked at him blankly. He asked if anyone knew what 1066 meant. Of all his classes of students that semester, only three students knew that 1066 was the year William the Conquerer’s victory at the Battle of Hastings eventually essentially led to the creation of a unified England.
Two of those students who knew of 1066 had been classically educated. “They could take British history and apply it to Brexit,” Korcok noted, knowledge that gave them a superior capacity for analyzing and understanding the world.