The Teacher in the Classical Classroom

by Larry P. Arnn, President
Hillsdale College

Today there is confusion about the role of the teacher. It stems from a larger confusion about the role of education in the life of the student. The unfortunate truth is that education is seen primarily as a kind of job training, reducing students to receptacles for information and teachers to its delivery system.

This is not how education should be.

We’ve arrived here because the most important decisions about education are made by centralized bureaucracies instead of by parents, the people who know and love the children best.

In a good school, teachers and parents form a natural partnership. Teachers come to know and love their students and, like parents, want to help them grow in intellect and virtue. There are few professions that are as noble and have as large an effect—both for the individual student, who learns to flourish, and for the country as a whole, which benefits from a good and happy people.

In many schools, teachers are frustrated. They are constrained by the educational bureaucracy, which hinders their freedom to lead the classroom as they know best. They must teach from scripts in particular textbooks and measure student success (and their own) according to standardized tests. Their freedom to tailor instruction to the individuals sitting in front of them—the children they have come to know and care for—is hampered.

Teachers in well-run classical schools, on the other hand, are free—free to motivate students with love and wonder. Their classrooms are full of engaging questions, the search for truth, and the finest works of literature, science, philosophy, or music. These are the things that help students form a passion for learning that lasts long beyond graduation. Moreover, teachers at these schools love their work. They see their students grow into fine young men and women, and there are few more gratifying things in life than that.

The classroom should never be a place where students are told what to think by teachers who are told what to say. It should be a place of love, wonder, and friendship. These are the types of schools Hillsdale hopes to see thrive in Tennessee and across the nation. Teachers in these schools are given the freedom to change lives and communities for the better. Their students will have the best chance to grow up to be good and happy people. That is precisely what parents want for their children, and it is what teachers want, too.