To celebrate National School Choice Week, High Noon welcomes Jeremy Wayne Tate to sketch out the contours of what is possible outside the current education system. Tate is the CEO of Classical Learning Test, an alternative to the SAT, and has become a hub for the increasing swell of families interested in returning to the classical idea of education.

Stepman and Tate discussed what the purpose of a good education actually is (hint: not “college and career”), and how our lack of serious education has left us unprepared not just for success, but for the inevitable tragedies and setbacks of adult life itself.

High Noon is an intellectual download featuring conversations that make possible a free society. The podcast features interesting thinkers from all parts of the political spectrum to discuss the most controversial subjects of the day in a way that hopes to advance our common American future. Hosted by Inez Stepman of Independent Women’s Forum.


TRANSCRIPT

Inez Stepman:

Welcome to High Noon, where we talk about controversial subjects with interesting people. Jeremy Wayne Tate is the CEO of Classical Learning Test, an alternative to the SAT, and a classical education advocate. He hosts a podcast called Anchored, and I think he’s right at the center of this growing web of new schools, co-ops, academic conferences, debates, all centered around a more classical vision of education and what the Western canon might have to teach us, and how relevant it still remains to what used to be considered education or being a well-educated person.

Since we are coming up here on National School Choice Week, I wanted to invite him on High Noon to talk about that vision, which I think is — and we’ll talk about this — largely, if not entirely, incompatible with the structure and underlying foundations of our current public education system. But really, it has so much to offer the debate and the place that we’re at as a country as well. So welcome, Jeremy, to High Noon.

Jeremy Wayne Tate:

Inez, thanks so much for having me.

Inez Stepman:

So, you and I go way back. Back when I was an ed policy wonk exclusively. So we’ve been talking about some of the problems with the education system for a long time. But explain for folks, what is CLT? What is the CLT vision of education?

Jeremy Wayne Tate:

Yeah, Inez, thanks so much. And I always give the disclaimer: it may sound like wow, this is going to be boring. We’re going to talk about a standardized test, which really at the core of it is what CLT is. It’s a Classic Learning Test. It’s an alternative to the SAT and ACT, but it was really born out of this conviction that these tests really do, they drive what happens in the classroom.

A lot of private schools, especially private Christian and Catholic schools, but also all kind of public schools, if they were actually forced to compete, which they’re not, but the ones that do have to compete, mostly the way they have to compete is through something connected to the College Board. Right? They’re competing based on the number of National Merit winners, right? Which comes through College Board, right? The PSAT.

They’re competing on their average AP score or their average SAT score. And it ends up becoming a really powerful driver for everything that happens in the classroom. The problem, though, is that the College Board is radically disconnected from the kind of education, really, that gave birth to America, which is classical education. And so, the idea behind the CLT is pretty simple: it is to create a competitor to the College Board that would drive direction towards the tradition that was foundational to America, rather than away from it.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. There’s nothing more boring than those SAT passages. I used to be a test prep teacher for the SAT, and so I know the test better than 99.9% of people because I’ve probably taken it dozens, if not 100 times. And the company I worked for, which I won’t say the name of it here, but they used to give the teachers every year or so, they used to administer a test, the SAT, but they would give us the reading section without the reading passages, right? So all we had were the questions and the answers.

Jeremy Wayne Tate:

[crosstalk 00:03:36].

Inez Stepman:

And we could guess. We could guess based on knowing a lot about the test and knowing sort of the politically correct mindset from where it came and the College Board. We got 50 or 60% of the questions correct on average, which is way above the 20% that would be random, right? So, we were scoring sometimes well into the 500s on the reading section, without reading a single word of the passages, right?

Jeremy Wayne Tate:

Yeah.

Inez Stepman:

It just goes to show how substance-less, in the higher sense, these tests actually are. And, as you say, they drive curriculum all over the country.

Jeremy Wayne Tate:

Yeah. Inez, I think a lot of people still have a picture of the SAT being like what they took in high school. The only thing about the SAT that has not changed is the name and that it is still in English. That’s it, right? If you took the SAT before about 2006, everything else has changed, right? There’s no analogies, there’s no logic questions. Everything that you remember making the SAT, the SAT is now gone. It really is a really, really different test. And the rigor, I mean, the new SAT that they released in 2016, they released a concordance chart comparing the 2015 and the 2016. And everybody just gets 70 points on the new SAT, right? It’s just a shameless kind of dumbing down of standards.

