Welcome. It is heartening to have all of you here with us today. Nearly seventeen years ago, a group of parents who were deeply disappointed by the education their children were receiving in the public school system banded together and began having conversations about starting a classical, charter school. At the time, they understood classical to mean traditional, and they had few set ideas about curriculum. However, as their ideas took shape, they found a principal, a building, faculty, furniture, and eventually students. It was the students who were the most important, or rather, the way in which they found these students. They did not pick, select, test, or screen them. They took in students of all ability levels because they believed that the inherent dignity of personhood entitled them all to the opportunities only a liberal arts education could provide. They earnestly believed that all would benefit from such an education if they were willing to work, and they openly and bravely acknowledged that students drawn from such a diversity of backgrounds would likely require brilliant teachers and an intense amount of work. Seventeen years on, this aspect of Ridgeview remains unchanged.
There is a story about starfish many of you will have heard. A young boy is walking along a beach when he sees thousands of starfish stranded and dying along the beach. He begins picking them up one at a time and tossing them back into the ocean when a man walking by pauses to watch him. Eventually, the older man asks the boy what difference it can possibly make as he will never be able to throw them all back into the ocean. The boy says, as he throws a starfish back, “To this one, it will make all the difference.” We can dismiss this story as vapid and sentimental, but there has been a profound significance for each of the students Ridgeview has reached these past seventeen years. Authors like Robert Hutchins were correct. If a liberal arts education is the best education, it must also be true that it is the best education for all. The only question is how it can be made available to all.
What a betrayal then that so many schools have intentionally denied students access to this type of education. Such schools have limited a liberal education to only the most obviously academically talented. Those students, whom we sometimes term educational casualties, whether because of the adverse effects of social promotion within the district schools or the unfair burdens of a broken home, are set aside as undesirable and uneducable. To grant them entry into supposedly prestigious schools, would be to risk the school’s test scores and in turn their rankings. So too is the situation with students working through a learning disability, or dyslexia, or any of a myriad of other medical and psychological challenges. These students are counseled out to protect the supposed prestige of their programs, and again, to ensure the allegedly impressive test scores of the school. Such is also the case with the students who come late to reading or who do not have the luxury of an involved parent in their home who has prioritized their child’s education.
Such is also the mentality of those running private schools who believe the benefits of a liberal education are best reserved for the fortunate few at the top of the economic spectrum. Several years ago, while attending a philosophy book group at a university with a group of professors, I heard how ridiculous this whole idea of providing every student with a liberal arts education was. As one professor purred, “A liberal arts education is a case of a wealthy man’s education for a wealthy man’s money. Besides,” he opined, “what use would such a thing be to the masses?” Such sentiments should perhaps come as little surprise given the state of free speech or intellectual diversity on our college campuses today. Nor should it be surprising that our political elite brag about the elimination of civics courses and who seek to sustain a population that is both “unaware and compliant,” as was recently revealed of our political elite in an e-mail from Bill Ivey to John Podesta.
So, when Ridgeview says that it believes in the principles of Highet, Barzun, Adler, Hutchins, Barr, Chalmers, Everett, Galantière, Genzmer, Reis, Trilling, Van Doren, and Weaver, it is because we believe in those principles for all students. It is because we believe that it is precisely by opening our doors and inviting everyone in to have a conversation about important texts that have some measure of permanence, that we will be most likely to change lives. This is the nobility of Humanities Day. It is about bringing people together because most of the other institutions within our culture that might have fostered this type of dialogue have failed to play the part of the public intellectual or be the sustainer of an intellectually vibrant public square. What further distinguishes Ridgeview is who it perceives to be a student. The phrase life-long learner is now so hackneyed that it is difficult to resuscitate, but in a culture that believes that learning is lifelong, we are all students. Ridgeview cultivates the great conversation with our students on everything from Aesop to Zweig. Our faculty read and converse together. For the most interested and the most interesting, there is genuine collegiality here in ways simply not found elsewhere. Our parents are reading with us too, and so far this year alone they have read Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Augustine, Thomas à Kempis, and Machiavelli. They have read, considered, and discussed shared inquiry, classical education, the importance of Greek and Latin, and are now considering virtue as described by such authors as Aristotle, MacIntyre, Cicero, and Kirk.
Today, just as on any other day, in which we would welcome all of you to sit in on our classes without invitation, special reservation, or any other pretense, we propose to do what we do every day: bring all who are interested and willing into a conversation about substantial matters that are of the greatest interest to our faculty. We welcome you all, and in hosting this event, it is my deep hope that each of you will go away from here today persuaded that a classical, liberal arts education is something that ought to be available to every person of whatever ability, whatever political persuasion, and whatever religious adherence, that a life of the mind is important because of how it allows us to live better lives.
Thank you all for being here and I hope that you enjoy each of your sessions.