Interview of Morgan Simms
Classical schools look at classic texts and teach students to make distinctions between what is always true and what is bound by time or culture.
Q: HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE A CLASSICAL EDUCATION, AND HOW DOES IT COMPARE TO OTHER APPROACHES TO EDUCATION?
A: Education is the formation of a human being, and the classical liberal arts are the method by which that is done. A classical liberal education draws from traditional texts to guide students through a way of thinking that is meant to free the human person. That’s what the word “liberal” means: to be free. It is liberating in that it teaches students how to recognize what is really true—not just what people are saying is true. Education that is not classical doesn’t quite accomplish that, because that isn’t the goal. Much modern education focuses on knowing the facts and possessing certain skills to do something practical, oftentimes for the sake of making money—which is good and important. But that’s not the end of human life. The question of what makes us human is something that classical education really strives to answer.
Q: WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF THAT CLASSICAL EDUCATION IN TODAY’S WORLD WHERE YOU DO NEED THOSE PRACTICAL SKILLS?
A: Everyone needs to learn about the world in order to live in the world. But what classical education brings to the table is how you approach understanding the world. There are principles of how things work and logical ways of thinking, which apply to all sorts of things. When you are learning mathematics at a classical school (like Great Hearts), the focus is less on memorizing the formula and more on logically deriving the formula. With literature, classical schools are not just concerned with who is doing what in this book, but why they are doing it. Does it make sense that this character is behaving in this manner?
Q: WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO SOMEONE WHO SAYS THAT A LIBERAL ARTS EDUCATION CREATES A JACK-OF-ALL-TRADES, MASTER-OF-NONE TYPE OF PERSON?
A: If you choose a certain trade, it’s because you either love it or you think there’s something valuable there and you want to be good at it. In order to do that, you should understand what is involved in that trade, along with the position of that trade in its larger social context. A business major would do well to take a biology class, for example, because there are rules of life in biology, and understanding the operations of the natural world is important to understanding human commerce. You also have to learn how different types of systems work and what is good about those systems—and what parts of the system tend to break down. When you are in the business world, you want to conduct your business in a systematic way to accomplish your goals. You will want to understand where the business world fits into the rest of the world.
Q: HOW DO WE RELATE A TEXT LIKE PLATO’S REPUBLIC TO THE CULTURE OF OUR DAY?
A: A book expresses certain thoughts and ideas, some of which will be true. True thoughts about the way things really are. Some of those thoughts are particular to the time, place, and culture of the author. Classical schools look at classic texts and teach students to make distinctions between what is always true and what is bound by time or culture. But, when you read through numerous texts from different time periods and cultures, you begin to see what’s timeless and always true, what’s eternal. You see the progression of specific social and political thought. Classical education shows students how to make the distinctions between what is always true and needs defending today—like justice—and what deserves a conversation in the public square on how to prudently approach a particular issue. Practice making those distinctions is a very important skill to bridging the gap between the past and the present— and giving due credit to our predecessors.
Pictured above: A recent graduate of Thomas Aquinas College, Morgan Simms will be returning to her alma mater, Anthem Preparatory Academy, to teach 6th grade natural science and 9th grade Euclidean geometry. Anthem Preparatory Academy is part of the Great Hearts school network.