Classics is the academic field devoted to the study of the Greco-Roman world. One of the amazing things about studying classics and, I have found this, being a classicist myself, is the immersive quality of classics. When a person studies classics, they become immersed in languages, philosophy, politics, economics, mathematics, rhetoric, art, architecture, religions, cults, and scores of great and awful men and women. Students who climb this stair come to see how many little decisions create both the big picture and all the subtle flavors of a civilization.
Classical antiquity, both because it is fundamental to our civilization’s history and because it is so far removed from us, makes it uniquely suited for educational purposes. I don’t need to rehearse all the ways that the Mediterranean ancient world is relevant today. Here we find breakthroughs in philosophy and science, the spread of Judeo-Christian religion, democracy and republican government, challenging and stunning literature and rhetoric, and two languages which ground the technical and scientific vocabulary of today. But in addition to their relevance, the distance between us and the Greeks liberates our assessment of them, making us more impartial and thus better judges. To study politics and government in the Greek and Roman world gives students and teachers enough distance from contemporary issues that teachers can host and truly foster civil debate and discussion in a low stakes environment. Since we want to teach students how to think about life in society, we must offer them the opportunity to critique and debate, to defend propositions and attack policies, employing reason to its fullest extent without anyone’s identity being on the line. In this way classical studies becomes a sandbox for learning how to reason about hundreds of elements within society, offering grand riches from which to draw.
Classical antiquity serves an essential role in classical education. It is our first step, not our last. In most schools 9th grade is the classical year: Ancient Literature, Ancient History, Geometry, and Scripture. History, literature, and religion march through time arm in arm, and these courses constantly reinforce and cast new light upon each other. Humanity did not cease in 500 A.D. and so classical education continues its historical progression while preserving a coherent curriculum. By keeping the course of study coherent, we bring the same level of seriousness and depth to the study of the other civilizations in our curriculum.