Why Start a School?
The good school does not just offer what the student or the parent or the state desires, but it says something about what these three ought to desire. A school is fundamentally a normative, not a utilitarian, institution, governed by the wise, not by the many. It judges man as an end, not as a means; it cultivates the human spirit by presenting a complete vision of man as he lives and as he ought to live in all his domains – the individual, the social, and the religious. It teaches the student how to fulfill his obligations to himself, to his fellow man, and to God and His creation. Its understanding of man, therefore, is prescriptive – and its curriculum and organization allegorize the scope, the sequence, and the vision that all men must recognize and accept as fundamental if they hope to grow to their full human stature.
The need for a prescriptive understanding of man suggests that we make a retrospective beginning. The rebirth of the old is not incommensurate with the new. “For century after century, almost without interruption,” wrote Ortega y Gasset (1975), “whenever European culture needed an ideal, it always found it in the culture of Greece. Remember that what is innermost in a culture, most productive, the force that fashions it and drives everything else is a repertoire of longing, norms, of desiderata – in short, its ideal.”
During the Italian Renaissance, the rediscovery of Greece’s longings and norms, of its Ideal Type, was accompanied by vast social changes and brilliant new discoveries, as well as by a renewed sense of human worth and potential. Classical education refreshes itself at cisterns of learning dug long ago, drawing from springs too deep for taint the strength to turn our cultural retreat into advance.
– David Hicks, Norms and Nobility