Classical education…online?

After years of insisting on the importance of classroom learning, in-person seminars, and friendships between students built around going to school together, thanks to our friend the coronavirus, we classical educators have suddenly been forced into the world of online learning. Isn’t life funny?

What should we do in such strange times? Fold our arms and give up the hope of really educating kids for the next 3 weeks, or 5 weeks, or 8 weeks…or more? What a shame that would be for our students, especially those who are about to graduate from high school, and the Kindergarteners who haven’t finished learning to read. But how should we think about classical education in these challenging times?

Parents are the Primary Educators, and They Always Have Been

It’s an opportunity to remember the thing we have always known: parents are the primary educators of their kids, and schools are there to support. All of a sudden teachers and school staff can’t be there with children each day, and this makes life very difficult for many parents, especially those who rely on schools to provide some meals and take care of children during work hours. But, there’s also an opportunity here: a chance for schools to remember that the success of these children rests with parents in a fundamental way. Teachers, principals, and superintendents should partner with parents to help students get through these challenging times. Especially now, good communication between teacher and parent or guardian is essential.

Classical education from home can never be the same as going to school. But, there are ways to capture some of the classical experience during these challenging times.

Classical Education Can’t Fully Happen Online

We should recognize that no matter how great a job we do with classical education online, something is going to be lost. Online learning can be great for delivering content, but education isn’t only about what you learn–it’s about how you learn it. Things like seminar discussion among students, hallway conversations with a teacher, and one-on-one advising are crucial for classical education, and they just can’t happen online.

…But, We can Come Close

But, if we think creatively, we can capture some of the elements of a classical school culture while teaching remotely. Phone conversations with a teacher, or a Zoom meeting to discuss a work of literature with small groups of students can be very effective. For little ones, teachers can record themselves reading great stories aloud, or doing a science demonstration for parents to watch with students at home. I know one math teacher who’s already in the habit of recording a Calculus lesson each day he’s going to be absent from school, and students watch it at the beginning of class before working problems on their own.

How? Keep it Simple.

Teachers, as you plan your teaching in this new setting, remember not to overthink it. As Dan Coupland of Hillsdale College’s education department notes, it would be easy to spend too much time thinking through how to use each available platform. Should I use Google classroom, Notability, Slack, Prezi, or one of the dozens of platforms people are recommending? Articles are popping up all over the place about how this or that system can help you deliver content to your students. Remember that a teacher’s job isn’t merely to “deliver content,” but to help students develop understanding. Think about the things they already know how to do, like email, phone calls, or video conferencing, and spend your time thinking about what you’re going to teach, not how you’re going to teach it. You can do a lot with simple things like email and talking on the phone.

What should a child be doing in math, or science, or history each day? What should learning from home look like for students in each grade? What can parents read to help them prepare for weeks, and maybe even months, of classical education from home? These are some of the questions we’re thinking about here at Hillsdale College. Stay tuned for more guidance and encouragement in the coming days.

You can keep up with the latest at, our Hillsdale College K-12 Classical Education Facebook page, and on InstagramRemember, parents, strength rejoices in the challenge, and you can do this! #strengthrejoices #youcandothis

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