TheGrio Daily

What “Classic Education” actually means

Episode 125

“They don’t want to say they’re anti-Black history or pro-white, they want to say they’re for something that’s classical.” Concerned parents are flooding school board meetings demanding that their children receive a “classic education” but what are they actually saying? Michael Harriot is here to call out their racist requests.


[00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network. Black Culture Amplified. 

Michael Harriot [00:00:05] Have you ever listened to classical music? I mean, everybody has heard classical music. Like if you shopping in, I don’t know where people shop now, JCPenney? It might not be good as the music you normally listen to like, you know, Biggie or. I don’t even know what people listen to anymore. Lil Yachty. Medium Sized Yachty. I think Yachty is medium size now, he got a lot of money. He is ain’t no boat no more. He a medium sized boat. But in a way, like nobody. You know, while you might prefer Biggie to Beethoven or Young Thug to Baroque music, nobody hates classical music. Nobody hates anything classic, really. Like, you know, Black people, classic football games. I love to go to those. I mean, I even drink classic Coke. So why is everybody talking about classic education? Well, that’s what we’re going to discuss today. That’s why I want to welcome you to theGrio Daily, the only podcast that’ll tell you why classic means white. 

Michael Harriot [00:01:09] You probably, I don’t even know if you actually heard this discussion about the classical education system because it’s such a dog whistle that it’s been buried in all of the other discussions. But if you pay attention, right, when they talk about we got to get CRT out of the schools, when they talk about how drag shows are going to kill your children or the trans people are going to make you switch genders and turn away from Jesus, I guess. I don’t know. They always say if you listen closely, they always talk about classical education. They want to return to a classical education system. So what is this classical education system that they keep talking about? Well, to understand it. You got to go way back, like way back to this lady name, Dorothy Sayers. Now, Dorothy Sayer, she was a smart white woman, I guess, like, I don’t know. She was a detective novelist. She was English and she was white. So all of those things put together that makes you smart to other white people. And she came up with this idea, even though she never studied education or was a teacher or anything. She came up with this old idea called the Classical Education Trivium. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of this, because this is kind of an old idea, but you’ve definitely learned through the classical education Trivium. So here’s what the classical education Trivium said. It’s divided into three parts. Right. 

Michael Harriot [00:02:35] So the first part is the beginning, like what you learn in elementary school, because that’s the first part of the Trivium. So it basically is just rote memorization. You learn how to spell words by memorizing how they look, right? You learn dates in history class. You learn stuff like these are the definitions that you need to learn in your science class, right. And that rote memorization part of the Trivium goes on to what we call middle school. In the middle part of your education system you learn a little bit of logic, right? Like, no longer do you need to learn that two plus two equals four, because you could memorize that. But now you learn your timetables. You could put that into like algebra, geography. You know, you can figure out the equations because you already memorize all of them timetables, right? You already learn how to do long revision. So you can apply logic to mathematics or you can apply logic to stuff like social studies, Right? So you learn the dates when the Civil War ended. You learn the date when slavery ended. So by logic, we fought the Civil War to end slavery. Now we really didn’t. But the classical education, Trivium tells you, and then the classical education, Trivium starts introducing new stuff, like when you get to the third point, what we call high school. You learn Greek. You learn Latin. Why? Because 60% of English words are derived from Greek and Latin words. And if you kind of memorize these things, you can use logic and comprehension to determine the meaning of words you don’t know. 

Michael Harriot [00:04:27] You can use this third part of the Trivium to debate things. So now you got a write term papers. You don’t just memorize them, you got to write term papers off by why things happened. You got to read a book and then tell the teacher what it was about, not just what happened, but what are the themes, right? You have to debate this stuff that you learned in the first part of Trivium. Now, what’s wrong with that? Well, let me explain this thing. So I had this cousin, right, And he could play music by ear. He taught himself how to play the piano, the guitar. He would learn how to play it upside down as he was left handed the drums. I bought a recorder home from school, and a duel was like in 30 minutes. Was playing the recorder. I had never seen one a day in his life, but when he went to junior high and signed up for the band, he told him, Nah, you can’t read music. So he never could get on the concert band. That brother really wanted to be on a concert band. Well, when he got into the 11th grade, he tested for dyslexia. Right. He was dyslexic, which was why he struggled to read music. But here’s the thing. Music is just the interpretation of the vibration of sound. 

