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Classical Education Course Descriptions

Classical Education Courses

Required and elective courses are offered according to the following two-year cycle. Other electives are added each semester according to need and demand. Classical Education Seminars (one-credit pass/fail discussion groups) are offered every semester.

Fall Odd Years
(2021, 23, 25)
Spring Even Years
(2022, 24, 26)
Summer Even Years
(2022, 24, 26)
  • Trivium
  • Classical Pedagogy, Ancient & Modern
  • Great Works of the Ancient World
  • Augustine the Teacher
  • Teaching Classical Children’s Literature
  • Teaching Epic Poetry II: Christian Epic (scheduled to be first offered Fall 2023)
  • Trivium
  • Quadrivium
  • Philosophy of Education
  • Great Works of the Medieval World
  • Plato and Socratic Conversation
  • Teaching Great American Speeches
  • Master Teachers in the Western Tradition
  • Teaching Tragedy and Comedy
  • Quadrivium
  • Philosophy of Education
  • Classical Pedagogy, Ancient Modern
Fall Even Years
(2022, 24, 26)
Spring Odd Years
(2023, 25, 27)
Summer Odd Years
(2023, 25, 27)
  • Trivium
  • Classical Pedagogy, Ancient Modern
  • Great Works of the Ancient World
  • Great Works in the Renaissance
    & Baroque
  • Aquinas on the Virtues
  • Teaching the Novel
  • Trivium
  • Quadrivium
  • Philosophy of Education
  • Great Works of the Modern World
  • Education and the Human Person
  • History of Liberal Arts Education
  • Master Teachers in the Western Tradition
  • Teaching Epic Poetry I: Ancient Epic
  • Quadrivium
  • Philosophy of Education
  • Classical Pedagogy, Ancient Modern

The liberal arts (artes liberales) are at the core of the Classical Education program. Traditionally, they have been divided into the trivium and the quadrivium. The liberal arts of language—grammar, logic and rhetoric—and those of numeracy—arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy—constituted the arts that liberated students to learn other, more advanced subjects, and even to pursue wisdom, the ultimate purpose of education. As Hugh of St. Victor explains in Didascalion:

Out of all the sciences... the ancients, in their studies, especially selected seven to be mastered by those who were to be educated. These seven they considered so to excel all the rest in usefulness that anyone who had been thoroughly schooled in them might afterward come to a knowledge of the others by his own inquiry and effort rather than by listening to a teacher. For these... constitute the best instruments, the best rudiments, by which the way is prepared for the mind’s complete knowledge of philosophic truth....[B]y them, as by certain ways, a quick mind enters into the secret places of wisdom.

These liberal arts were thought of then as propaedeutic—that which ought to be “taught before.” For many now, they are, in fact, parapaedeutic (“taught alongside”) or even metapaedeutic (“taught after”).


HUM 6340 Trivium: This course focuses on the trivium—the three arts of symbol, thought, and communication (in Sister Miriam Joseph’s formulation)—and its purpose is practical and philosophical. Students will master the arts of English (not Latin) grammar, traditional (not symbolic) logic and classical (not sophistic) rhetoric to have what Dorothy Sayers calls the “tools of learning.” As well, you will read John Henry Newman, Eva Brann and Martha Nussbaum to reflect on the place of the liberal arts of language within liberal education generally (with reference to Catholic Christianity, American republicanism and global multiculturalism). The argument of the course is that the arts of language are essential—necessary, even if not sufficient—for liberal education itself. If true, that ought to give us pause since, at all levels, these arts have faded, and sometimes even disappeared altogether, from curricula of our nation’s schools, colleges and universities.


HUM 6344 Quadrivium: In this course, students read classic works in each of the four mathematical arts known as the quadrivium—arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy—and discover the foundational role that these arts have in a liberal education. Among the great works studied are Plato’s Timaeus, Euclid’s Elements, Boethius’s On Music, and Kepler’s Astronomia Nova. Special emphasis is placed upon the division and methods of the sciences and upon the unity and integrity of all knowledge.

Philosophy of Education

PHI 5381 Philosophy of Education: This course considers themes such as the nature of the student and of the teacher, the goals of education, curriculum and methodology, the nature and division of knowledge, and education and the common good. Inquiry is cast in the light of more fundamental considerations such as the nature of the human person, of mind, of being and of the good, chiefly through the study of classical texts of the Western philosophical tradition (e.g., Plato’s Republic and Rousseau’s Émile). Attention is given to contemporary issues in education in light of these prior inquiries.

