Growing old has its compensations. One is institutional memory. Having been educated in an era when “Western civilization” was not a trope to be spat out like a bad oyster, I was free to absorb the cultural glories of the past without shame.
At my Toronto public high school, Latin was obligatory. I loved it enough to enrol in a university honours course of study called “Latin, with an English option,” (which included a year’s study of Greek). We were a small cohort even then, but no opprobrium was attached to the study of classics.
The wheels of history turned. My liberal education focused on “the best that has been thought and said” in our cultural canon. Mere decades later, radical leftists were chanting “Hey, hey, ho ho, Western Civ has got to go.” And, step by step, it is going.
The radically diminished field of classics in academia is now distinguished by calls from within for its abolition—on the now-familiar grounds of racism, sexism, and colonialism. Woke intellectuals bemoan the “cultural genocide” of indigenous peoples by white settlers. But they are perfectly comfortable with the incremental cultural suicide such an amputation of our own civilization’s foundation represents.
If there is any hope for a traditional approach to teaching Western civilization’s cultural scaffolding to the next generation, it must happen at the K-12 level. The universities are entirely captured by radical race and gender theorists. But then, so are the public schools. That leaves costly private schools (some of which are themselves captured, so caveat emptor) or charter schools, which are tuition-free public schools run by autonomous not-for-profit organizations with distinct philosophical or pedagogical orientations.
In the United States, the 1990s charter school movement is now revolutionizing early pedagogy. As of the 2017-18 school year, there were 7,193 charter schools in 44 states, plus the District of Columbia, translating into 7 percent of all schools, serving 3.1 million elementary and high school students.
In Canada by contrast, only one province, Alberta, allows charter schools, and until recently, when the cap was dropped, its 1994 legislation permitted only 15 of them, which serve something like 10,000 students. Canadians are no more thrilled with public education than Americans, but it seems they are not prepared to do political battle for choice as Americans have. Too bad, because charter schools on the whole give much better value than schools in the public system.
In a meta-study of 44 studies on charter schools in Alberta, the Fraser Institute found that, taken together, and controlling for socio-economic differences, charters produce enhanced scores, particularly for certain disadvantaged groups, and lead to more benchmark achievements. Alberta’s charter schools offer various mandates, including “direct instruction,” programs for gifted students and others based in art, science, single sex, or at-risk youth. A discipline-heavy multi-campus charter called Foundations for the Future is the top performing school in the province, with a 14,000-long wait list.
Three new charter schools are opening this year. One will focus on science and mathematics; one will specialize in agriculture for those vocationally inclined; and the third, which caught my particular attention, the Calgary Classical Academy, will serve children in grades K-6 for now but has plans to expand into high school in Calgary and, hopefully later, in Edmonton. Pretty much by word of mouth—legacy media has done no reportage on the project—the CCA has enrolled 250 of their 300-student capacity.
The CCA’s principles will be considered uplifting by those of us who believe education ought to build character and civic responsibility, as for example: “The highest aspiration of education is to foster moral excellence. Our goal is to help students cultivate the mind and the heart, impart a love of virtue, and form the habits of temperance and self-mastery that will enable them to live good, healthy, and purposeful lives.” And: “We understand that structure and high expectations are not incompatible with the spirit of leisure or the pursuit of freedom, but are a precondition for them.”
Progressives will doubtless find words like “virtue,” “excellence,” “self-mastery,” and “high expectations” code for imperial paternalism. But that’s fine. Progressives have an entire school system at their disposal that shares their perspective. Critics say it is elitist, and yet the CCA’s student body is a diverse group, with no ethnic group dominant. In fact, Nigerian children form a plurality.
I spoke with Caylan Ford, CCA founder and chair of the board, for whom this school is a (second) dream come true. In her teen years, this dynamic young mother of two devoted herself to the study of totalitarian regimes and the problem of political and philosophical evil. She worked extensively with dissidents, refugees, and exiles from authoritarian or totalitarian regimes, some of whom had suffered imprisonment and torture for their beliefs. (In exchange, she informed me, she had the honour of being perhaps the youngest Canadian to be blacklisted by the Chinese Communist Party when she was 16.)
Ford’s first dream was to combat the encroaching signs of the totalitarian mindset, as exemplified in “cancel culture,” through the political process. While campaigning—apparently successfully—for the United Conservative Party in 2019, however, she herself became a victim of a devastating cancellation by political actors abetting an anonymous malcontent with an ugly history of false allegations.
Ford’s ordeal would have permanently blighted any hopes of public service in most of us. Instead, she regrouped and, joined by an alpha team of like-minded beaters against the current, made a second, and likely far more influential dream, come true with the CCA.
The curriculum is rich in content, although with a more diverse—but still merit-based—canon that reflects our nation’s evolution; it can be consulted on the CCA website.” Pervading all studies will be an explicit commitment to truth-telling (yes, objective truth is a “given” at CCA) in “a smartphone-free environment, with minimal and deliberate use of screen-based technologies.” Ford says she is “blown away at the quality of our administration and teaching staff.” Teachers applied from Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, and B.C. in Canada, as well as from Australia, China, and the United Kingdom. Many of them hold PhDs or D.Phils.
Like many dreamers, Ford’s vision was grounded in concerns for her children’s future. “I’d like them to develop moral and intellectual discernment, so that they can distinguish between just and unjust, truth and falsehood, and beauty and ugliness,” she said. “I want them to have the capacity to resist fashionable ideologies.”
Shouldn’t we all want such an education for our children? The public school system is offering children “fashionable ideologies” and not much more. Why aren’t parents badgering politicians in every province for charter schools? Godspeed to the CCA, and may its tribe increase.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.