Classical education made headlines this month when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis tapped six new members of the Board of Trustees at the New College of Florida and charged them with remaking the college as a classical liberal arts institution.

Gov. DeSantis recognizes that classical education is the opposite of, and antidote to, woke indoctrination. Parents are flocking to classical schools, both public charter and private, for the same reasons: Classical schools boomed in the wake of COVID lockdowns. Though words like “classical” and “liberal arts” get thrown around all the time in education spheres, classical education has a very specific meaning. 

A true classical education is rooted in the fundamentals of not only reading, writing, and arithmetic, but also ethics, civics, history, and science. These are the topics studied at the world’s first universities, and the subjects pondered by ancient philosophers. The goal is to raise upstanding citizens by giving students a comprehensive understanding of the world and their place in it, and the critical thinking abilities to make sense of it all. Where woke education deliberately avoids a “eurocentric” approach to history, classical education makes no apologies for teaching kids about the development of the Western world we live in today.

Ethics and civics are the subjects that set classical education apart from the typical public school curriculum. While most states require at least a half school year of civics education as a requirement to graduate, those classes are not getting the job done for America’s students: Fewer than half of Americans can name all three branches of the federal government, and more than one in four cannot name a single freedom protected by the First Amendment. Likewise, the standard American public school does not teach ethics as the subject is properly understood. The typical school either ignores the subject altogether or, if it has gone woke, forces a pseudo-ethical system on students based on perceived victimhood. 

During my time at the Department of Education, I had the privilege of seeing classical education in action. Though the basic structure of the school day is the same, with multiple classes, locker breaks, and lunchtime during the day, classical education stood out to me because of how it infuses learning into everything. Think of class period changes being signaled by great musical works played over the intercom: “When you hear Tchaikovsky, it’s time for fourth period.” Picture a school whose hallways are covered in reproductions of famous works of art, so that teachers give directions like, “Take a left at Washington Crossing the Delaware, then right at Girl with the Pearl Earring.” Even the most basic administrative functions of the school were turned into learning experiences. 

Classical education fosters debate through the Socratic method. The tactics of the woke Left, like censoring their opponents, calling names, or bullying, would never pass muster in a classical classroom. Students are free to advance ideas, question others’ beliefs, and otherwise engage with the kinds of tough topics that animate our politics today. They are not, however, forced to adopt the teacher’s views or penalized for having a different opinion. Our politics today would be very different if every adult in America had been trained to have respectful and thoughtful conversations about controversial topics and to understand today’s issues in their historical context.

This sort of environment is not impossible in a public school, but nor is it outright fostered the way it would be at a classical school. The promise of classical education is its ability to match old school values and subjects to new school challenges that students will face throughout their lives. The hunger for classical education is only growing as parents wake up to the realities of woke public schools.