Why we need a classical renewal? This was the theme of a conference hosted by the Circe Institute, with the support of the Australian Classical Education Society. Held in April over two days, expert speakers, from both the USA and Australia, spoke about the importance and benefits of a classical education.

Dr Paul Morrissey, principal of Campion College, Australia’s only tertiary college dedicated to the study of the liberal arts, reminded listeners that wisdom is a most fundamental principle for the education of our young. It is a principle, or more accurately, in the words of Dr Morrissey, a “virtue,” that is often neglected in today's modern education system.

The neglect of the cultivation of wisdom in today’s schooling system is due to a modern philosophical approach to education which only recognises the human being as matter and not spirit. Once the human being is seen this way, education becomes fundamentally utilitarian.

Dr Morrissey rightly points out that we cannot think of our children as either matter or spirit, but rather, our children are both matter and spirit, and an education worthy of them, must reflect this “both . . . and . . .” approach.

Due to the contemporary utilitarian approach to education, words like “innovation” and “job ready” have become guiding buzzwords. Even the phrase “critical thinking” is used in a utilitarian way, focusing only on analysing problems for job related, too often, mechanical related skills. This is distinct to the classical idea of “critical thinking,” which is centred upon cultivating wisdom. Here I found Dr Morrissey’s discussion of critical thinking under the framework of wisdom very helpful. Dr Morrissey points out that wisdom is a “learned thing, associated with moral knowledge and moral life.” As such, a wise critical thinker is likened to an architect that “puts things [moral and virtue related things] that are apart, together.” Here, notice the direction in which Dr Morrissey is drawing our attention. Critical thinking, under the framework of wisdom, has to do with the good life, that is, the life worth living. It is not narrow focused. It is not about learning a set of skills for a particular job. Rather, it is related to what and who we are as human beings - matter and spirit. Critical thinking, within the framework of wisdom, relates to all of life. 

From here, Dr Morrissey continues by looking at the necessity of integration in education. This is a topic I am very passionate about, and an idea that is poorly executed, if at all, in our current education system. He then moves on speaking about co-natural knowledge; that is, knowledge through experience. Finally, Dr Morrissey concludes with the ever-important topic of wisdom in a technological age and the necessity of wonder and silence.

If anyone is unsure of what are the important features of a classical education, as well as what is desperately lacking in modern education, then Dr Morrissey effectively reveals this to us. The themes that Dr Morrissey has addressed requires thoughtful reflection and engagement if we are truly serious about providing an education which reflects the true nature of our children.