Modern Equivalent of a Classical Education

So I’ve had to go out and discover how to educate myself after being disillusioned by the Public educational system I grew up with. I didn’t go to college for fear of more indoctrination as education. I don’t view this as a mistake necessarily, but I do feel like I might have wasted my time on education in the wrong path had I not studied what I have, and feel more able to educate myself from a point of knowing what curricula I am interested in.

So with a classical education as I am aware of it, it focuses on the 7 liberal arts.

So, if I wanted to establish the modern equivalent of a classical education, what would I study? Obviously all of the above 7 are still important, but to learn these concepts, what courses of study would be required?

Regarding grammar–it depends on what your ultimate goal is. Do you want to emulate the poor confused British schoolboys who were taught Latin grammar as applied to English (hint: it doesn’t really work), or would you like to study the state-of-the-art in syntactic theory?

If you want the state-of-the-art, then you want a red Cambridge book on Syntax, the most recent version of which was I think written by Andrew Radford. These books do assume that you know what the parts of speech are, and have some general idea that verbs take arguments, but are otherwise suitable for beginners.

If you want more of a historical standpoint, the reading is going to get heavier. You would start at the very beginning, with Noam Chomsky’s *Syntactic Structures * and Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. For reading past that, you would just be wading through oodles of tomes that are now considered obsolete, but that will ultimately lead up to the Radford you read in the preceding paragraph. To read all about this, look at the Wikipedia article on it.

Now. These theories are all general theories of syntax, and are supposed to be applicable to any language, anywhere. You’re going to want to know something about the rules of specific languages, and given that you’re posting on an English language message board and asking about classical education, my best guess is that you’ll want Greek, Latin, and English–although frankly, I think you could dispense with the Greek if you wanted. The contrast between Latin and English grammar is very strong, however. Latin has a strong case system, and English basically doesn’t have one at all. The standard text for learning Latin is *Wheelock’s Latin * and the accompanying workbook.

For English, any basic modern grammar would be good… to tell the truth, I don’t have a specific recommendation here because English is my native language, so I never took a class in its structure. If, however, you’d like to get down on Old English (which has a strong case system, like Latin), you’ll want Old English by Roger Lass. Then, if you want to read a bit about how the Old stuff turned into the Modern stuff, Millward’s *A Biography of the English Language * will explain it.

If you get through all this and understand it, you’ll know more syntax than the average linguistics Ph.D.

ETA: If you want to expand “grammar” to include all of linguistics, then the red Cambridge books are the way to go. They are all basic overviews of different areas of linguistics, written by people who are considered to be authorities in the area–though be aware that linguists are notoriously cliquish and unkind about approaches that are not theirs, so reading more than one overview of a subject area might be wise. The major areas of formal linguistics are phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics. There are also sociolinguistics, anthropological linguistics, etc etc etc, but those are more sociological and anthropological studies.

I am not sure where you pull this stuff from but all you have to do is enroll in a good, traditional university, pick a liberal arts major and then choose a variety of elective courses to fulfill your goal. The U.S. model does a great job of that. Classes in your major will only take up about 1/4 - 1/3 of a liberal arts degree so there is plenty of room for exploration.

I have no idea whatsoever what you are referring to. I am a libertarian/conservative that went to a very good undergraduate school and an Ivy League grad school. This makes no sense whatsoever to me. What are you trying to say? I have a good feeling that your perspective is distorted because you don’t know what you don’t know.

Sattua Fascinating. I will keep in mind the Chomsky and Radford books for the time being and when I get through those I’ll consider going further. Would reading these books suffice or should I look into it as a course of study? Should I devise some system of exercise for this purpose do you think, would just applying it as I write in the normal course of my life be sufficient?

As for Latin, while I would like to learn Latin, I don’t know that I feel compelled to learn Latin imminently. The point of this question isn’t so much how I would go about obtaining a Classical education, but more about what the modern cultural equivalent is. For instance, what would I gain from those languages? I understand what the medieval classicist wanted from them, he wanted the ability to read tomes that were not translated into his native tongue. For me however, a lot of that information is readily available in English. So while I see value in learning ancient languages, the purpose in doing so is slightly different.

