Here at Hillsdale College, we promote the founding of classical schools, and excellence in their teaching and operations, so that American schoolchildren may be educated in the liberal arts and sciences and receive instruction in the principles of moral character and civic virtue. We refer to this education as American classical education.
What is American classical education, exactly? What does it look like within the walls of a particular school?
What is American Classical Education?
In a Hillsdale classical school, teachers lead students toward moral and intellectual virtue by means of a rich and robust course of study in the liberal arts and sciences, with instruction in the principles of moral character and civic virtue.
A Well-Rounded Course of Study
In Hillsdale classical schools, students receive a well-rounded education in the liberal arts and sciences. All students study literature and mathematics, history and the sciences, the fine arts, Latin, and physical education because the K-12 years are the years in which we are still coming to know ourselves and the world around us. The successful development of literacy and numeracy and a solid foundation in the core subjects is necessary before advanced or specialized training and study.
Rooted in Human Nature
But the study of the liberal arts does more than prepare the way for specialized training. A liberal education teaches us to seek knowledge of the nature of things, especially the nature of man and of the universe as a whole. Human beings are that part of the universe who seek to know where we stand within it, and who wonder about its ultimate origins and character. We are also driven by a desire to know ourselves—to understand our nature and purpose in life.
The Humanities and the Sciences
The surest guides for this quest are the great works of literature, philosophy, politics, and art that mankind has produced, which teach us about human nature and the human good, along with the serious study of mathematics and the sciences, which teach us about the natural order. Together with the study of history, which teaches us to know ourselves by understanding our place in the unfolding of the human story, the serious pursuit of knowledge across all subjects equips us for truly human lives.
Liberal education liberates us in the true sense. It frees us from ignorance and confusion, from prejudice and delusion, and from the wild passions and fanciful hopes that can degrade and destroy us. It liberates human beings by making us rational, allowing us to see the world clearly and honestly. In revealing our nature, it necessarily reveals what we need by nature—what is right and good for us.
For these reasons, liberal education provides, in part, moral education. Rather than do violence to human nature in a vain attempt to remake it, liberal education cultivates human nature so it can grow properly and flourish. It takes up the essential task of character formation. Liberal education guides us into freedom, by making us self-reliant and responsible, capable of governing ourselves and taking part in the self-government of our communities. Liberal education makes us fit to be true citizens.
Civic Education and Thoughtful Patriotism
The serious pursuit of liberal education shows us that the life of the mind and the existence of liberal education itself depend on the existence of civilization—not to mention political order, security, and freedom of thought. A thoughtful study of history shows us how difficult these goods are to achieve, gives us an appreciation for how rare and precious our own American circumstances are—and shows us how important it is to preserve them.
In studying the origins of our country and its history, in all of its triumphs and tragedies, students acquire a mature love for America, one which appreciates our unprecedented founding, a product of reflection and choice, and measures the health of our republic in light of the standards set forth in our founding documents. From that knowledge, we become citizens capable of judging rightly what ought to be preserved and what changed, and in making this judgment we fulfill a central part of our human nature, becoming free citizens.
The liberal arts in particular and liberal education in general are the surest, most time-tested way to direct students toward a life that is truly free.
Key Characteristics of Hillsdale Classical Schools
- A curriculum that is content-rich, balanced, and strong across the four disciplines of math, science, literature, and history.
- Instruction in the Western tradition through history, literature, philosophy, and the fine arts.
- Study of the American literary, moral, philosophical, political, and historical traditions.
- Explicit instruction in phonics and grammar.
- The study of Latin as a requirement for all students.
- An approach to instruction that acknowledges objective standards of correctness, logic, beauty, weightiness, and truth.
- A well-educated and articulate faculty who use traditional, teacher-led methods of instruction.
- A commitment to use technology effectively without diminishing the faculty leadership that is crucial to academic achievement.
- A plan to serve grades K through 12 (even if the school must open with fewer grades) so as to provide continuity and a recurrent examination of subjects throughout a student’s career.
- A school culture of moral virtue, decorum, respect, discipline, and studiousness among both students and faculty.