Inez Stepman:

Speaking of dumbing down of standards, I think a lot of people, particularly on the right, but also a lot of apolitical people, there’s this movement now to drop the SAT from college admissions. And they’re worried about that, right? Because it seemingly is the only standardized or the only thing that cannot be manipulated to some… Although as a test prep teacher, I would say that it’s completely manipulable, but they’re worried that dropping the SAT will mean a drop in rigor and sort of objectively measurable standards. Do you think the SAT serves that function still, as bad a test as it is? Or do you think that it’ll be better if colleges do not use the SAT at all?

Jeremy Wayne Tate:

It’s really interesting. A college entrance exam reflects mainstream educational aspirations and ideals, right? If you go back to look at the exams that Harvard was using throughout the 19th century and before, the students are translating passages, long passages, from Latin into English, or from Greek into English, or the other way around. The SAT rolls out in 1929 and was a very rigorous standard for a long time until they really started to mess with it in the 90s, okay, around a lot of charges and accusations that the SAT was biased towards different backgrounds. I think the SAT has been reflective of, and the changes in the SAT have been reflective of, this downward slope in standards that we’ve had. And the final straw is just getting rid of the test altogether, right, which is what they’re doing now with test-optional. And two things really happen with test-optional. About 95% right now of colleges are test-optional. It’s almost everyone. There’s a few exceptions — Patrick Henry and Christendom — and most students still submit to places like Hillsdale, and they may go back to requiring a test, but two things happened:

One was that post-George Floyd, you had people like Congressman Bowman on the floor of the United States Congress saying that standardized testing was a pillar of systematic racism in America, and that is the thing colleges are most terrified of is being called racist in any way. They don’t want that to happen. The other is that tests actually were not easy to find, right? And so, CLT was not that well known at the time. 2020 was pretty crazy for us, as for a while, we were kind of the only test available, right? Every test center was shut down for SAT/ACT. Those two things combined, we went from about 40% of colleges that were test-optional to 95%. And so, it’s going to be really interesting to see what the next few years bring.

And a couple colleges have already moved back towards saying, “Okay, we’re not going to require tests for admission, but you can’t start your classes until you take one of these tests because for placement purposes.” And so I think that the pendulum’s going to swing back towards testing, but maybe in different ways than it was historically.

Inez Stepman:

I mean, so one of the big differences here between your test and the SAT is that the passages on your test are actually… And the things that are testing those quasi-neutral skills, right, like reading comprehension, you’re actually giving a student something worth reading and comprehending on that test. As you say, you’re tying them to the great American heritage, the great Western heritage, and to something even beyond that, something that actually ties to something about the human experience. We hear all the time about larger context and testing about what’s in… what, for example, books will be assigned in English lit. And it seems like the standard often, for making those decisions, other than pure ideology and sort of identity politics, in a more pernicious and personal way, is can the students “find” themselves in the text, right? And they mean that in a wholly superficial way. Like, are there any left-handed, bisexual, 11-year-old redheads in this text? Well, if not, then this text is irrelevant to people of that description. I mean, what feedback have you gotten from students taking this test about… I mean, for many of them, I imagine this may be the first time that they’re actually confronting and reading texts that generations have found valuable about something about the human condition that might be universal.

Jeremy Wayne Tate:

The question about source material… I mean, this is kind of the main reason why we launched. And so, SAT and ACT both have these ridiculous sensitivity committees. I think they’re ridiculous. And our chief operating officer here at CLT, she worked for Pearson, numerating all of the big testing companies. And it went from, “Okay, we don’t students to read something that they would have an adverse reaction to and it would be distracting the test-taking process,” to now kind of finding everything offensive, okay? My COO tells stories about them not being allowed to use passages with two married parents, right, because that would trigger, or be very upsetting to students from a single-family home. Not being able to use heterosexual relationships, as that would make gay students feel uncomfortable as well.

