Since lockdowns showed American parents what public schools teach kids, a competing method of human formation called classical education has seen a massive jump in enrollment, the leaders of multiple K-12 networks told The Federalist.
The number of new school startups within the Association of Christian Classical Schools nearly tripled in 2022 and 2023 from previous years, said ACCS President David Goodwin in a phone interview. Their typical number of school startups per year is 20-30, he said, but in 2022 and 2023 startups respectively numbered 83 and likely near 100 by the end of this year, he said.
From 2020 to 2023, the large classical homeschooling network Classical Conversations has seen student enrollment grow approximately 20 percent, from 110,000 students to a projected 130,000 this fall, CEO Robert Bortins told The Federalist in an email.
“Jesus Christ is at the core of everything they study, so they’re talking about their faith throughout the day and in all aspects of the curriculum,” says Emily de Rotstein, executive director of the Chesterton Schools Network of Christian classical high schools. “Our goal is that students are articulate, clear-thinking, well-rounded, and very joyful individuals.”
What Is Classical Education?
Classical education aims to introduce children to their cultural heritage through seeing and imitating the greatest works in their civilization’s history, from the arts to the sciences. Most conventional public schools actively damage children’s souls with racial and sexual falsehoods, even in states with proactive conservative lawmakers such as Florida, as a recent Claremont Institute report shows.
By contrast, classical schools forthrightly teach philosophical virtues such as prudence, courage, temperance, and justice. Christian classical schools add the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.
“When you know what history has looked like over the last 4,000 years, and all the sacrifices and all the horrible mistakes and all the great advances, how all of that has worked together to produce our current cultural moment, you are just so well-equipped to understand moral questions in a rich, nuanced way and make the best decisions you can,” says Katherine Kersten, an education scholar and board member of the Chesterton Schools Network. “Plus, of course, they have a lot of fun.”
At the annual gala for the first Chesterton Academy in the Twin Cities, Kersten says, a young man and young woman each speak about their experience there.
“Usually, many times, they will talk about how they came to the school from a public school environment where they were miserable, and they were self-harming, and what this school has done for them. It’s really uplifting,” she said via phone. “What Chesterton does, and I think so many classical schools, is to provide not only the academic tools and experiences that students need to be productive citizens but a really deep and rich moral education. This is something that many kids just flock to.”
5,000 Percent Jumps in a Few Decades — or Less
Classical education’s enrollment jump is even bigger when counting further than 2020. In 2010, Bortins said, Classical Conversations enrolled approximately 25,000 students. That means the organization has grown 500 percent in approximately one decade.
ACCS, a Protestant organization, has seen similarly explosive growth since its inception in 1991, when classical schooling was revived in the United States by Christian parents seeking non-leftist education. Goodwin said ACCS membership will be approximately 500 schools this fall, up from 10 schools in 1994. That’s a 5,000 percent increase in nearly three decades.
Since its inception in 2017, the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education network has expanded from four founding schools to 225, said communications manager Hannah Naughton in an email. That’s a 5,625 percent increase. The Consortium for Classical Lutheran Education has nearly tripled its annual conference size in the past five years.
As The Federalist reported earlier this month, “Hillsdale [College]’s network scaled up from one model school in Colorado to more than two dozen member schools today, four opening this year, and another dozen slated to open by 2024. The Great Hearts Academies charter school network went from one school in 2003 to 40 today, serving 25,000 students. The Thales Academy network of private classical schools went from one school with 30 students in 2007 to 14 campuses with more than 5,600 students today.”
The Chesterton Schools Network, a Roman Catholic organization that began in 2008, currently includes 56 schools and 14 more preparing to open in 2024, de Rotstein said. Chesterton students attend daily Mass, a contrast to most parochial students. De Rotstein said Chesterton families are especially drawn to that center of the Catholic identity.
“I think Covid gave parents an opportunity to rethink the importance of education for their children. And it gave parents the courage to look at new options and new models, to really be involved in their student’s education,” she said.
Big Enough to Become a Target
Like its headwaters, Western civilization, classical education’s growth has engendered internal and external attacks. Internally, like all American institutions, it is facing struggle sessions against the Marxist inverted trinity of race, class, and sex.
The Classic Learning Test is up for consideration before Florida universities’ Board of Governors on Aug. 30. The board could allow students to take CLT’s college entrance exam instead of the SAT or ACT to get into Florida universities. It would be a massive win for the startup College Board competitor whose constituents are largely classically educating families.
Yet the CLT also has provoked concerns from these constituents after one of its board members publicly stated she pushed readings onto its tests because of the authors’ race and sex. CLT CEO Jeremy Tate told The Federalist those were part of a greater set of test bank additions that did not alter its proportion of female and nonwhite thinkers and were approved by all contributing board members, few of whom support picking authors due to their race and sex.
“There is no metric other than excellence,” Tate said in a phone interview. “We’re not even considering diversity quotas — we never have, we never will.”
The usual pattern for institutional takeover by cultural Marxism is internal agitators uniting with external agitators such as media and leftist pressure groups to force policy changes. This is how the lawyered-up parents of a transgender-identifying kindergartener forced a classical charter school in Minnesota to teach gender ideology in every grade, destroying the school.
In 2018, the massive Great Hearts classical charter schools chain was targeted by the American Civil Liberties Union over privacy policies that formerly affirmed students’ biological sex. After the lawsuit, campaigns by activist parents and students, and media pressure, Great Hearts rewrote its policies in coordination with LGBT special interest groups to allow boys into girls’ bathrooms, sports, and showers, and vice versa.
So it’s therefore no surprise classical education has also come under increasing leftist media attacks that amplify and aim susceptible grievance mongers within classical institutions. These attacks are especially effective against politicians and normal folks who haven’t internalized that Marxists lie and smear their way to power.
Tennessee parents who want to start charter schools using free curriculum from Hillsdale College, a prominent Christian liberal arts school, are hitting a media buzzsaw of the usual unsubstantiated Marxist smears. Those include longstanding accusations that it’s racist not to pick figures to study based on their race, and racist not to blame great figures in history for their inborn skin color.
The Struggle Is Real and Unavoidable
In the early 1900s, political “progressives seized the public school system and transformed it into what we have,” said Goodwin, who documented that in a bestselling 2022 book with Pete Hegseth, Battle for the American Mind. “If anybody in the progressive movement is not asleep at the switch — and they’re not — they’re alert that if this movement gets traction it could threaten their control points in the culture.”
Just about every leading proponent of classical education will agree it is not directly political, as in not recruiting votes for any party or pushing specific political stances. Yet also every thinking person is aware that politics and philosophy are deeply connected. So by sustaining classic Western ideas such as a search for truth, classical education inevitably conflicts with Marxism, which replaces truth with power (that’s why Marxists always lie).
This means that while some of classical education’s leaders may not want to fight the culture war, their very existence declares war against cultural Marxism. There is ultimately no common ground possible between the love of truth, goodness, and beauty and identity politics’ cynical, society-devastating claim that truth, goodness, and beauty are all mere tools of power that serve an oppressor class.
“So many of the elite cultural influencers in our country, they want to silence visions of what it means to be human that clash with their own,” Kersten noted. “So this is an indication you’re doing something right if you follow your own path less taken and you see all the fruit in your own family.”