Regents headmaster sees classical education as ‘valuable in itself’

By Errol Castens/Daily Journal Oxford Bureau

OXFORD – Dr. Michael Johnson leads Regents School, a classical, Christian institution near Oxford. A graduate of the University of Mississippi, he became headmaster in June after holding posts at similar schools in Tennessee and Kansas.
Regents is one of three Mississippi member schools of the Association of Classical and Christian Schools.
Interest was renewed in classical education in the 1980s under the influence of Douglas Wilson’s book, “Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning.” Based on observations of Dorothy L. Sayers, modern classical education uses song and verse to help small children memorize facts, with older children learning both linguistic and mathematical logic, then becoming skilled thinkers and communicators.
Even at early ages, the integration of classical education’s “trivium” – grammar, logic and rhetoric – emphasizes education as shaping one’s own understanding of the world and that of others.
“We want our students to be studying many subjects, but we’re more interested in their developing really top-notch reading skills, mathematical skills, thinking skills so that when we expose them to more information they’re able to do something with it because they have the tools of learning,” Johnson said.
Latin, Greek and their respective cultures are another hallmark of classical education. Johnson said he has introduced Latin to kindergarten-level students, teaching it formally as early as third grade.
Johnson says integration of ancient languages and English with other academic subjects produces students ready to encounter and challenge the world in the ways that segmented education does not.
“The Romans could speak extemporaneously for hours,” he said. “We want students to be able to communicate their ideas to anybody about anything.”
Education based on such a curriculum, he says, is practical but hardly utilitarian.
“What education has become in many sectors is, ‘I need to get out so I can get a job,’” said Johnson, an ordained minister who has degrees in physical education, divinity, classics and counseling. “For two millennia, education was seen as valuable in itself.”
One unfamiliar with the classical approach might expect such a curriculum to engender elitism among its students, but Johnson said the Christian emphasis makes all the difference.
“We want our young people to be gracious servants of Christ that have the ability to communicate great ideas,” he said. “Our natural tendency as human beings is to be prideful. … If you talk to people unfamiliar with those subjects, automatically we could get a little puffed up about that. The thing to counteract that is an understanding of the Gospel of Christ – that those two things can’t exist together.”
“Every human being … was created in the image of God,” Johnson said. “If I view everybody through that lens, then I am going to treat them differently.”
errol.castens@journalinc.com