And so, everything gets winnowed out to being offensive, which is why the SAT, you end up reading literally passages about penguins in Antarctica, right? Because apparently, nobody’s had a bad experience with penguins in Antarctica. And so that’s the kind of source material they’re left using. CLT, we really take, and we’ve kind of bucked the entire industry trend with this, is we take almost the exact opposite approach. As we say, “Look, if a text can’t offend anyone, it’s probably not very important either,” right? And we get positive feedback. We also get negative feedback. We got a bunch of Christians and Catholics that take our tests. We put Nietzsche on our test, we put Darwin on our test. Those are crucially important authors for young people to be reading. And they may not be passages that the young people agree with, but we actually want to make the case that it’s the mark of an educated person to read something and to comprehend it, even if you don’t understand it, and do so without having an emotional meltdown at the same time.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. I mean, so when did we lose the idea of connecting backwards in time to some of these great texts? Whether it’s philosophy or literature, that they actually may find some… We may actually find, ironically, that personal connection that I think a lot of modern education is so obsessed with. I think we’re really locking students out of something, one, universal about the human experience, but, two, we’re locking them out of being able to understand each other through a common body of whatever you want to call it, the canon, right? And it’s not that I don’t recognize that the canon changes over time. Obviously, things are added and it’s a debatable thing, what is and isn’t canon. But the quality of some of the texts that I… even when I was in high school. I mean, I remember House on Mango Street, for example, was a big assigned… That’s not a comparable text to, I don’t know, Jane Eyre, right? It just isn’t.

And it’s much more superficial and has much less to say about questions that will confront these students at some point in their lives about love, life, death, religion. These are questions that every person at some point in their lives runs into, right? A lot of people try to block them out as long as possible, but life has a way of forcing you to confront some of these questions. And I worry how many students, who are ostensibly “well-educated” don’t have anything to fall back on in their education for those moments of life, as opposed to “college and career.”

Jeremy Wayne Tate:

You referenced kind of the universal human experiences. Experiences of longing or betrayal. These are not… they go far beyond the superficial things — skin color and others. The idea that Black students in New York City or something can’t relate to Shakespeare is incredibly denigrating to those students, right? Can they not relate to being in love with somebody that your family is not accepting of, right? All of these things transcend space and time. And I think we’re finally having a national conversation about this. But, Inez, a book that hit me really hard this year was, and I finally read it, just read it, which I’m kind of embarrassed to admit, is Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind. And I would really, really recommend it. And I think it captures… for me, it kind of articulated a lot of the things that I understood, but the loss of education as transmission.

And so if you think about what even is education, most generations understood it as a kind of sacred transmission. I think there’s a visual image I’d love to share with you. I was at a Bat Mitzvah for one of my daughter’s friends years ago, and I was thinking through all of this stuff at the time. And she was a really tiny little girl, right? And her parents, during this ceremony, they passed down to her this massive Torah, right, during this ceremony. And it was kind of funny because she was so tiny, she’s holding this massive scroll that covers up her whole face and everything, but what it was, was the passing down of what mattered most, right? And fundamentally that’s what education was, right?

Chesterton describes education as the soul of a society being passed from one generation to the next. That understanding about education, as fundamentally about transmission of the best of what has been thought and said, that is what has been wholly lost in the mainstream K-12 environment. And my hope is that as parents are seeing a lot of the nonsense that their students, that their children are ingesting now that so many students are at home, that they’re going to look at traditional options, classical options, as an answer to where they want their kids to go instead.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. How do you make that case for a civilizational transmission, as you would call it, in an age where people are so morally certain that everyone in the past was morally repugnant, right? And not worth admiring for any of their or deeds or their personal qualities, but merely judging them by the fashionable standards of the age or even the things that aren’t just fashionable standards of the age, right, like the deep evil of human slavery. How do you make the case for truly classical learning in a transmission of so civilizational “soul,” as you just quoted Chesterton, right, when a lot of people no longer think the soul of our civilization is worth transmitting?

Jeremy Wayne Tate:

Such a thoughtful question. So, another book that you’ve got to read is, C.S. Lewis’s Abolition of Man. I think it is the most important book in the 20th century about education. And it’s really interesting what Lewis does. Essentially, he grounds the idea of basically what we would call in the West something like natural law. In the Abolition of Man, he refers to it as the Tao, instead. And he makes the case that education was conforming the pupil to reality, right? The universal realities that… I mean, Lewis makes his case elsewhere as well, that what we would even call morality really isn’t that different from place to place, right? You generally have the concept to treat each other well, to not commit adultery, to not lie, to not steal. These things are not honored in any flourishing society.

Any flourishing society has the same basic understanding of natural law or the Tao. And Lewis makes the point that that education traditionally was to get the pupil to conform to that existing reality, right, and be happy you’re doing so. And that’s what ruptured. And Lewis saw it coming in the 20th century. And I think that’s what these classical schools, a lot of the classical tradition is being re-embraced among the Catholic schools, as well. That’s the fundamental difference, I think, if that makes sense in answering your question.

