Letter – Classical  education’s value

Published 6:32 pm Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Editor, The Smithfield Times:

Of all the forms of education available today, classical education stands apart from the rest. Learning to “know the true, do the good, and love the beautiful“ provides a student with a firm foundation for success in life.

In his essay “Classical Education for All,” author Josh Herring states: “Classical education … offers an answer to families who want the same education that prepared the Founding Fathers to develop the framework for a ‘new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.’ By focusing on what universally unites humans rather than the accidents of birth, tribe, or identity, a classical approach to education summons students to consider transformative truths that have the power to cultivate human beings capable of pursuing happiness.”

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Most Americans are familiar with “Father of the Constitution,” James Madison (1751-1836), but few are acquainted with the education that prepared him for a lifetime of public service.

A “studious scholar,” with “a most ingenious mind, and extensive learning,” Madison was first “home schooled” by his grandmother, Frances Taylor Madison, who taught the future president the essentials of grammar, writing and arithmetic. At age 11, “Jemie” was sent to a boarding school run by a Scotsman, Donald Robertson, where over the next four years he completed the remainder of the Trivium: logic and rhetoric, in addition to learning Latin, Greek, French, arithmetic and geography.

Madison studied Virgil, Horace, Justinian and many other classical writers whose works were in Robertson’s extensive library. After two more years of private tutoring at home under the Rev. Thomas Martin, Madison “aced” his entrance exam at the College of New Jersey.


After graduating with the Class of 1771, James chose to remain at the college for eight months of post-graduate work in Hebrew and moral philosophy under College President the Rev. John Witherspoon. Then it was off to serving first his state, then his nation.

The classical education of James Madison was the standard in both the Colonies as well as England, producing disciplined scholars and lifelong learners who shaped a great nation.

We are fortunate to have a classical school here in the Benn’s Church area, Hampton Roads Classical, the only school in Virginia licensed to teach the Hillsdale College 1776 curriculum.


Gary R. Porter