Clapham Christian Classical School

Clapham Journal

Hillsdale Salvatori Prize Acceptance Speech

I am incredibly grateful and honored to receive the Salvatori Prize on behalf of Clapham School, and for the generosity and courageous vision of Hillsdale College and Academy to be a model of educational reform that reaches back to the past and its great tradition of wisdom. Our young school, founded only seven years ago, has drawn inspiration and resources from Hillsdale and schools like it, who have paved the way in retrieving much that has been forgotten or abandoned.


Jason Barney

Without your support and example, we would be years behind in our growth as a school. I also think of my many brilliant and wise co-workers, who have been models to me, whose expertise and experience have supplemented my weaknesses in numerous ways, and from whom I have shamelessly adopted so many of my practices. I am very conscious of my inadequacy to be up here—I who am only a boy scrambling up the backs of the giants of the past. I am thankful for the honor and can only attribute it to the maturing power of the knowledge of the past in my life and work.


Marcus Tullius Cicero, the great Roman statesman, orator, and philosopher wrote: Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum. Not to know what happened before you were born, that is to be always a boy, to be forever a child.      


In a sense historical understanding, knowledge of what happened before you were born, is primary to all realms of knowledge. Science is the study of the great discoveries of the past in our knowledge of the natural world. Literature is the study of the great writings of past cultures that embody human experience in the form of story and poem. Mathematics is the study of how great minds of the past have ordered for us the use of abstract number and symbol in relation to the physical world. The arts are the studies of the varied and diverse cultural creations of the past. Historical understanding in all these spheres humanizes, matures, and uplifts the soul.


Too many citizens of our great country are today, according to Cicero, forever-children. If knowledge of the past matures the soul, it is not something that we can afford to marginalize or sideline by mere social studies (which find their worth in and not separated from the seamless whole). Unfortunately, the hard work of gaining knowledge, eloquence, wisdom is all too often skirted by teacher and student alike. Because we have neglected knowledge of the past and the great tradition of historical understanding for education, we live in a culture of Peter Pans, flying free in never-land with no past and no future, only the ever-present game, the mock battle against pirates or Indians. Wendy’s stories with their beginning, middle and end, their plot of real challenges to be overcome only reveal to us our immaturity, the fact that we are forever-children who won’t grow up.


I can say that in my short professional tenure as a teacher, I have had the privilege of seeing students mature through coming to know the past. After numerous discussions about the virtues and vices of historical figures in class, making charts and lists on the board as they came up with ideas, my students have then written profoundly of their desire to mature in their own lives, discerning their own weaknesses and taking steps to grow. After discussing and chuckling at the social dynamics of Jane Austen’s Emma, expressing distaste for Mrs. Elton’s haughty manner, admiration for Mr. Knightley’s gentleness, good-natured exasperation at Emma’s silly lack of self-awareness, I have witnessed the change in my students’ relationships with one another: a more mature thoughtfulness, a deeper sensitivity and social savvy. Nothing is more satisfying for a teacher than seeing how interacting with the stories of the past matures the souls of his students.


Yet, this is a hard and narrow path, and not often taken. As G.K. Chesterton said of a different topic, the insights of the past for education—the great tradition has not been tried and found wanting; it has been tried, found difficult, and duly abandoned. Hillsdale Academy is a model to schools across the nation, including my own, of taking the difficult path, rediscovering the great tradition, and finding in the wisdom of the past a deep well of life-giving water. Thank you.


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