Inez Stepman:

You’ve really had, sorry… You’ve really had a lot of success in kind of advocating for this classical vision across ideological lines, right? In the higher ed space, I think about Hillsdale College and St. John’s University, right, two classical-based models of higher education. And you’ve held a conference with folks like Professor George, who was on this podcast, and Cornel West, who is definitely a man of the left. And it seems like they’ve both found something in the vision that you’re, I don’t even want to say advocating as much as reviving, right, in education. I mean, have you had broader success reaching people through talking about this model of education beyond… I’m just thinking of Cornel West now, but beyond Cornel West, who’s a really open guy, for a man of the left, I think, to at least talk about conservative ideas. Have you had broader success in talking about this vision of education with perhaps people who think that the past was shameful, or come at it from a more sort of woke left perspective?

Jeremy Wayne Tate:

Yeah. It’s been tough. And as, I think, we’re in this, especially social media, media age, a digital age, where everybody gets pigeonholed or kind of pushed into one direction or another, people just don’t have categories almost anymore for things that can possibly transcend a political lens to look at the world. I love Cornel West. He’s been incredibly engaged and friendly. I talked to him a number of times over the past year, in addition to the podcast and having him out. And I think he gets the importance of that. And the interesting thing about Cornel West is that he’s so far to the left, to even people on the left, that when he stops and says, “Wait a minute, the tradition of Jerusalem and Athens are unique contributions to the whole world. We need to pay particular attention to the value of these traditions.”

So I think, and I wish there were more voices like him. And we have connected with a few. In fact, I co-host my own podcast with Arooba Asim, who’s a young college student, who’s actually Muslim, who’s found this tradition as well. In fact, one of our most downloaded episodes we did for the Anchored podcast is with Humza Yousef, who’s a Muslim scholar, good friends with Robbie George as well, who’s the president of Zaytuna College in California, a Muslim liberal arts college. And so, there is, for classical education, there’s a revival of this going on in Jewish communities, in secular communities, Christian communities, Muslim communities. I think what it is, is a rediscovering of the beauty of tradition. And look, on some level, everybody gets this, right? It’s the reason why I think Downton Abbey and The Crown and Outlander, it’s why they do so well on Netflix and why people are so enamored with… There’s something captivating and beautiful about the Old World, right?

But there’s this hard place that modern man is in, in that he’s captivated with the beauty of the Old World, but at the same time, he hates the ideas that led those people to build what they built, right? And these people were not cultural relativists at all, right? They had very fixed idea about who God was and who man is. And so, yeah, we’re having a lot of fun. I wish that there were more folks on the left politically that were enthusiastic about this. Interestingly, CLT itself, we’re almost 50/50 in terms… We’re this rare place where we have great conversations about all things political. We have diehard Bernie Sanders fans here and diehard Trump fans here, and have really thoughtful conversations politically. But I think it’s because there’s a common ground in a love for the classics that transcends national, kind of spectator politics that allows us to have something deeper.

And that’s, I think, a big problem with where we’re at nationally right now, is that there’s not something deeper, right, than the silliness of national spectator politics that people can relate to. And so, if you’re not agreeing for the same old person, then there’s not a common ground anymore, right? Whereas, I think this is what classical education can bring. And again, this isn’t a new thing. This is the way 100% of America’s founders were educated. This just was education. In fact, the only reason we keep using this modified or classical is we’re getting back at what always was education until radical progressive education became the new norm in the 20th century.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. Thomas Jefferson was the strongest advocate for what he called public schooling or universal schooling. But we would consider today actually just public funding, right? Public funding for universal education, which was not at all a foregone conclusion in the beginning of America, right? You might ask yourself why a country where so much was left out of government purview, right, why education isn’t completely privatized or wasn’t completely privatized in the beginning of America, and his answer was largely what you just said. In a republic, there needs to be a common ground, a common body of understanding, not only about the three branches of government and the constitution, although they, they basically endorse, he strongly endorsed what today would be called indoctrination or patriotic education, right? But something broader, I think: that you had to be an educated person to know how to live in a republic. How do you reconcile… so, certainly that not what’s at the heart of the public education system today, right?

