[an address given to Odyssey Charter School on Feburary 25, 2010 to inaugurate a new school director]
We often talk about the hows of education: How should we teach writing? How should we teach mathematics? How should we teach science? And so forth. Curricula and pedagogies address the how of education. Hows are important, for without effective hows, we won’t be doing our job as educators.
But more important than the how of education is the why of education. The why of education has been largely forgotten, assumed, or has been appropriated by businesses and other special interests. And this is the real tragedy of our time, for without a compelling why, no matter how good the how is, we will not be sharing with our children their full human potential.
So I want to consider for a moment the question, “Why do we educate our children?” This may be an uncomfortable question if you’ve never done so.
I think there are many valid reasons we educate children, some of them obviously practical: so they can get a good job someday, so they can manage a household someday, so they don’t get ripped off when they do business with other people.
Other reasons may not be so obviously practical. Why take calculus if you’re not going into science or engineering? Why read Shakespeare if you only want to be an accountant? Why learn what Plato’s notion of the Good and the True were if you’re not going into philosophy? Why learn a Bach fugue when you have no musical inclinations? And why in the Dickens would you read Dickens if all you want to do in life is get a decent paying job and raise a family?
Aristotle showed us that all knowledge can be divided and categorized, and our educational system is still feeling the effects of this division and specialization. But real education comes when you understand that knowledge has far more power when you don’t cut it up, but instead follow all of its connections and secret passages, and see the beautiful patterns of the whole.
This is why the founders of Odyssey believe a classical education is special. Good things rub off on us when we spend time with the great thinkers and writers of history. You may not always agree with a great thinker, but once you sincerely attempt to address the great thinker’s arguments, you put yourself on a path to a higher plane of humanity. And by learning broadly—all things from chemistry to physics, Latin to philosophy, art to mathematics—you begin to acquire a taste for learning in general, and a sense of a higher purpose in life.
Odyssey Charter School was founded on the belief that a broad and classically-based education is the best way to form a young mind into something that will be able to know what to do with anything that is thrown at it in the future.
A man or woman with a mind able to analyze new information critically and fairly, along with whatever other gifts they may have, will not only be able to better discern truth from error, but will be a powerful and creative force for good in the world.
How many of today’s problems exist because as a society we never learned to write well and so we communicate poorly, causing deep misunderstandings? How many of us never learned to look outside of our own culture, making us self-centered and small-minded, and so we hastily judge and listen poorly to people who are different from us? Or how many of us are stymied when faced with challenging or complex problems and so throw up our hands in despair because we never learned to think well.
These are the ills and trends of our culture and our world that Odyssey Charter School exists to counter. By teaching our students the best that humanity has to offer, they will be far better equipped to reject error as they strive to create a higher, nobler and more virtuous world, starting with themselves.
But Odyssey cannot do it alone; we need parents who also believe in education and who understand that school is not day-care, and who know that real education is what happens in the home.
The purpose of the Board of Trustees of Odyssey Charter School is to ensure that the school is accomplishing its mission and goals, that each student become a life-long learner through a classically-based curriculum. The board does this by hiring a competent CEO and holding him or her accountable for the achievement of the school.
When Odyssey’s board began interviewing director candidates, the most important thing we were looking for was someone who understood what a classical education looked like and knew how to convey that kind of education to young minds. We were delighted when Mr. Lockhart interviewed for the position. It didn’t take long for us to realize that we had a candidate who not only knew how to run a school from a logistical standpoint, but also someone who has been schooled in the classics and himself a model of a continuous-learner.
Odyssey Charter School was founded on the belief that the great, ongoing conversation of thoughts, ideas, music, science, mathematics, and art is worth studying, preserving and passing on; that our students can understand, converse about, and become significant threads in this great tapestry we call human history. And we believe in Mr. Keith Lockhart’s ability to execute this mission passionately and competently. Welcome Mr. Lockhart.