Classrooms Reflect our Classical Values

A conversation arose in a meeting this week about how we should approach a teacher’s request to add lighting to her classroom. A few of our interior classrooms have no windows, and sometimes teachers turn off one of the main lights to reduce strain on the eyes. That leaves a rather dark space, so an additional soft source makes sense. One teacher asked for LED rope lights, and another asked for ceiling fixtures. I liked the idea of a traditional, flickering wall sconce like the ones we find in a Charles Dickens novel. This small request got me thinking about a bigger idea about our classrooms. How does our approach to the classroom-its layout, its furniture, its art, and even its lighting, speak to the things we value in a classical classroom? 

The classroom is the heart of any school, and it is the birthplace of the unique relationship between the student and the teacher. What should the external environment look like to support this kind of friendship? The decor in a classroom, as personal to the teacher as it may be, should always be relevant to learning. If a large part of the Fifth Grade curriculum covers the American Civil War, I would be delighted to see Francis B. Carpenter’s representation of President Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation hung on the wall. A timeline of events, from before the beginning of the war to the Reconstruction Era, would also be a relevant and lovely contribution. I would not expect to see motivational posters or sayings like “Choose Kindness”. Though a true imperative, it does not do justice to the kind of discussions and the learning that takes place in our classrooms. There’s something more profound going on.

Desks that face forward emphasize the importance of the students’ relationship with their teacher, and the reality that their learning depends upon the work that happens between them. Shelves, tables, and other furniture are present to facilitate what happens during lessons. Intentionally chosen art, quotes, vocabulary, or charts support student learning and their appreciation and wonder for what they’re learning. In short, the external environment shapes the soul, so a teacher who is thinking about how to organize her classroom should consider how important it really is. While I don’t think that every classroom in a classical school should be standardized so that each bin, pencil holder, or turn-in tray looks exactly the same, I do think that a classical spirit prevails, and those wall sconces are looking better every minute.