Jeremy Wayne Tate:

Not at all, not at all.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. I like to joke that it’s actively anti-Americanizing people. I mean, it’s not really a joke.

It is anti-Americanizing young Americans, but is it even compatible with the way, structurally, that we do education, meaning government-run schools that get a check from the government, per pupil, that have a certain number of hours a day? Well, this is outdated post-pandemic, but butt-in-seat time. Students take a certain course, a standardized course, and then they take the SAT at the end. And if they’re successful, they go to university where they learn how to be cultural Marxists.

Jeremy Wayne Tate:

Inez, you’re a UVA law, is that correct?

Inez Stepman:

Was, yeah. I graduated a few years ago.

Jeremy Wayne Tate:

Okay. So, I spent time in Charlottesville. And I had a number of years fascinated, fascinated with Jefferson. And really, what was education for Thomas Jefferson? I mean, arguably, I love JFK’s quote where he’s speaking to the Noble Prize winners. And he says, “We’ve never had so many educated minds in DC except for when Thomas Jefferson dined alone,” right? Absolute prodigy from a very young age, but education for him is classical languages, right? It is logic, right? So much of what was fundamental, even Jefferson, who translated his own version of the Bible, thought biblical knowledge was crucial to being an educated person. Our young people today, they can’t understand, they can’t go to DC and read Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address or his second inaugural address and comprehend it because he makes biblical references where there’s absolutely no knowledge whatsoever.

So, what Jefferson, and what Frederick Douglas considered education, the meat and potatoes of it, is completely gone. And so, it’s a difficult question of, what do you do with Jefferson’s advocacy for a publicly-funded kind of education, when what his vision for education was, looks entirely different from what mainstream education now is, which is honestly, Inez, maybe you have some better insight than I do into this, it’s really, really hard to define, right? If you ask even a high school administrator or a high school superintendent, “What is education?” It should be a pretty simple question, but you really can’t get any kind of clear answer for what we’re even doing.

I mean, we spend a trillion dollars a year as a country on this thing we call education, and it’s vague. They’ll say, “Well, we’re building critical thinking skills and higher-level thinking skills,” and you say, “Well, what do you mean by that?” Right? And often, crickets. It’s not really clear because, again, we’ve lost this idea of transmitting the best of what has been thought and said, passing down the richness of this tradition. And so, in some ways, they’re actively undermining the tradition instead. That’s the work that’s happening in schools. I think maybe indoctrinating it into acceptable political views, but it is in a state of absolute crisis, I think, at the moment.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. So, we’re having this conversation on the eve of School Choice Week. Do you think that your vision of education… I guess question number one would be, do you think your vision of education can succeed in 2022 in America without an underlying system of school choice that is substantially more pluralistic than we have now, given that it’s a minority vision? But two, sort of a more difficult question, I think, for those of us who are on the right or pro-school choice, is can that vision of the good… Because you are advancing an actual substantive vision that you are labeling a good education, right, or even an education, at all. How is that compatible with a pluralistic system where every student and family chooses for themselves what the best education is?

Jeremy Wayne Tate:

Yeah. I think overwhelmingly, I mean, advocacy for school choice, it depends on. You got to believe in the common, normal parent to make really, really good decisions. Like, suddenly… I love the school choice because it’s such a humble opinion. It’s like the parent, the normal everyday American parent, is actually the expert. Not the bureaucrats, not the people at the department of ed or the state/local board of education. It’s the parents that are the experts. And as in my experience, when you present any parent at all with classical education versus mainstream modern, progressive education, every parent that I’ve experienced really opts for classical, right? Parents want traditional moral formation to happen in school. They want their kid to come back more honest, not less honest, right? They want them to come back more disciplined in their habits not less; more responsible, not less responsible. That kind of character formation is embedded in classical education, right?

I mean, do they want their kids reading Aesop’s Fables and The Chronicles of Narnia, or Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and whatever nonsense? I mean, I think that the best way to get a pulse of where mainstream K-12 is at right now is to just go to your local book fair and see the books that are being offered up to young people right now. And it’s pretty abysmal. And what’s been really interesting to me, and I think most people within the classical renewal movement are pretty new within this movement; I just discovered it myself really six, seven, eight years ago. But children know quality. They know quality. And as soon as I started bringing home, like Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Aesop’s Fables, they didn’t want the new stuff anymore. They wanted the old stuff. They were way more engaged.

