The following is dedicated first to Daniels Fund for their financial support of a teacher apprenticeship program these past two years. Secondly, it is dedicated to the apprentices who have worked to improve not only themselves, but all of Ridgeview’s students whose lives they touched. Finally, it is dedicated to the incredible faculty members who volunteered to take in these apprentices and mentor them to the best of their ability, and through that effort, provide perhaps tens of thousands of students elsewhere an opportunity at an education similar to the one being offered at Ridgeview.
In explaining what the Daniels Fund money has accomplished, it behoves us to begin with what makes Ridgeview genuinely different because it is in understanding this that the full scope and array of challenges before us can be appreciated. Robert Hutchins of the University of Chicago put the question quite plainly in 1947 when he noted that classical education was the best education available, but that it remained to be shown whether it was the best education for everyone.
In the years that have since passed elite private schools, along with their more modestly priced parochial cousins, have recruited from a fairly select population that is willing to pay twice over to classically educate their children. The inner-city school, being in worse shape and often attracting deeper sympathies, has proved to be a well-funded misadventure in education. For these schools, and these demographics, corporate sponsors abound and photo-op eager politicians are never far away. These schools, however, do not choose classical education. Instead, they choose vocational education and answer Ruskin’s question about whether we should like to make a man or a tool of the human creature very differently than a more eccentric school such as Ridgeview. In their desperation and defeatism, they choose to make a tool of the human creature hoping that it will serve him well enough. If such a person is unlikely to flourish as a human being, he shall at least improve his prospects of providing materially for himself.
The forgotten schools filled with forgotten students are those in rural and suburban areas where the demographics are less exploitable because less, or at least less obviously, indigent. It is in such communities that Ridgeview and many of the schools like it (though there are not many like it) must try to carve out a foothold for themselves with a mixture of ordinary and talented students, a mixture of highly involved and highly apathetic parents, a mixture of materially advantaged and materially disadvantaged families. It is here that the real battle in American education is being waged, and against us are arrayed those who disagree with us on nearly every level, and our allies – especially our financial allies – are almost despairingly scarce. Please be assured that it is our keen awareness of this that makes Daniels Fund’s assistance all the more appreciated.
The private and parochial schools, along with a handful of craven charter schools, have answered Hutchins’s question as follows: “It is the best form of education, but only for a select portion of the population.” The urban district schools that have been failing for nearly a century despite embracing and deploying virtually every gimmick and fad dreamt up in the educational schools have provided their own answer to Hutchins’s question. “A classical education is an elitist education, and our students should focus on getting into college in order to obtain higher paying jobs. What they learn, if anything, is irrelevant so long as these goals are achieved.”
How radical then for a school, or a handful of schools, to answer Hutchins’s question as follows: “It is the best sort of education possible, and it is imperative that everyone living within a free society have access to such an education if that society is to remain free.” How radical, and in another sense, how obvious it is that this must be the answer. And, yet among the middle class parents who see the truth in this and yearn for their children to have access to an education that they did not, where are the corporations and financiers to fund it, or the politicians to see that their hopes, dreams, and valiant efforts are not dashed or obstructed by bureaucracy, mediocrity, and the tyranny of myopic utilitarianism? In this regard, Daniels Fund stands almost alone in supporting classical education.
So it is that while other schools and other communities far better funded than we, with far more elaborate facilities, and a myriad of technologies that are far beyond the ability of this allegedly affluent, suburban school to afford, that we go on taking all who want the opportunity, and we care for them as teachers have done for their pupils for so long – as human beings as ends in themselves, and not as the means to improving some abstract community, or ticket punching their way into an elite university, or creating another cog fit for the master gear that will increase GDP and make America a competitive nation on the world stage. By comparison, our goal seems modest: we want to make a man of the human creature, to give him the possibility for the meaningful expression of all of his quiddities, inculcate in him virtue and the capacity to recognize truth, beauty, and goodness, and then let him, with dignity and independence, become what he will.
Our plan for achieving this is equally radical in that it does not consist of so-called twenty-first century skills that are currently so en vogue. We retreat instead to the tried and true believing that the little, red schoolhouse of a hundred or more years ago with its passionate teacher and collection of classical works accomplished a great deal more than the millions of dollars and high-tech classrooms have or ever will. How at odds though this plan is with everything that is now consistent with the status quo. Teachers capable of providing this type of education are all too rare and more precious for that rarity. As a society since the 1920s, we have convinced would-be teachers that they should be educators instead of teachers of the classics, history, literature, art, math, or science. The field is consequently inundated with educators and bereft of teachers.
It is for this reason that a school like Ridgeview, or a school that wishes to be like Ridgeview, must train its own teachers. It is a strange fruit we require, and if we are to have it, it is up to us to cultivate it. Even the raw material we are to begin with is exceedingly rare – an individual with a genuine degree, perhaps even a master’s degree with an interest in teaching, that has not been corrupted by an education school and the progressivist indoctrination that necessarily entails, and who is willing to give up ten months of their life for a modest stipend without any benefits. Once found, if they are found, we must do the most remarkable thing yet – we must convince a very smart person who has already made a considerable sacrifice to work harder than they have ever worked, and learn to convey a passion for a subject they have nurtured and sustained for years to a student who is most likely simply too ignorant or apathetic to realize that both his intellect and his soul will be improved immeasurably if only he can be bothered to care and welcome in a portion of this apprentice’s enthusiasm, reverence, and awe for his subject.
Other organizations ask apprentices to build cabinets, make shoes, balance accounts, do filing, or pick up the dry cleaning. In such an apprenticeship, an individual might transform themselves into a better carpenter, cobbler, accountant, attorney, or personal assistant, but we are asking far more of our apprentices than to transform their own lives – we are asking them to awaken and transform the lives of hundreds of human beings.
If we are serious about education, and not just the superficialities of schooling, or grades, or standardized test scores, this sort of work is imperative. Genuine education cannot occur without a sustainable supply of such individuals, and they cannot be trained and nursed on theory alone: the transition from learned person to teacher is necessarily experiential, and this is what is accomplished by an apprenticeship that cannot be accomplished by an education school or state licensure. In short, this is what the Daniels Fund has made possible for eight apprentices and hundreds of students over the past two years.