Michael Harriot [00:05:41] So if he could interpret that vibration and put it into a musical instrument, he could actually read. Because that’s literally reading music, right? If he could do that with multiple instruments, he could read better than the people who just saw notes on the paper and then use them memory to finger a saxophone or a piano. He was a better music reader than most people. But because the classical education system said the notes going to paper is reading music and not the actual ability to translate vibration into actions that go into an instrument. He couldn’t read music. Just like Dorothy Sayer was smart. Just like, for instance, when somebody could speak English and Spanish and the language of their home country, like if they come from Africa, they might speak the language of their village, but they still might fail language arts because the classical education system say you are not good at language. Or here’s another story. One time when I was in Vacation Bible school and my mom used to teach vacation Bible school and like seven or eight, and I didn’t know my timetables and my mama was so mad, she sent me home and said, You better learn your timetable. So I did. But here’s the thing. I didn’t know that the classical education system said you only learn up to 12 timetables. So when I got to public school, the teachers would take points off when I did my 13 timetables in my head, when I did my eight timetables in my head, because they would say you didn’t show your work. And according to the classical education system, if you knew your 14 timetables, you knew math less than somebody who only knew the 12 timetables but adhered to the classical education system. 

Michael Harriot [00:07:38] But here’s the real problem with the classical education system. What it really instills is Judeo Christian values, what we call Western civilization. America is a Christian nation, according to the classical education system. The Founding fathers were not slave owners, they were enlightened men in the era of enlightenment. I don’t know how it works, right? But they were enlightened men who came up with a new democracy for all you know, liberty and justice for all except Black people, except Native Americans, because this is the classical education system. So the classical education system doesn’t call the forced removal of Native Americans forced removal. They don’t call it expulsion. They call it Trail of Tears. Like like they left because they were crying, because they were sad. That’s the worst part about, you know, forced removal and removing people off the land that their ancestors had lived in for generations. They just cried a little bit according to the classical education system. And these Judeo-Christian values, they are based in the idea that white stuff is better. That’s why you learn Greek and Latin, right? Not just because 60% of the English language is based on it, but because it is a classic language. Like you can’t just write a play. You have to learn the Greek three act structure because that is the classic translated as white education system. You don’t learn about the African deities or the deities of the Inca people who occupy this country. But even the duties of the Native Americans who lived on this land. You got to learn Zeus and Athena and what’s some other white gods? I don’t know. What’s some white gods? Ronald Reagan, he’s a white god, Right? 

Michael Harriot [00:09:42] And that mythology informs how you read literature because white people write literature. Shakespeare is literature. What African people wrote was just, I don’t know what some stuff they said. It was the oral history. Right. And so this classical education system really means white. And these groups like the Moms for Liberty, like the people who are against CRT, what they are saying is they don’t want the school children to learn the actual history of America. What happened to Black people, what happened to Native Americans, how to speak different languages that aren’t white. They don’t want any of that. They don’t want you to learn science except in the structure of whites, not what the Africans taught the Greeks and Romans, but what the Greeks and Romans came up with all by themselves. Right? That’s the classical education system. And here is why. Because classical means white, because they don’t want to say they are anti Black history or pro-white. They want to say they’re for something that’s classical, that’s existed since the beginning of time, but the time before that, when Africans taught them, they don’t count that part. The time before they arrived in America, they don’t count. In the time when people were free, they don’t count that part. The time when they enslaved people, they don’t count that part because the classical education system just means white. And that’s why you got to subscribe to this podcast. That’s why you got to download that Grio app. That’s why you got to tell a friend about it. And that’s why we always leave you with a saying from Black America. And today’s saying is white people ain’t classic, they’re just white. We’ll see you next time on theGrio Daily. If you like what you heard, please give us a five star review. Download theGrio and subscribe to the show and to share it with everyone you know. Please email all questions, suggestions and compliments to podcasts at theGrio dot com. 

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