And this is what makes classical education so powerful. It’s like, there’s a reason why these stories, like Beauty and the Beast, and Cinderella — where we don’t even necessarily know where they come from — they’re hundreds and hundreds of years old, but they survived, whereas all of these other stories were just lost to time. But these stories somehow had staying power. Every generation said, “This story is so powerful, we’re going to pass it down. We’re going to tell this story to our children.” And then they told it to their children. That’s what makes a classic a classic: because it taps into these universal human longings and desires that transcend wherever they’re at. I think this kind of education really appeals to parents, and if they have the choice, we’re going to continue to see a massive explosion of classical education.

And it’s already happening. I mean, you look at Great Hearts. We have dear friends at Great Hearts. The Founders Classical. Erika Donalds is a dear friend. She’s on her board. She’s rolling out new classical schools in Florida all the time. Of course, her husband is a member of the U.S. Congress. They’re both diehard advocates for school choice. But every classical charter I have ever come in contact with has a waitlist that is often bigger than the enrollment of the entire school. And so, as soon as these schools are going to get launched, parent says, “Yes, give me sanity, give me tradition, give me the tried and true. That’s what I want for my kids, rather than these new ideas that were baked up five minutes ago about gender and everything else.”

Inez Stepman:

When I’m thinking about how we measure the success or failure of our education system, there’s no measure — and maybe that’s why the CLT is so important — but there’s really no measure for, in all of the metrics and all of the boring sort of grids in federal education law, there’s really nothing that measures or connects in any way with anything that you just said in the last five minutes, right? All of the metrics are, are about college and career readiness, which then became Common Core, which then became… There’s all these buzzwords, right, in education. There’s very little about formation or preparing students for life, as opposed to technical knowledge. I mean, do you think that that’s just the inevitable consequence of kind of the progressive era and an elevation of “expertise” in a bureaucratic world? I’m putting expertise in quotes, but there is such a thing as real technical expertise. Would you separate that entirely from the notion of education? Would you separate education versus technical training? How would you ensure that students in this classical education world are prepared also for the practicalities of life, as opposed to, more important perhaps, deeper formation of their characters?

Jeremy Wayne Tate:

Yeah. Yeah, I think it’s a great paradox of this movement, in that classical schools are in no way aimed at making students college and career ready, which is kind of the creed of the College Board. It’s the creed of kind of mainstream K-12 education. But ironically, they’re making the most employable young people ever, right? Their idea, their vision is human flourishing. Their idea is a cultivation of virtue as traditionally understood. And what’s really strange and as is for thousands of years, what is a good education? A good education in the 1st century looked a lot like a good education in the 14th century or even the early 20th century. It didn’t change all that much. And suddenly, we’re supposed to believe that what is a good education looks nothing like it looked in all of these other generations, right? They actually used the word formation traditionally. They still do, right, at seminaries, right? They talk about formation, because you would go away and come back different. And we’re talking about character development, moral responsibility, becoming an actual adult, where, in America, we have a crisis of adulthood, which is mainly fueled by education that doesn’t cultivate responsibility.

Inez Stepman:

Say more about that because it’s always something that gets me in trouble on places like Twitter, that I am totally perplexed by my generation, which millennials, as we hit our 30s, and even into our mid- or late-30s, I’m totally perplexed by the things that so many people in my generation are obsessed with, like fandoms and Disney and things that are quintessentially childish. And it’s not that it’s like the worst thing in the world to… Of course, you can enjoy Star Wars, or enjoy whatever you want. It’s a free country, but it does strike me as, what you’re saying, a crisis of adulthood that nobody finds joy in sort of the adult things in life, versus the things that a five-year-old would find entertaining. I don’t understand. It’s not even so much… I mean, it is being a little judgy, but it’s not even so much that. Laying that aside, I genuinely don’t understand it. I don’t understand how an adult’s attention at 35 is held by some of this really childish stuff. But it does. We have an entire generation that wants to dive back into a ball pit.

Jeremy Wayne Tate:

Yeah, yeah. It is an absolute crisis. And Ben Sasse has become a good friend over the past couple of years, and he wrote a book that I love. And regardless of if you agree with Ben or not on Trump and their whole battle, Ben has the best insight and vision, I think, for what education ought to be. He is hook, line, and sinker behind a classical education. And he wrote a book called The Vanishing American Adult. And again, regardless of your views on his relationship with Trump or whatnot, it is an incredible read on this crisis of the loss of adulthood. And it is absolutely connected to education, right? That because education is no longer about human formation, about making people into responsible men and women who want to be responsible men and women, that’s why we have this crisis of 35-year-olds who are playing video games in their parents’ basement and see nothing wrong with it, right?

