Debating the Classic Learning Test

An Invitation

In an encouraging turn of events, Jeremy Tate, the founder of the Classic Learning Test (CLT), has agreed to join me in a conversation to discuss some of the concerns I raised in my previous piece about the CLT. We will meet for a conversation on Wednesday, June 21st on Twitter Spaces (consider joining with an account) at 5pm pacific/8pm eastern time. The focal point of our dialogue will be an exploration of whether the CLT is truly meeting the needs of the moment. This news comes at an opportune time, as it is crucial that we engage in open discussions about the state of education and its future, particularly within the context of classical learning and Christianity.

Mr. Tate’s CLT has seen exponential growth since its inception in 2015, filling a gap left by the SAT/ACT regime. That older regime was abandoned by many prominent colleges in the wake of the COVID pandemic. Also many Christians felt it did not align with the philosophies of classical Christian education. As I highlighted in my earlier essay, the test has been embroiled in a debate sparked by Matthew Freeman’s essay in The American Conservative, titled “Classical Education’s Woke Comorbidities.” My piece served as a response to this controversy, and I am gratified to see it evolve into a launching pad for this conversation.

There are concerns that the CLT might be tilting towards the very ideology it seeks to challenge. The fear is that, as it grows, it may compromise the principles that initially set it apart from the dominant educational testing landscape. My previous piece articulated a suspicion that the CLT might be veering towards the homogeneity and superficial understanding of knowledge that are emblematic of the modern educational system, arguably at the expense of traditional Christian values and the philosophical underpinnings of classical education.

Yet it is also important to recognize the complexities that the CLT must navigate. Higher education, which the CLT is endeavoring to bridge with the “classical education” space, is indeed dominated by liberal ideologies. The challenge here is to ensure that the CLT doesn’t lose its core distinctives in the process of navigating these dynamics.

Jeremy Tate’s decision to participate in an open conversation about these concerns is commendable. It signifies a willingness to confront criticism, foster understanding, and, most importantly, maintain transparency about the CLT’s intentions and actions.

I anticipate that our conversation will delve into various aspects of the CLT and classical education, including the understanding and application of Aristotle’s educational philosophies, the potential influence of modern liberalism, and the CLT’s commitment to the principles of Christian civilization in education. This last is my overriding concern as I’ve written about it. This conversation will provide an excellent opportunity for clarity and understanding on these matters. And there will be time for participants to offer questions of their own.

Above all, this dialogue reflects the essential tenet of classical education itself: engagement in meaningful discourse in pursuit of truth

I will keep readers updated about this conversation and its outcomes. 

For those who did not follow the conversation, or want a refresher, here are summaries of the major arguments at stake.

Freeman’s Contention Summarized:

Freeman argues the classical education movement is succumbing to the influence of wokeness, endangering its core principles. The infiltration of liberalism is evident in the Classical Learning Test (CLT) organization, which now prioritizes diversity and representation over the traditional classical canon. The movement’s leaders, like Jeremy Tate, are welcoming folks, such as Jessica Hooten Wilson who argue classical education is inherently racist onto its board. Wilson-types advocate for a diversification of reading lists and conferences to include voices from various nations, cultures, genders, & etc. However, this is just the beginning of a larger war that will ultimately lead to the conquest of classical education by liberalism. Like conservative institutions before it, the classical education movement is susceptible to being co-opted once it gains power and influence. The symptoms of wokeness have already surfaced within the movement, and without a course correction, it risks its own demise. Classical educators must understand the true nature of virtue which is hero-worship. It is only this principle which forms the foundation of the classical tradition. The movement’s defense should not be rooted in the liberal assumption of equality, but in the recognition of the hierarchy inherent in hero-worship. By deviating from the true essence of the classical tradition, classical education risks losing its purpose and becoming a tool for the progressive agenda.

Tate’s Reply Summarized:

Tate argues that Freeman raises important questions about the connection between classical education and diversity. However, Freeman oversimplifies the situation by suggesting that proponents of classical education, including Tate, have been influenced by woke theories. This assertion is unfounded. The disagreement between Freeman and advocates of classical education lies in their differing views on the texts suitable for a classical curriculum. While Freeman argues that the essence of traditional education is to inculcate hero worship Tate argues it is to equip students with critical thinking skills, this requires including diverse works. He believes that a well-rounded education requires a comprehensive selection of texts that spans from ancient times to the modern era. By exposing them to diverse perspectives, classical education can cultivate their ability to analyze and interpret different ideas. He ended by welcoming Freeman to come on a podcast for a dialogue.

My Position Summarized:

I argue that Jeremy Tate defends the Classic Learning Test (CLT) and its mission to provide a broader alternative to standardized academic testing, which is good. Tate acknowledges the importance of arming a new generation with critical thinking skills, which he believes can be achieved through a selection of diverse works. However, the author of the initial article raises legitimate concerns about the potential co-optation of the CLT by the left leaning education industrial complex. Such a co-option will be more and more likely due to CLTs success and growth. Further, Tate’s response exposes that modern readers often project their own egalitarian values onto ancient texts, leading to misunderstandings of the texts’ intended meaning. In the composition of a whole curriculum this problem is compounded. The presumption of the necessity of intellectual diversity in education is precisely such a misreading. Drawing from Aristotle’s writings we see that what looks to moderns like a call for diversity is actually an argument that universal education lies in understanding the causes and principles that underlie reality. That principle, ultimately, is God. The CLT’s focus on diversity will hinder its ability to guide students towards a deeper engagement with reality. I accept his invitation for further discussion of the concerns raised by the original article, if he will have me in Freeman’s place.

Image Credit: Unsplash

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Colin Redemer

Colin Redemer is Director of Education at American Reformer and Vice President of the Davenant Institute. He is a founder of the Davenant Hall graduate college and co-host of the weekly Ad Fontes Podcast.