So it is not specifically a classical education that I am looking for, but a modern education that will accomplish the same goals that a classical education accomplished for the medieval thinker. Within that goal, lifting aspects of a classical education is not out of the realm of possibility.

Look, I am not here to debate the merits of modern education. That’s not the purpose. I am currently in school now after a decade off. That’s not the point of my question, the point is to comprehend a course of study so that I can be more involved in the design of the curriculum.

My view is not distored because I don’t know what I don’t know. I started the thread you are responding in specifically to help me know what I don’t know. What I was afraid of was going into school aimlessly and navigating an impersonal system that would not help me figure out the right course for me. Having watched some of my friends come out of school, I do not think that I was entirely off-base. I have seen a wide range of experiences from college among my friends, from people who just messed around to people who really knew what they wanted to focus on and got world-class educations. My experience was formed by practical examples. One of the most formative was working in a job without a college education at all, and schooling recent graduates in how to do THEIR job, and then entertaining the question, “How long did you have to go to school to learn this stuff?” It’s not that I think that the college system is broken, it’s that I was never provided the appropriate tools to interface with it.

Frankly, the only reason I see for anyone learning formal syntax is A) they’re a linguist, and B) they intend to specialize in syntax. If you read the two Chomsky books and one Radford, you’ve made spectacular headway and can stop. Unless you want to go on.

Regarding learning languages, though–Latin really is a great language for an English speaker to learn, not only because so much of our own vocabulary is derived from it and because it has so much cultural currency (and so much important literature was written in it), but because it is a case language, which English is not. Case System (Latin) vs. Word Ordering (English) is a major dichotomy in all languages everywhere. If you’re going to learn a foreign language for the purpose of understanding more about how language works, you should go for one with a case system.

From a modern standpoint, many people choose German for the case language. It does have a strong case system–it also has some peculiar rules about word ordering, which cloud the issue. It will be a lot more useful on jaunts to Europe than Latin would ever be, though. Russian is another case language that’s becoming increasingly more useful in the United States (did you know that one in eight people in New York City are native speakers of Russian?), but you have to learn the Cyrillic alphabet to study it, which slows you down.

The gold standard for being “well educated” with regard to foreign languages is to have studied German and French. German for the reasons above and also because a lot of academic work is still being published in it. French also has cultural currency and is one of the most spoken languages in the world–it is a Romance language, too, and the Romance languages grouped together are a real powerhouse. They’re great because their grammar is similar to English, so you can learn them quickly, and once you’d studied two of them, you can just about read the rest of them. I studied French and Italian; I’m now pretty comfortable reading Spanish, especially if I have a dictionary at hand.

The downside of knowing two Romance languages is that you forget which is which, and end up spewing your own charming and expressive dialect :stuck_out_tongue:

Another of the major dichotomies in languages around the word is Head First languages versus Head Last languages. Indo-European languages are pretty much all Head First, while many languages spoken in eastern Asia are head-last.

What does Head First and Head Last mean?

Also, how does Hebrew rate in there? Hebrew is a language I would like to learn.

Thanks for the tip on Latin, I would like to learn Latin. Now, maybe I will.

French and Spanish are languages I am familiar with and can kind of understand when immersed in them, so I might get those down quickly so I can speak to many people around the world.

Linguistics definitely fascinates me. My ex is getting her Masters in it currently, and I will probably delve more deeply into it later when I have more time. Right now I am studying to be a massage therapist which has a very interesting science component to it. It’ll give me a nice practical skill that I can use to support my family, and at the same time learning Neurology and such has been endlessly fascinating. I am trying to figure out where to go from there when I am done.

However, for me the course is more about a course of self-mastery than it is about trying to enter into any particular vocation.

Head first and head last has to do with where the heads of phrases go… hard to explain before you’re read the Radford. Basically, Yoda from Star Wars was re-arranging English to be head last. “Strong with the force he is” instead of “He is strong with the force.” Except that that’s a really weak example, so that English-speaking audiences could still parse it.