No 35-year-old should be comfortable just playing video games in their parents’ basement every day. That’s kind of a cultural, civilizational crisis. They should be doing something good for culture, for society. And all of this goes back to education; it is a fundamental reason that we’ve seen this. And he actually starts that book off by talking about 2016-17; the phrase ‘adulting’ kind of is the word of the year. ‘Adulting.’ You hear it all the time back then. I guess it’s kind of gone out a little bit by now, but people were kind of making fun of doing the laundry, “adulting.” Because it’s almost comical at this point — because we were never raised or formed that we had to become adults, or that we ought to become adults. And that that was actually a beautiful, good thing to become.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. It’s an interesting phenomenon for sure. It’s tragic. When I think about the kind of education that you’re advocating for, I’m so jealous that I really didn’t get that. I’m not saying my education was terrible by any means, but I really didn’t get that classical grounding. I had to do a lot of it myself, which genuinely, I mean, some people are autodidacts, but I genuinely think there is so much value in good teaching, good mentorship, having a guide in some of these texts, or somebody who has read them many times and thought about them for a long time, because a lot of these texts are difficult to break into on your own, sort of without a guide out YouTube land or whatever.

But I’m actively regretful because it’s so much easier to learn in the period of time, particularly I think in modern life, in the period of time that’s set aside for learning, than it is when you are an adult later in your life. And so, I guess I’ve never thought about it before — maybe that is part of our crisis of adulting or whatever — is that at the time in our lives when we had the most time, the most brain plasticity, better memory, better everything, we wasted our time with some of these really frivolous, childish texts. And then it’s hard. It’s hard as an adult to go back and… I mean, podcast guest and buddy Spencer Klavan, I think, does a really, really good job of opening up these texts for people who didn’t have that kind of rigorous classical education.

But it’s hard. It takes setting aside a lot of time in your busy adult lives. It takes a sort of skill that most people lose over the course, once they get through that education part of their lives or graduate from college or whatever it is, in terms of focusing for a long time on a dense text, and then thinking about it afterwards. It’s really a shame. And maybe that’s part of the reason that people in my generation are diving back into what was easy and nostalgic because that’s kind of all we’ve got to fall back on. We can’t then take out a text where we might have had childish understanding or a surface level understanding in, let’s say, eighth grade, but then still has so much to teach a 35-year-old and a 55-year-old and an 80-year-old, right?

Jeremy Wayne Tate:

That’s so true. And I think it’s even harder now that we’ve got these toxic little devices that we all carry with us. One of my best memories — and I had no idea at the time how formative it was on me — when I was 21 years old, I drove all the way from Louisiana to Alaska for a summer. And I spent the summer working in the slime lines. But in Alaska, it never really gets that dark until about midnight. And so, I would read. And there was nothing to distract me. There was nothing to do but read, right? I think I learned more that summer. I remember I got a copy of… I can never say it right because of a childhood speech impediment. Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.

And it was like, I could do that or twiddle my thumbs. There was nothing else to do from 7:00 until I would fall asleep — and read deeper than I ever have probably since then in my entire life. And those great stories which are deeply formative, if we’re missing this window to put young people in front of the best stories, the stories that are going to inspire them to live lives of heroic virtue, the stories that have been passed down from generation to generation, it’s a missed opportunity. And you’re so right. You used the word plasticity a minute ago —

Inez Stepman:

Or tried to.

Jeremy Wayne Tate:

Yeah. Language acquisition, it peaks at age seven or eight. Kids are sponges for language. The fact that most of our schools don’t even introduce a language until maybe middle school, but usually not until high school — a missed opportunity. These classical schools… I’ve got my kiddos in a classical school now. They’re doing Latin at seven or eight years old and they’re absolute sponges for it, right? And they like it. It clicks. It makes sense to them. And I would say, one other thing I wanted to mention here is — I really think if you’re hearing this podcast — the best argument, I think, for this kind of education is honestly just meeting these young people. And I want to be careful in saying that because I don’t want to bash public school. I met amazing public school families. I taught in public schools for 10 years. But if you go to a classical charter, you go to a classical school, like the Veritas School in Richmond, or you meet some of these homeschool students, it’s shocking.

