Classical Education Course Descriptions

Courses for the Master of Humanities with Concentration in Classical Education & the Certificate in Classical Education include, but are not limited to the following:

Philosophy of Education

Consider themes such as the nature of the student and of the teacher, the goals of education, curriculum and methodology, the nature and division of knowledge, education and the common good.

Inquiry is cast in the light of more fundamental considerations such as the nature of the human person, of mind, of being and of the good, chiefly through the study of classical texts of the Western philosophical tradition (e.g., Plato’s Republic and Rousseau’s Émile). Attention is given to contemporary issues in education in light of these prior inquiries.


In the history of “liberal education,” the collection of the seven liberal arts (artes liberales) into the trivium and the quadrivium during the medieval period was extremely important. The liberal arts of language—grammar, logic and rhetoric—and those of numeracy—arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy—constituted the arts that liberated students to learn other, more advanced subjects, and even to pursue wisdom, the ultimate purpose of education. As Hugh of St. Victor explains in Didascalion,

Out of all the sciences . . . , the ancients, in their studies, especially selected seven to be mastered by those who were to be educated. These seven they considered so to excel all the rest in usefulness that anyone who had been thoroughly schooled in them might afterward come to a knowledge of the others by his own inquiry and effort rather than by listening to a teacher. For these . . . constitute the best instruments, the best rudiments, by which the way is prepared for the mind’s complete knowledge of philosophic truth. . . . . [B]y them, as by certain ways, a quick mind enters into the secret places of wisdom.

These liberal arts were thought of then as propaedeutic—that which ought to be “taught before.” For many now, they are, in fact, parapaedeutic (“taught alongside”) or even metapaedeutic (“taught after”). This course focuses on the trivium—the three arts of symbol, thought and communication (in Sister Miriam Joseph’s formulation)—and its purpose is practical and philosophical. Students will master the arts of English (not Latin) grammar, traditional (not symbolic) logic and classical (not sophistic) rhetoric to have what Dorothy Sayers calls the “tools of learning.” As well, you will read John Henry Newman, Eva Brann and Martha Nussbaum to reflect on the place of the liberal arts of language within liberal education generally (with reference to Catholic Christianity, American republicanism and global multiculturalism). The argument of the course is that the arts of language are essential—necessary, even if not sufficient—for liberal education itself. If true, that ought to give us pause since, at all levels, these arts have faded, and sometimes even disappeared altogether, from curricula of our nation’s schools, colleges and universities.

History of Liberal Arts Education

What is a liberal education, why is it important, and how is it practiced? Or, if there is no single ‘liberal education’ across different times and places, what has liberal education been, what is it today, and what can and should it be for us? How does it relate to moral education, vocational training, scientific research, religious formation, and citizenship? These are the fundamental questions of "History of Liberal Arts Education."

This course will examine modern and recent developments in the Western heritage of liberal education, to see how we got where we are, and to better understand where we stand in today’s landscape of liberal and other forms of education -- so that each student may better answer the question: what are we doing here?

Principles of Childhood Classical Education

This course introduces students to pivotal writings on the principles of classical liberal arts education, with a special focus on K through 8 education. Students apply the principles discovered in their readings by developing specific units for their own classes.

Reading selections include some of the following:

  • "Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America," by Gene Edward Veith Jr. and Andrew Kern
  • "Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child," by Cheryl Swope
  • "The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education," by Ravi Jain and Kevin Clark
  • "Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition," by Karen Glass
  • "The Lost Tools of Learning," by Dorothy L. Sayers
  • "Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education," by Douglas Wilson
  • "Repairing the Ruins: The Classical and Christian Challenge to Modern Education," by Douglas Wilson
  • "The Art of Teaching," by Gilbert Highet
  • "Climbing Parnassus: A New Apologia for Greek and Latin," by Tracy Lee Simmons
  • "The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being," by Richard Gamble (ed.)

Writing as Imitation

Great artists—painters, musicians, writers, athletes—have always learned the most fundamental lessons of their arts by imitating the masters who went before them, carefully and precisely learning the moves, gestures, structures, and voices of the great artists from the past. Chaucer imitated Ovid and Boethius, Petrarch, Boccaccio and Dante; Shakespeare learned at the knee of Plutarch and Seneca; Pound carefully learned the art of the fin’amor troubadours. By imitating we learn micro- and macro-structures and slowly build up a repertoire. Imitation is not slavish copying, but a deep path to discovering one’s own individual creativity. 

In this course...

  • Learn the arts of description, definition, logical presentation, and persuasion, apprenticing yourself to the likes of Geoffrey of Vinsauf, Charles Dickens, James Joyce, and Cicero to increase your stock of forms and stylistic choices and to discover how to shape your own voice as you work through exercises in "The Writer's Workshop." 
  • Sharpen your sentences and learn grammar and syntax in a pragmatic way as explicated through Longknife and Sullivan's "The Art of Styling Sentences." 
  • See the larger patterns at work in academic writing through Graff, Birkenstein, and Durst's "They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing."
  • Formulate your own sequence of imitation exercises based on your own choices of texts, skills and concepts as you create your own teaching units, with grade-appropriate texts, instructions, and evaluative instruments.

This course builds toward a portfolio that includes the best of the student's writing and the teaching unit that the student has designed.

Teaching American History 

This course will combine a basic survey of American History from the colonial period to the twentieth century with a review of textbooks, primary sources, periodization, teaching methods, and assignments appropriate for various middle-school and high-school teaching. The focus of the course is on comparing, contrasting, and re-thinking various approaches and narratives of American History in the context of a liberal arts curriculum. Special emphasis will be given to the classical and Christian culture of the colonial period, the British context of the development of American founding ideals and institutions, the effect of the various waves of immigration on American social and political life, transformations and continuity in political rhetoric from the founders through John Quincy Adams and Abraham Lincoln to twentieth century figures like Martin Luther King, and the American position in international affairs. 

Teaching Classical Children's Literature

Good literature can inspire children to develop a strong character, it helps them distinguish between what is important and what isn't, it gives them a sense for how other people think and act, and it allows them to learn from the mistakes of others.

In this course...

  • Explore various works of classical Children’s literature and poetry from Aesop to E.B. White, focusing on analytical reading of the texts, understanding the historical and cultural contexts of the works, and classroom applications in the elementary school, including working with the various illustrations available for each text.
  • Investigate the changing historical concepts of children and childhood, as well as the moral and educational functions, the values, and the role models provided by these classics for elementary school children today.
  • Take a brief look at some of the criticism leveled at various works of classical children’s literature, investigating the various arguments in the “canon wars” and debating what exactly makes a good children’s book.

Throughout the course, focus on how to teach these works meaningfully and with maximum efficacy so that children improve their comprehension skills, their active vocabulary and oral expression, as well as their writing skills. Particular emphasis will be given to learning how to teach with the Socratic Method to involve children in the learning process and to stimulate reflecting about and analyzing literature.

This course will provide teachers with the tools to teach any work of children’s and young adult literature. Since the elements of fiction are the same for children’s stories as for youth or adult stories, good Socratic questions to identify these elements are the same as well. At the conclusion of this course, teachers should therefore be equipped to teach literature at any grade level.

An Integrated & Customizable Approach

Students in the Master of Humanities with Classical Education Concentration or the Certificate of Classical Learning programs can select courses from across a variety of departments and programs, including but not limited to: American studies, art, classics, comparative literary traditions, drama, economics, education, English, history, humanities, human sciences, modern languages, politics, psychology, and theology. For full course descriptions in these fields, please see the University Course Catalog.

Additional concentrations are available through the Humanities Graduate Program.


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