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Classical vs. Modern Education

Classical vs. Modern Education

By Syconn Solutions

Introduction to the Cultivation of Virtue

In the realm of education, the cultivation of virtue has always played a pivotal role. Through education, individuals acquire knowledge and skills, but through the cultivation of virtue, they become truly wise and virtuous citizens. This article delves into C.S. Lewis’s profound insights on the dichotomy between classical and modern education and how each approach impacts the cultivation of virtue.

Understanding Classical Education

Classical education, rooted in ancient Greece and Rome, embraces a holistic approach to learning. Its primary focus is to develop the moral character of individuals. In contrast to modern education, which prioritizes knowledge acquisition and career readiness, classical education seeks to cultivate wisdom, virtue, and a love for truth. It emphasizes the importance of the liberal arts, encompassing subjects such as grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy.

Key Principles of Classical Education

Classical education is built upon a few key principles that guide its pedagogy. The first principle is recognizing the natural development of the human mind. Classical educators believe that education should align with the stages of human development, from the grammar stage (elementary years) to the logic stage (middle school) and finally to the rhetoric stage (high school). Each stage focuses on specific skills and knowledge acquisition relevant to that developmental phase.

Another principle of classical education is the integration of subjects. Rather than compartmentalizing knowledge, classical education emphasizes the interconnectedness of different disciplines. Subjects such as history, literature, and philosophy are taught in an integrated manner, allowing students to grasp the bigger picture and develop a comprehensive understanding of the world.

The Role of Virtue in Classical Education

Virtue holds a central position in classical education. It is considered the foundation upon which all other aspects of education rest. Classical educators believe that cultivating virtue is essential for individuals to lead purposeful lives and contribute positively to society. Virtues such as humility, courage, temperance, and justice are taught and practiced to foster moral character. By integrating the study of virtue into the curriculum, classical education aims to shape individuals who are not only knowledgeable but also virtuous.

Drawbacks of Modern Education

While modern education has its merits, it also comes with its drawbacks. One of the key criticisms of modern education is its tendency to prioritize utilitarian goals, such as preparing students for the workforce. This utilitarian approach often neglects the development of moral character and the cultivation of virtue. As a result, individuals may possess knowledge and skills but lack the ethical foundation necessary to make wise and virtuous decisions.

Consequences of Modern Education on the Cultivation of Virtue

The consequences of modern education on the cultivation of virtue are far-reaching. By focusing primarily on scientific and technical knowledge, modern education stifles such moral formation by teaching a scientifically-inspired mechanistic vision of the world. This reductionist perspective undermines the importance of ethics and moral reasoning, leading to a society that lacks a strong moral compass. As C.S. Lewis stated, “Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.”

Differences in Educational Approaches

The stark contrast between classical and modern education lies in their different educational approaches. Classical education values the pursuit of truth, the cultivation of virtue, and the development of the ability to think. It seeks to nurture well-rounded individuals who are knowledgeable and possess moral integrity. On the other hand, modern education prioritizes specialized knowledge and technical skills, often at the expense of character development. It embraces a more pragmatic approach, aiming to equip individuals with the necessary skills for the workforce.

How Modern Education Stifles Moral Formation

Modern education’s focus on specialized knowledge and technical skills often leads to a neglect of moral formation. By emphasizing career readiness over character development, modern education fails to instill in students the virtues necessary for leading a meaningful and purposeful life.

Furthermore, the compartmentalization of subjects in modern education prevents students from seeing the interconnectedness of knowledge and understanding the broader implications of their actions. As a result, the cultivation of virtue takes a backseat to the acquisition of knowledge.

The Importance of Teaching a Holistic Worldview

To revive the cultivation of virtue in modern education, it is crucial to teach a holistic worldview. By integrating subjects and emphasizing the interconnectedness of knowledge, students can develop a comprehensive understanding of the world and their place in it. Additionally, incorporating the study of ethics and philosophy into the curriculum can foster moral reasoning and the development of virtues. A holistic worldview nurtures individuals who possess knowledge and skills and exemplify moral character.

Reviving Virtue in Modern Education

Reviving the cultivation of virtue in modern education requires a paradigm shift. It entails reevaluating the goals and priorities of education and placing a renewed emphasis on character development. By incorporating the study of ethics, philosophy, and the liberal arts, modern education can bridge the gap between knowledge acquisition and moral formation. Through this integration, individuals can develop into wise and virtuous citizens who contribute positively to society.


The cultivation of virtue holds immense importance in education. Classical education, emphasizing wisdom, virtue, and a holistic approach to learning, provides a valuable framework for nurturing virtuous individuals. On the other hand, modern education, while focusing on specialized knowledge and technical skills, often neglects the development of moral character. To bridge this gap, it is essential to revive the teaching of virtues and integrate ethics and philosophy in modern education. Doing so can pave the way for a new path where education imparts knowledge and cultivates wisdom and virtue.