These young people are amazing the way they… especially these homeschool students where people have this silly idea that they’re wearing denim overalls, right? These students are brilliant. They excel in things like debate. In fact, my interaction with homeschool kids is they seem way more socially adjusted and far less awkward, especially talking to adults, I think, than your typical, run of the mill kid from mainstream schooling right now. So, and I think that is what is going to make this movement continue to just take off, is when people say, “Wow, I want my 2-year-old to be like that when they’re 16 or 17. I’m going to put them in that kind of school.”

Inez Stepman:

So, to round this out and wrap it up, the vision you’re sort of laying out, it sounds wonderful. I mean, it’s giving me sort of regret, like I said, about the education that I received. But we’ve talked about and agree that it’s not what’s on offer. Last legislative session was the best year for school choice, probably ever. I think it’s arguable to say ever; even from the early days when those programs started, there have been so many new programs passed that allow families to do exactly what you just said. If they see a 16-year-old who just seems to have really flourished and been given that classical foundation, it gives them… their five-year-old, regardless of what their financial background might be, gives them hope that they can actually put their five-year-old on the same track. How is school choice the prerequisite in our current system? I mean, I said before that there is some tension between the idea of a pluralistic system and a universally valuable idea of what education is, but how is school choice integral to your classical vision?

Jeremy Wayne Tate:

Yeah. Again, I think primarily, you put parents in front of these two different options, or maybe countless different options. And I think, generally… and fine, if parents look at it and they say, “Okay, I’ve looked at a classical option and I’m also looking at a modern, progressive option. I’m going to stick with this,” more power to them. That’s fine. I don’t think that’s going to happen a whole lot, though. I think the majority of parents across the political spectrum — right, center, or left, wherever they may be — I think that, again, they’re going to value this kind of education. And we’re seeing that already. I think we can use, again, these kind of classical charter schools as examples for what will happen if we open this up and just let competition happen among these schools.

Education is a sacred thing. It’s not something to just mess with and to introduce new ideas, educational philosophies that are sometimes younger than the students in the classroom, right? We want to be really careful before we shift in fundamental ways, as the mainstream schools have done in the past few decades, what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, the ends of education. I think there’s all different varieties, as well, of these classical schools. I’m a Roman Catholic. I love Catholicism. We go to a very classical, very Catholic school. It’s fantastic, right? Classical education is also taking off, as I understand it, among a lot of atheists and agnostics as well. There’s classical Jewish schools. Again, I co-host a podcast with a Muslim. So, talking about within the classical framework, there is a vision, because it is fundamentally centered on universal human things, that I think makes it far more compatible with the pluralistic society than what mainstream K-12 is offering right now, where actually, what is kind of being forced — and for many families, there’s no way out of it — does not align to their own vision, their own values, or the things that are most universal for all of us.

Inez Stepman:

Well, I’m really glad that so many parents are, and so many families, are seeing the value in this type of education. I think this might be one of my optimistic podcasts ever. It’s just so gratifying to know that there is this underground movement that is obviously not getting a lot of media coverage or being noticed by the sort of powers that be, but the idea that there are thousands and thousands, perhaps millions, of families and students who are quietly sort of enrolling their kids in this great tradition of passing down the soul of civilization is very cheering to me.

Jeremy Wayne Tate:

Yeah. I love this. Love the conversation. And you’re absolutely right. I mean, this has been a movement that has been off the radar now for three decades. Slowly, the classical movement in the homeschool world and in the charter school world, in the Catholic world and all these different spheres, and it’s coming together now as one movement, where they’re all kind of saying the same thing and pointing back to, again, the tradition, I think, that was at the center of really why America’s founders… the stories, the vision, the kind of education that formed them into the leaders that they were to cast, I believe, the best vision for a nation that you could possibly have. Inez, this has been a delight to chat with you this morning. Love what you’re doing here on the podcast. And thank you for all of your work advancing school choice.

Inez Stepman:

Well, thank you so much for coming on, Jeremy Wayne Tate. You can find him at CLT and also on Twitter, and his own podcast Anchored. And thank you to our listeners. High Noon with Inez Stepman is a production of the Independent Women’s Forum. As always, you can send comments and questions to [email protected] Please help us out by hitting the subscribe button and leaving us a comment or review on Apple Podcasts, Acast, Google Play, YouTube, or iwf.org. Be brave. We’ll see you next time on High Noon.