This Classic Text Explains Why Classical Education is Best


If you haven’t read the Yale Report, it is very good. I spent this morning adapting this text to HTML as well as PDF, so now you can read it on your phone, download it to your Kindle, or print it off.

What it is

The “Yale Report of 1828” is one of the “most influential documents in the history of American higher education” according to R.J. O’Hara. It is still a pleasure to read, and its influence should not wane.

Originally titled “Report of the Faculty”, the document was chartered for the simple purpose of defending the study of Greek and Latin languages in higher education. However, answering the question “Why Greek and Latin?” required (and still requires) answering the fundamental question, “Why education at all?

In the opening Resolution, the authors explain the structure of the report:

The expediency of retaining the ancient languages, as an essential part of our course of instruction, is so obviously connected with the object and plan of education in the college, that justice could not be done to the particular subject of inquiry in the resolution, without a brief statement of the nature and arrangement of the various branches of the whole system.

Accordingly, Part I presents a bristling defense of traditional liberal education against the gnawing deprecation of pragmatic and technocratic alternatives. Part II answers the original question about Greek and Latin by extending the argument of Part I to classical languages in particular.

Why it is so good

The Yale Report is a blueprint and outline of humane and generous educational content and methods that classical colleges and high schools (and primary schools) can study, debate, modify, and implement. It stands as witness against mechanistic, utilitarian, socialist, and technocratic fads that now appear to hold sway almost universally, from Berlin to Berkeley.

The Report strikes one today as prophetic. In retrospect, one can already see the fermenting soil that would result in abandonment of Great Books, the proliferation of majors to fit student taste, the rise of meaningless for-profit colleges, and gradual the elimination of Shakespeare from English Literature curricula.

Today, while one can find academics fighting against the barbaric prejudice for technical, scientific learning over humanistic learning, few seem to have the courage to conclude that science itself is one of the humanities and philosophy itself is one of the sciences. The Report shows a way.

There are many delicate and difficult arguments to debate and discuss. Sadly, some readers will never get that far. The Report was written when only males attended college, when it was openly acknowledged that working class professionals needed less college education, and when teachers viewed themselves as holding benevolent and paternalistic authority over students. So the first objections one can imagine arising in some readers’ minds are objections pertaining to the pet obsessions of cultural Marxism (race, class, sex, gender, culture, orientation, etc.) These bugbears will almost certainly drive to distraction those for whom identity politics trumps any interest in education per se. They should not distract the attentive and sympathetic reader.

The Report’s principles, it may be, transcend time, place, and political fad. For those who care about children and students and for those who themselves want to become free in mind and spirit, the Yale Report is as fresh and wise as when it was written in 1828.