American Romanità: What we lost when we Abandoned Classical Education | M.N.S. Sellers, Wes Callihan and Rebekah Hagstrom

“The study of ancient Greek and Latin long ago vanished from most American classrooms, and with it has gone a special understanding of the values and virtues prized by Western civilization.”

DANIEL WALKER HOWE, CLASSICAL EDUCATION IN AMERICA, THE WILSON QUARTERLY, 2011.

In American Republicanism: Roman Ideology in the United States Constitution, M.N.S. Sellers explains to us the classical curriculum the founders were steeped in, which itself gives us an insight as to the character and identity of the American. Imagine the depth of our education, our alignment with Renaissance and Enlightenment liberal values, and every American student learned in French, Latin, Spanish, and Ancient Greek. This ideal of the American, though excluding certain peoples, held the American to higher standard.

A number of the American founders were classicists, and were trained in the classical education, which was characteristic of Enlightenment Liberal, or Republican thought, and was once therefore integral to the culture, derived from European heritage and colonial education.

“The revolutionaries’ emphasis on the example of antiquity was no accident. Educators quite consciously sought to inculcate classical attitudes in their students. A promoter of the future University of Pennsylvania saw its purpose (in 1751) as imbuing ‘good Principles’ and an acquaintance with the ‘ancient and modern Constitutions of Kingdoms’, to fire students’ souls ‘with the Examples of the worthy Characters, with the noble Sentiments, and perfect Models of Antiquity’. Students took this to heart, and their graduation theses and master’s quaestiones came increasingly to concern political questions raised by the classical curriculum, such as ‘Was Brutus justified in having his sons executed?’ and ‘Is an agrarian law consistent with the principles of a wise republic?” John Witherspoon, who presided over James Madison’s college education at Princeton, insisted in his first commencement address that ‘The remains of the ancients are the standard of taste.’

Latin allusions and Roman poses came naturally to anyone who had been through a typical, slightly old-fashioned, classics-steeped colonial education. Familiarity with Livy, Sallust, Cicero and others provided colonists with a well-developed and well-admired alternative to monarchy, and a republican ideology they had already been taught to respect before they were called upon to apply it. So it should come as no surprise that, as their British models failed them, Americans turned increasingly to the Roman heroes of their youth for pseudonyms, symbols and an iconography that could guide and shape the institutions of their dangerous and unsettling revolution.” (M.N.S. Sellers, American Republicanism: Roman Ideology in the United States Constitution, pp. 22-23)

AMERICAN FOUNDERS TRAINED IN CLASSICAL EDUCATION INSPIRED BY CLASSICAL GREECE AND ROME

The founders were clearly doing more than admiring antiquity. They were building a link to it.

“In the eighteenth century to be enlightened was to be interested in antiquity, and to be interested in antiquity was to be interested in republicanism. Certainly classical antiquity could offer meaningful messages for monarchy too, but there is no doubt that the thrust of what the ancient world had to say to the eighteenth century was latently and at times manifestly republican.”

GORDON S. WOOD

WES CALLIHAN ON CAESAR’S GALLIC WAR AND WHAT WE LOST WHEN WE ABANDONED CLASSICAL EDUCATION

Mark Twain is attributed with the saying: “Those who don’t read have no advantage over those who can’t.” We are now a couple generations away from our forefathers who abandoned classical education. We are now the generation that does not even know what it has lost. Wes Callihan gives a glimpse at the kind of richness we have lost in this excerpt from the Old Western Culture curriculum on the great books of Western civilization. If you don’t study the classics, you have no advantage over those who can’t.

WHAT IF EVERYONE HAD A CLASSICAL EDUCATION

Rebekah Hagstrom, founder and headmaster of Liberty Classical Academy (LCA) describes a classical education, exploring it as an education that benefits in producing citizens who know history, understand logic, are well rounded, and can speak and debate respectfully. Rebekah received a B.S. in communication disorders (summa cum laude) and an M.A. in speech pathology from the University of Minnesota. Rebekah worked at Regions Hospital as a speech pathologist for over 10 years, taught adult education classes at her church, served on its board, and spoke at various women’s ministry events. She is raising four children with her husband Peter, and her children experienced public education, private college prep schools, and private religious schools. With these schools falling short of their educational expectations, Rebekah founded Liberty Classical Academy.


Romanità (literally translated as “Romanness”), an idea used to signify a passion for, or emphasis on all things Roman.

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