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Keeping with the classics

Florida lawmakers approve a certification for classical educators

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Keeping with the classics

Classical education might soon get a boost from the state of Florida, where lawmakers have voted to create a classical certification for teachers. Supporters of the measure say it would enable more people to teach, but critics have raised concerns it would lower requirements for teachers.

The bill addresses a range of education topics, including resources for military families and objections to library materials. It would also establish teaching certificates that would only be valid in schools that use the classical education model, focusing on “the development of students in the principles of moral character and civic virtue … based on the classical trivium stages of grammar, logic, and rhetoric,” according to the bill, which passed earlier this month in the state House and Senate. Gov. Ron DeSantis has not said whether he will sign it into law.

The definitions of “classical education” vary, but most agree that practices of ancient Greek and Roman education remain at the core. The model focuses on teaching students the foundations of wisdom and truth to cultivate virtue. Students receive instruction in grammar, logic, and rhetoric, along with classical languages.

“There’s two types of education,” said Eric Cook, president of the national Society for Classical Learning. “One teaches you how to make a living, and the other how to live.”

Cook said that existential questions like “Who are we? Why are we here? What’s just? What’s good?” serve as the foundation of classical education. The model fell out of style around the late 19th century, Cook said, when public education became more widespread. Skills like reading and writing became utilitarian preparation to enter the workforce.

But classical education has experienced a renaissance in recent years, with a market analysis by Arcadia Education reporting nearly 5 percent annual national growth since 2019. The classical model is more common in smaller academic environments, like homeschooling co-ops, private schools, or public charter schools.

The Florida bill would allow teachers to be certified in classical education if they meet some pre-existing criteria for state teachers, like having “good moral character” and being “competent and capable,” to name a few. The measure adds that the state’s Board of Education would be charged with adopting additional criteria for issuing certificates. Bill sponsor Rep. Jennifer Canady noted that the measure gives the Board of Education “a pathway” for certification, not the certification criteria itself.

Individuals pursuing a classical teaching certificate would not necessarily have to meet all requirements that teachers of other schools must meet, including professional preparation and mastery of general or subject area knowledge.

During floor debate of the bill, Democratic state Rep. Robin Bartleman asked about these relaxed requirements. “It looks like, when I read the language of this bill, that certification would be granted solely at the request of the school and does not require any particular demonstration of subject area expertise, professional knowledge or even general knowledge,” she said. “Is that true?”

In response, Canady acknowledged that the criteria for certification would likely “be a little different because of the unique nature of the curriculum.”

Republican Rep. Chase Tramont argued the bill would bring new teachers into the field. “I think the falsity in our certification process is that we assume that because somebody has checked off the right boxes and has the right piece of paper printed on their wall, that all of the sudden it makes them qualified,” he said on the floor.

Cook, of the Society for Classical Learning, described the teacher as a lynchpin to the classical education experience, making the board’s certification criteria extremely important. “The teacher is the text,” he said. “The teacher embodies and incarnates the things they want to teach their students.” Cook described classical educators as “scholars” with “collegiality and gravitas,” who pursue the virtue and wisdom they teach in their own lives. He notes that these qualities are difficult to quantify, which might make it difficult to define certification guidelines. 

Several private organizations and universities offer degrees and certifications in classical teaching, including the Classical Academic Press and the University of Dallas. WORLD could not find a record of any state or federal entities offering certification in classical education. A spokeswoman for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told WORLD that a finalized version of the legislation had not yet reached the governor’s office.

Christina Grube

Christina Grube is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.

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