I’m all for anyone who wants to learn Hebrew, learning it. You will be slowed down at the beginning because of the different alphabet–but it’s only an alphabet, not too hard. Semitic languages are cute (pardon me–linguistically cute) because a lot of the syntax is expressed by inserting different vowels in between the consonants. I’m sure you’ve heard that. I can’t say any more than that–the only Semitic language I’ve ever studied was Tigrinya, and it was really (the lord or Noam Chomsky is going to strike me down for saying this!) more like a Bantu language than anything else. I’m absolutely sure it’s a creole… but the instructor smote me with a B in the class because I suggested that. Very rude to suggest that minority languages might be creoles. Don’t do it. Never mind that English is a creole too.

Another “cute” trick is agglutination, in which morphology replaces most of the syntax. Highly agglutinative languages are Swahili (and Tigrinya), and Turkish. Swahili has one of the most gorgeous grammars I have ever seen. It also has fourteen genders (eek). Turkish has a case system. Both are written in the Latin alphabet. Klingon… if you’re into that… is agglutinative.

Reduplication is another cute trick used by many Australian and New Guinea languages, in which repeating a word or syllable has syntactic consequences.

Mswas, you might be interested in modern “neoclassical” education. There’s a whole bunch of books on it, and a bunch of philosophies around it–everything from people advocating a ‘pure’ classical education that focuses on Greek and Latin to people who use the Trivium as a guiding metaphor. The general goal is to inspire a love of learning, independent thought, and excellent use of language, so that one is fitted to learn anything and examine everything critically. A few books, essays, or websites you might be interested in:

The lost tools of learning, an essay by Dorothy Sayers that provided a first inspiration to many.

Calls for a return to classical education for adults: Climbing Parnassus and Who killed Homer?

How to do it yourself as an adult: The well-educated mind: a guide to the classical education you never had.

How to educate your children neo-classically: The well-trained mind. (See their explanation of what classical education is.)

A modern philosophy of ‘pure’ classical education, for children and adults. The extreme end of the spectrum.

Learning Latin and Greek significantly helped my English.

Dangermom Thanks for the article!

Sattua So head first refers to where the subject is? In the case of Yoda ‘he’?

As an aside, it’s funny that one of the ads is for NYU Gallatin, which is the ‘design your own curriculum’ school at NYU, IIRC.

When the classical curriculum was devised, arithmetic and geometry was most of mathematics, if not all of it. Now you can major in math without ever touching major areas. I think the closest thing you’re going to find is a proof-based class in linear algebra, in the sense that it’ll give you a good sense of the flavor of modern mathematics.

Go to Oxford, and do Classics. Also available at Cambridge. No Latin or Greek required on entry. 4 years of:

  • History
  • Philosophy
  • Classical languages
  • Classical literature

These will have you up to speed on the classical world.

Of course to be truly ‘widely educated’ I think you’d also need:

  • fluent knowledge of 2 or 3 foreign languages, including one non-indo-european one
  • a reading knowledge of sanskrit and classical chinese
  • decent knowledge of some proof-based area of mathematics
  • good general knowledge of Newtonian physics, and a grounding in the basic tenets of quantum mechanics, relativity, fields and cosmology
  • some chemistry, biology and anatomy
  • some botany and zoology
  • good knowledge of modern literature, film, music and theatre
  • play more than one musical instrument to a good standard

Good luck!

Modern classical education for the 21st Century consists of:

Sesame Street
Hooked on Phonics

watching at least 3 Merchant Ivory historical dramas
watching at least 1 news or comedy news program per day
learning Google Advanced Search

To quote Jane Austen:

You could do what my son did; find a good liberal arts U and major in Classics (see zhongguorenmin’s post below) and Mathematics. While an undergrad sinkid participated in a fencing club, and was on the varsity cross country, track and shooting teams (note; we never had a gun in our house, he picked this up so he could do the biathalon and keep a friend company.) Performance classes were available at his liberal artsy university so he was also able to learn to play the guitar. And he took a couple of classes in engineering thermodynamics for the fun of it in his spare time. I don’t know what more you can expect from an institute of higher learning. :cool:

A good liberal arts and sciences university has a lot to offer and you really don’t have to worry about “fear of more indoctrination as education.”

sinjin (an engineer who appreciates the value of a liberal education)

I agree with this. But now that I come to think of it, I realize that I see the Trivium as something to learn before college, in preparation for it. Then you go on to study more specific areas–what was once the Quadrivium, I guess. The Trivium part would be learning to read and write well, think deeply, and express oneself clearly–to get ready for college work.

