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A Twenty-First Century Renaissance

One day a little boy arrived at school, grabbed his crayons, and began thinking of all the things he could draw. The teacher asked him to pause and then said, “Today we will be drawing flowers.” Enthused, the boy thought of all the types of flowers there were. Just as he was about to begin his creation the teacher said, “We are going to draw a particular type of flower.” She then drew one with a green stem, two leaves and four pink petals. After several attempts his drawing soon looked like hers. 

As school began the next year, the boy was given crayons but this time he waited for instructions from the teacher. Upon inquiry as to why he was not drawing he asked, “What should I make?” The teacher replied, “A flower.” He dutifully drew a green stem with two leaves and four pink petals. (A Thomas Jefferson Education p. 19-21)

This story is a metaphor for the industrial economy, world, and education of the last century. The education of the 1900s delivered a conveyor belt style of learning introduced over 100 years ago by John Dewey. The goal of an industrial education was to give a child what was needed to find employment and land a job, which is a good thing. But a liberal arts education helps us aspire, attain, and transcend to something greater—to discover personal arête, as the Greeks called it, or excellence as it would be translated. The idea is to find your calling in life over a job or career. While those will provide a means of living, they may not provide passion, satisfaction, or happiness of becoming the best you. 

The Renaissance was rebirth

I could not let this month pass without reflecting on the fruits of the Renaissance which comes from the Latin nasci—to be born, rebirth, or born again. It is credited to have begun in Florence where there was a revival in classical antiquity from the 14th to the 17th century. Music, art, architecture, math, science, and literature flourished and were born again. Names such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Dante, Vivaldi and many others burst on the scene to open the minds, eyes, and ears from centuries of sleep…. “both Greece and Rome destroyed the vital elements on which the prosperity of nations rests, and perished by the decay of families and the depopulation of the country. They survive not in their institutions, but in their ideas, especially on the art of government, they are, The dead, but sceptered sovereigns who still rule Our spirits from their urns.” (Lord Acton, The History of Freedom p. 39) 

Education and the future

A classical liberal arts education, anchored in the classics and utilizing great mentors, returns an individual to what once informed and inspired the founding of liberty and freedom.

The goals are as follows:

  • First, produce thinkers, leaders and entrepreneurs who know they have genius and excellence waiting to bud and burst forth. A great parent/mentor/teacher helps us discover that. Education comes from the Latin educare which means “to lead out” or “draw out.” We educate by drawing out the latent virtues and gifts we possess. An American Classical Leadership Education invites you to discover your gifts and use them to bless others. Once voice and genius are found, you pivot and use your special excellence to change self, home, and community for the better. You are then ready for the task of self-governing.
  • Second, it is to perpetuate freedom and self-governance with the principles of liberty and natural law. Thomas Jefferson laid these principles down in the Declaration of Independence. They replaced monarchs and “Divine Right of Kings” with a natural aristocracy of self-governing citizens-kings. Nobility and dignity came to all by virtue, which honors impartiality in the sight of a Creator, deference to the laws of nature and a guarantee of equality of the natural rights of life, liberty, and property.
  • Third, such education teaches us how to think through difficulties, problems and challenges we face today. The old industrial ways of educating and thinking will not be adequate for leading in the 21st century.

The key to this type of education is individualized learning intentionally focused on the discovery of arête. Great stories found in “the classics” are central to this type of education. They allow us to project ourselves into the stories of great women and men, grapple with our own human nature as the characters grapple with theirs, and ultimately to identify principles of truth. True principles help us recognize true beauty and we are then compelled to apply those qualities to become servant leaders and thinkers. In the words of one of my alma maters, “To build men and women of virtue, wisdom, diplomacy and courage who inspire greatness in others and move the cause of liberty.” (Mission of George Wythe University)

What the Wizard taught us

One of my favorite movies as a child was The Wizard of Oz. You may recall our heroine Dorothy is born again to the beauty of the family she left, and she desires to go back home. On her journey, she must find Oz by following the “yellow brick road.” Along the way she finds three friends who also need to see the great Oz for gifts of liberation. The Scarecrow wanted a brain. The Lion wanted courage, and the Tin Man wanted a heart. These virtues were unwittingly already in their possession but laid latent, having been dormant or undiscovered for some time. At critical points in the journey each is invited to use those undeveloped virtues to help the others. They frequently flopped and had to repeatedly try again after unsuccessful trials and challenges up against the Wicked Witch and the Wizard of Oz. Ever-patient and loving Dorothy continues to ask them to use their hidden virtues of knowledge, courage, and soul to save the day. They miserably stumble yet continue to persevere after each challenge. Finally, facing a real fire and affliction in the noble cause, which is ultimately to help Dorothy at the possible expense of their own lives, they combine as a team to exercise entrepreneurial thought, persistence, and bold actions. We know the suppressed gifts of wisdom, courage and heart already existed in the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and the Tin Man. Self-transcendence produced the nobility in each to help Dorothy find her way back home to safety, prosperity, and happiness.

Published by Dean Forman

I am co-founder and CEO of the John Adams Academies, an institution that is perhaps the most unique charter school system in America today. The Academies’ curriculum is designed to give its students an American Classical Leadership Education. This is an education that pursues truth, beauty and goodness and turns its scholars outward in search of those whom they can serve in becoming servant leaders. This website is dedicated to sharing the concepts of an American Classical Leadership Education with its readers so that more citizens can benefit from the truth, virtue and wisdom of the past. The thoughts and opinions I share on this page are my personal views.

One thought on “A Twenty-First Century Renaissance

  1. I love the ideas and thoughts you are bringing forth.

    There is one part that I am wondering why the order is put as such:

    “Once voice and genius are found, you pivot and use your special excellence to change self, home, and community for the better. You are then ready for the task of self-governing.”

    My questions are if it might be the journey of learning and practicing the task of self-governance that the individual is actually able to find their voice and genius? And also if we are able to first change ‘self’ then it seems that a sort of osmosis might accrue and we naturally change our surroundings including home and that in turn is able to change community…. Or maybe this process is similar to a spiral where they continually build on each other?

    Thank you for your blog. I certainly agree it is time for an educational renaissance. And I am so grateful for the many individuals I see working to bring about that renaissance.

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