Center for the Restoration of Humane Learning
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Education in America has been in crisis since at least the 1950's. Today, in a period of declining standards around the globe, American students rank near the bottom in the developed world. At stake, however, is not how American students perform on multiple-choice tests, but whether or not the people of the United States will remain a part of Western Civilization.
That civilization was built on the Jewish and Christian scriptures and traditions, the Greek and Latin classics, and the intellectual and political traditions of the West that celebrated logical coherence, self-restraint, and the sense of duty. This educational tradition, born in ancient times and Christianized in the Middle Ages, produced the Founders of the American republic and formed the minds and characters of the American people. Hardworking high-school graduates at the beginning of the 20th century were better educated than most Ph.D. recipients at the beginning of the 21st.
Today, schools and colleges, not content with eliminating Latin (and most English grammar), are kicking Shakespeare and Dickens out of the curriculum and replacing them, in the name of diversity, with works of low literary and moral quality. Promoted under the banner of multiculturalism is hatred of America and contempt for Christianity. Even private and religious schools are contaminated by this collapse of standards.
The Summer School
Since its founding, The Rockford Institute has challenged educational fashions such as multiculturalism, outcome-based education, values clarification, whole language, and a preference for technical training over intellectual and moral formation. Understanding that criticism only begins to address the problem, the Institute began its annual Summer School in 1997 to serve as a practical alternative to America's failing educational institutions.
The Summer School was designed to encourage Americans to take up the great treasures of the West, to love them, and to pass them on to their students, readers, congregations, children, and grandchildren. Unlike a vast number of policy-related organizations, The Rockford Institute found itself intellectually endowed to carry out this mission. The editors of and regular contributors to Chronicles make up a strong team of classically educated men and women who write and speak with style and depth.
With the Summer School, the Institute aims to renew enthusiasm for lifelong learning among students of all ages and to educate influential men and women as well as promising young students. Participants in the annual Summer School include teachers, homeschooling parents, priests and other clerics, lawyers, journalists, psychiatrists, citizens active in politics, professors, authors, philanthropists, and business owners.
Themes of Summer Schools have included: "The Intellectual Roots of American Political Thought" (from Saint Paul and Cicero to Edmund Burke and Samuel Johnson); "The Greek Roots of Christendom" (why so much of the character of the West is Greek); "The American Midwest" (the great literature, poetry, and political movements of America's heartland); "Lessons from Late Antiquity: Living a Full Life in a Dying Age" (how great men endured the collapse of Rome and left the world a better place); and "The High Christian Ages" (not the dark ages at all but a time of brilliant poetry, reverence in painting, genius and Divine inspiration in philosophy and theology, fortitude in warfighting, and magnificence in architecture).
The Convivium Series
Believing that understanding of human experience is enhanced by travel, the Institute expanded its lifelong-learning opportunities with the introduction of its Convivium Series in 2000. In staging a Convivium, the Institute selects an important European city or region and a topic that includes some of the local history, literature, and politics. Next, top scholars are chosen to lead lectures and discussions. Completing the mix are attendees who enjoy the company of like-minded citizens of Western Civilization and who know that the best preparation for travel is reading. Lectures and discussions are enhanced by visits to museums, churches, and other historic sites.
Themes have included: "The Rise And Fall of Modern Italy and the United States" (how loose federations of independent states were centralized by strongmen); "Tuscany: The Cultural Free Market" (how the political autonomy of Pisa, Florence, and Siena made possible the flourishing of Christendom during the Middle Ages); "The Continuing Revolution: Paris 1789" (how the concepts and institutions of the Revolution are taken for granted by today's political left and right); "The Bloody Balkan Crossroads: Islam and the West" (lessons from Serbia and Montenegro on the struggle between Christianity and Islam); "Sicily: The Good and the Bad of Cultural Diversity" (how the island that has been the crossroads of the greatest civilizations of the world has also been the site of cultural experiments designed to destroy Christianity); and "The Rise and Fall of the Roman Republic" (lessons for modern America from the greatest republic in history).
The Rockford Institute Academy
As the Institute staged ever more Summer Schools and Convivia, its library of recorded lectures grew. The next logical steps were to organize these lectures into correspondence courses and begin production of additional courses. Beginning in 2001, the Institute created The Rockford Institute Academy to offer courses taught by Dr. Fleming to local audiences (from high-school seniors to retirees) even as it produced these courses for distance-learning students. "Real American History" covered the American republic from Jamestown to Vietnam, emphasizing the diverse regions of our country and their varied literary, political, religious, economic, and cultural traditions. The notion of America as an abstract political experiment was contrasted with an understanding of American history rooted in stories of real people, families, places, and traditions.
"The History and Literature of the Ancient World" showed the civilization of Europe and the United States as a legacy from ancient Greece and Rome and explored the Greek classics as the deepest and strongest current of human wisdom and beauty that has flowed into Christendom. The course's unique approach—the concurrent study of history and literature—gave students a thorough appreciation of the civilizations on which our own is built.
"The Conservative Greek Mind" demonstrated that, although the Greeks invented political theory, Greek political thought was not created out of thin air. It was a response to the Greek political experience. Since the 19th century, we have been told that the Greeks liberated themselves from the shackles of religion and tradition to pursue a dream of democracy, equality, and human rights. The reality, made obvious in the historical and literary texts, is that the Greeks favored an aristocratic pursuit of virtue; disdained democracy; had strong attachments to family, clan, and religion; and lived political life through small, local fraternities and organizations.
"Latin I" is the course that trains the mind for all others. Latin not only teaches the roots and grammar of the great languages of the West but inspires and reinforces logical thinking and disciplined study habits. Studies have shown the beneficial effects of Latin instruction on math skills, and it is the best means for building a strong vocabulary. Moreover, it provides the foundation for understanding the religious, political, and cultural history of the West, including that of the American republic. As one of the nation's leading classicists put it, "You need to know Latin to read and understand the Founding Fathers."
Chronicles editors and contributors produce distance-learning courses offsite as well. Titles include: "Christian Writers of the 19th and 20th Centuries," taught by literary biographer Joseph Pearce of Ave Maria University; "The Transmississippi West," taught by historian and Old-West expert Roger McGrath; "The Western Theological Tradition," taught by theologian James Patrick of the College of Saint Thomas More; and "British Moral and Political Thought," taught jointly by Emory University philosophy professor Donald Livingston and Edmund Burke scholar Peter Stanlis.
A New Program
By 2004, the Institute had become so active in creating practical solutions to America's education crisis that it made sense to organize them into a new program. The Center for the Restoration of Humane Learning was created. The announcement was met with enthusiasm. As one software engineer remarked, "I rejoiced when I read of TRI's plans to initiate a comprehensive liberal-arts curriculum. This new project is a natural next step from the series of summer schools, lectures, and seminars you have been hosting for years. I can appreciate the value of such a curriculum, if only because my own education lacked this foundation."