I feel that I missed a lot in college, because I had a rotten high-school education and was totally unprepared for the kind of work and analysis expected at the high-level university I wound up at. I muddled through all right, but I could have gotten so much more out of it if I had been prepared. It took me until grad school to learn how to write the kinds of papers I should have written as a sophomore. Now I’m working on filling in all the holes I can see in my education.

As it happens, my project this summer is to study some Latin. I’ve done some baby Latin in the past year and–wow, I had no idea how much great stuff there was to learn! I have gotten a lot out of it and now want to do some more while I have time in the next couple of months. The books should arrive this week. :slight_smile:

Nothing personal, but frankly this is crazy talk, only really applicable in nations hosting Cultural Revolutions. You would probably know this if you had gone to college.

Rest assured, it was a terrible, terrible time-wasting mistake. For some reason you seem to be trying to rationalize ignorance, of all things.

This is surprisingly, given the content of your post thus far, true. It’s just unfortunate it took you ten years to figure out what you are interested in.

Again, back to the crazy talk. These curricula may be considered a “classical education,” but you may be surprised to learn that in the past few thousand years we have discovered other, possibly more important, more useful areas of study. Check out all the definitions of “classical” to perhaps broaden your apprehension of the word. Again, you would probably know this already if you had gone to college.

In sum, unless you are a remarkably talented individual, aka Michael Chabon, or a dilettante, aka Paris Hilton, there are probably other more substantive curricula for you to consider if you are going back to school. How about a Nursing track? Again, nothing personal, but perhaps you should revisit this topic after you finish your sophomore year, like the rest of us. :slight_smile:

If you enrolled at a good American college or university for a “classic” liberal arts education, you would probably be required to take the following things:

At least a semester or two of English, where you would learn (or ensure that you knew how to) read, write, and do research, and perhaps familiarize yourself with at least some of “the classics” of literature.

At least a semester of mathematics (beyond the basic algebra and geometry that one would typically learn in high school).

At least one or two courses in the natural sciences (physics, chemistry, biology) with some lab component.

At least a couple courses in the social sciences (psycology, sociology, political science, etc.), and at least a couple in the humanities (art, music, philosophy, etc.); history, depending on the approach taken, might fall into either the first or the second of these categories.

Possibly a course in public speaking.

Possibly fluency in a foreign language (of your choice).

Possibly a course studying the history and/or culture of some non-Western society (i.e. going beyond the “dead white males” of the old-fashioned traditional curriculum).

And then you would have to “major” in one particular subject matter, taking numerous classes and probably involving some sort of comprehensive examination and/or major research project.
Now, some of this you can make up on your own, through independent reading, etc. But, on your own, you won’t get feedback and evaluation on your writing, math, etc.; you won’t have access to lab equipment so as to learn by doing; you won’t have the interaction with teachers and fellow students that you get from going to college; you won’t have the organization and structure to your education; just to name a few things you’re missing out on.

I gave my long answers about grammar because it was the one area mswas asked about that I feel really qualified to answer (me gots a Ph.D. in linguistics). Since people are taking a broader approach, however, I guess I’d like to chime in:

The trivium and quadrivium are indeed great things to know, but they shouldn’t be college-level material. Human knowledge has expanded exponentially and it’s been a long time since we reached the point where one person really can’t be well-educated in all areas. Elementary through high school is the time for general studies, and if you want to go for the “classical” education then you need to go back and fix whatever was lacking in that. The modern educated person specializes.

A couple of subject areas that are new, since the Trivium and Quadrivium were the be-all and end-all, are calculus, chemistry, and biology–specifically cell biology and genetics. And I am definitely of the opinion that knowing a little biology is much more important than knowing ANY music theory or astronomy at all.

And there’s a lot more history now than there was then, too.