Classical Pedagogy, Ancient and Modern

HUM 6348 Classical Pedagogy, Ancient and Modern: Through a combination of contemporary texts on pedagogical methods with classical texts on the relationship between education and rule, this course addresses the topic of pedagogy both philosophically and practically, asking teachers to consider themselves as rulers or as representatives of a rule. Students reflect on the practical implications of classical principles of liberal education for modern classroom management, student-teacher interaction, instructional methods, assessment, and other aspects of the contemporary school setting, and in each of these compare classical pedagogy to the present alternatives.

Master Teachers in the Western Tradition

HUM 6358 Master Teachers in the Western Tradition: This course focuses on the works of master teachers in the Western tradition, attending to what these works teach as well as how they teach. The course explores the variety of methods employed for teaching and learning and considers these methods in light of the perennial pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty. Students will read from classic works across the disciplines and discover the enduring significance of these works in the Western tradition of liberal education.

History of Liberal Arts Education

HUM 6355 History of Liberal Arts Education: This course is a survey of authors including selections from Isocrates, Quintilian, Cicero, Hugh of St. Victor, Petrarch, Newman, and many others, examining the history of the liberal arts through the ages, from the ancients up to the present, to see how we got where we are, and to better understand where we stand in today’s landscape of liberal and other forms of education. Rather than focusing on the practice of the arts, as do Trivium and Quadrivium, it explores their curricular development and various reformulations, from Greece to Rome, from the early Middle Ages to the medieval university, and from the Renaissance to the rise of the modern research university.

Plato and Socratic Conversation

HUM 6362 Plato and Socratic Conversation: This course explores Plato’s Socratic dialogues and the influence of “Socratic conversation” on teaching and learning in the Western tradition of liberal education. Central to these dialogues is a vision of philosophy and the philosophical way of life, a vision embodied by Plato’s character, Socrates. We also consider the legacy of Socratic conversation in the Western tradition through the philosophical dialogues of several authors who were influenced in one way or another by Plato and his Socratic dialogues, including Augustine, Boethius, Anselm, Thomas More, and David Hume.

Augustine the Teacher

HUM 6360 Augustine the Teacher: In this course we explore the life and writings of St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the greatest teachers in the Western tradition. The course is structured around three of his most influential works: Confessions, City of God, and On the Trinity. Along the way, we also read several other works that address various aspects of teaching and learning: Against the Academicians, On the Teacher, and On Christian Doctrine, among others. Throughout the course, we discuss questions central to Augustine’s philosophy and theology of education, including the role and significance of the liberal arts, the relation of faith and reason, and the nature of happiness.

Aquinas on the Virtues

HUM 6364 Aquinas on the Virtues: This course explores Thomas Aquinas’s teaching on the virtues, placing special emphasis on the cardinal (“hinge”) virtues—prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance—and the theological virtues—faith, hope, and charity (love). With Aquinas’s Summa theologiae as the principal text, we consider the nature of dispositions, habits, passions, and virtues; various ways of dividing the virtues (e.g., moral/intellectual, acquired/infused, etc.); a detailed treatment of the seven virtues mentioned above; and Aquinas’s account of human happiness, in light of his teachings on virtue.

Teaching Great American Speeches

HUM 6353 Teaching Great American Speeches: This course connects the trivium to American history through engagement with the American rhetorical tradition, focusing especially on the equality principle in the Declaration of Independence. It involves close reading and rhetorical analysis of great and influential speeches and documents from the Founding, Lincoln, and the twentieth century, and addresses both different theoretical approaches to American history and the history of American rhetoric, and practical approaches to teaching American history and rhetoric in the classroom.

Teaching Classical Children's Literature

HUM 6359 Teaching Classical Children’s Literature: This course explores various works of classical children’s literature from classical fairy tales to Astrid Lindgren, focusing on different kinds of adult-child interactions. We will investigate the changing historical concepts of children and childhood, as well as the moral and educational functions, the values, and the role models provided by these classics not only for elementary school children but also their teachers or parents. Throughout, we will discuss how to teach these works meaningfully and with maximum efficacy so that children improve their comprehension skills, their active vocabulary and oral expression, as well as their writing skills. Particular emphasis will be given to learning how to teach with the Socratic Method to involve children in the learning process and to stimulate reflecting about and analyzing literature.

Great Works Courses

HUM 6325 Great Works of the Ancient World
HUM 6326 Great Works of the Middle Ages
HUM 6331 Great Works of the Renaissance and Baroque
HUM 6333 Great Works of the Modern World

See the Humanities Courses page for descriptions.

An Integrated & Customizable Approach

Students in the Master of Humanities with Classical Education Concentration or the Certificate of Classical Learning programs can select courses from across a variety of departments and programs, including but not limited to: American studies, art, classics, comparative literary traditions, drama, economics, education, English, history, humanities, human sciences, modern languages, politics, psychology, and theology. For full course descriptions in these fields, please see the University Course Catalog.

Additional concentrations are available through the Humanities Graduate Program.