Our Classical Rootsrnby E. Christian KopffrnOn January 6, 1816, Thomas Jefferson urotc a letter to hisrnstate legislator, Colonel Charles “aneev. As we might expect,rnJefferson’s letter eontains reflections of general interest onrnmany topics, ranging in this case from the dangers of a largernpublic debt and paper money to the advantages of beer o crrnwhiskev. Near the end Jefferson mentions his support for thernlegislature’s paying for roads and schools, but regrets that go -rncrnment does such a better job building roads than maintainingrnschools. (I low things have changed!) 1 le goes on to sa, “Ifrna nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization,rnit expects what never was and never will be.” Thisrnsentence is often quoted nowadays in support of greater taxrnsupport for America’s public schools, perhaps not ‘er legitimately.rnWe know what Jefferson wanted schools to teach fromrnhis Notes on the State of Virginia, Quer 14, and public schoolsrntoda’ do not provide that education.rnThe first level is to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic.rnChildren at that age are too young to be reading the Bible, Jeffersonrnthought, but “their memories ma here be stored withrnthe most useful facts from Grecian, Roman, European, andrnAmerican history.” Like William Kilpatriek, Jefferson believedrnthat “the first elements of morality” should be taught in elementaryrnschool and his explanation of what he meant byrnmoralit’ indicates that he would have shared Kilpatrick’s lack ofrnpatience with Values Clarification curricula. Jefferson destinedrnthe next level, for children from eight to sixteen, “for teachingrnGreek, Latin, geographv and the higher JKanches of numericalrnarithmetic.” Jefferson had oliscrvcd what has been often con-rnE. Christian Kopff is a professor of Greek and Latin at the Universityrnof Colorado in Boulder. This article was originally givenrnas a speech at the 1994 meeting of the John Randolph Club.rnfirmed: that in the cars before pubcrt}’ children have wonderfulrnmemories and, “the learning of languages being cliieflv arnwork of memory,” schools sliould teach “the most useful languagesrnancient and modern.” Jefferson ranked Greek andrnLatin chief among these useful languages, “The learning ofrnGreek and I ,atin, I am told, is going into disuse in Europe. Irnknow not what their manners and occupations ma call for: butrnit would be er ill-judged in us to follow their example in thisrninstance.” Jefferson was no conservative. His chief commitmentsrnwere to freedom and creativity, democracy and science.rnHe understood that democracv and science exist among us asrntraditions that go back to the ancient world, traditions that havernto be learned b hard work and stud’ and that a masterv of tliernlanguages that helped form and shape those traditions is essentialrnfor success in keeping them alive.rnThis view was not an eccentricity of Thomas Jefferson.rnWhen John Stuart Mill was elected honorary president of St.rnAndrews, the inaugural address he delivered on February 1,rn1867, presented the arguments for a university education thatrnconcentrated on science, mathematics, Greek, and Latin. LikernJefferson, Mill was no conservative. Like Jefferson he wasrncommitted to a future where jjrogress was founded on self-governmentrnand technology based on science. Like Jefferson, hernunderstood that access to the traditions that keep self-governmentrnand science alive de]5ends on knowledge of the languagesrnthat preserve tliosc traditions. Two generations later, in 1931,rnAlbert Ja- Nock delivered the Page Barbour Lectures at thernUniversitv of Virginia as The Theory of Education in the UnitedrnStates. A deep student of Thomas Jefferson, Nock had beenrnthe beneficiarv of a Jeffersonian education, as he reveals in hisrnclassic Memoirs of a Superfluous Man. Nock was a libertarian,rnand he understood that tlie traditions of lil^ertv and individual-rn18/CHRONICLESrnrnrn