An Open Letter to the Classical Community

Dear Classical Family,

I write to you to express something that is of great concern and worry for me. Over the many years I have been involved with classical education, I have endured a great deal of heart ache, usually connected to misunderstanding my intentions for being in this space. As many of you know, I came to be involved with classical education when my parents decided to open a classical school in a predominately Black neighborhood. That was 23 years ago. I did not support that decision at first but soon came to also fall in love with the classical tradition. Over the past 23 years, I watched my father’s church almost split because of the existence of the school. I saw my own community misunderstand my parents’ heart for opening a school that sought to bring the Black story into conversation with the canon. Over the years, I have been misunderstood as using culturally irrelevant resources to educate Black children. No matter how much we tried to show how historically this type of education has indeed been a source of inspiration, enlightenment and empowerment in the Black community there was rejection. This response from my own community should have been enough to make me want to turn away from such a controversial educational philosophy, but I could not look away. The evidence was too pervasive to reject what was so glaringly true! So, I pressed on towards the light of truth. I did not choose this path to somehow cater to White people or to inspire students to assimilate. I merely was looking for the tools that would help me close the achievement gap with the students I was working with and in all my years, this was the only philosophy that worked. Over and over it worked. No matter the child’s home background or life experience, once they were taught this way, they began to learn and grow. They even came to love themselves and their heritage more! I could not look away from this! I still cannot. When I matched my students’ experiences with Black people from the past, the pattern was unmistakable. So it is this that keeps me fighting for the tradition, no matter what people say. I will die fighting for this tradition. I will teach this way to whichever families choose to trust me with their precious children, even if it costs me acceptance into any community.

I think the most painful part of my journey is being misunderstood by my own community, but what makes that pain even more challenging is when I am being misunderstood by those who love this tradition, but refuse to welcome my history and my personal life experiences into the conversation. At this point, where do I go? Who do I connect to? If I just mention anything about the struggles of my ancestors or myself there is a dismissal. To be dismissed by your people and then dismissed by the community that shares your passion for classical education because of my refusal to silence Black stories, has thrust me into a place of hopelessness that change will come. Everyone is happy to enjoy the Good, the True and the Beautiful, as long as Black bodies don’t keep “muddying” that “pure” space of the classical tradition. Socrates, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Augustine, and so many others used the classical tradition to bring their history and life experience into the Great HUMAN Conversation. Why aren’t Black people allowed to do the same? Must we just be silent while everyone else talks openly about how these texts have inspired their life journey and only applaud those stories? Are we to be only dismissed as being CRT/Anti-racist revolutionaries distracting from the wisdom these texts offer, when we try to talk about our life experiences with racism and how classical education has historically helped us navigate those challenges? Even when I read Kendi or Coates or Hannah-Jones or others, there are portions of what they write that I connect with, because they describe my experiences and the experiences of my family members and the experiences of my ancestors. I cannot deny that. To deny that is to deny a part of myself. Are we to deny our stories to make others feel comfortable? Does denying our stories equate with forgiveness? Does remembering our stories equate with bitterness? In many ways, I connect with what these authors convey, but where I disconnect, however (and it’s the same with many writers on both sides) is the way of Grace that God commands me to follow. I am proud of my faith and how it has given me the strategies to place my hurt from racism at the foot of the cross. It is so freeing for me to leave it there, while still owning that this is my story! Taking away the freedom to have this very honest conversation is the equivalent of the slave master who when a mother grieved over her children being sold away, she was whipped into silence. Silencing these honest conversations solves nothing! Thinking that this is the way forward is an evidence of the White supremacy that may be laying under the surface of people’s hearts. Silence is not a sign of peace or unity. It may seem to be kind and welcoming to those of color who, out of fear, are silent. When we discuss the classical canon in conjunction with our story of kidnapping, captivity, oppression and then progress, we are actually living out the classical tradition. We are reliving the Odyssey and maybe through discussion we will find our way “home.” At what point does the classical education community realize the difference between those who are talking about Black history within a framework of anger and those of us who are sharing our history as a way to be invited into the human conversation?

At every turn, we are being shut down. In our churches, schools, education communities and liberal arts gatherings. It seems that the only way to end the silencing is to be silent about who we are. I recently invited a fellow academic to support a research project I was doing (not classically related). I was careful to respect differing perspectives and we chose a non political/non partisan approach to writing the research. When I shared the paper with the person, they did not read it, but saw a few words about CRT and another liberal term and made assumptions. She has known me for at least 2 years and has heard me speak on unity, forgiveness, truth, classical education, but from reading a few terms assumed that the research was in support of a political agenda. She refused to listen. She refused to read. She refused to understand where I was coming from. This response, however is the growing response myself and others are experiencing. People who are known to read and discuss some of the most challenging texts, do not seem to have the scholarly character to give the same respect to works that give space for varying perspectives to be shared. Is classical education a dictatorship, where only one voice and perspective is allowed?

No one should have to create an NAACP of Classical Education just so there can be a community that is more welcoming of diverse narratives! I refuse to start one! We have been creating “The Black This and That” for centuries when we are unwelcomed into certain spaces. We should not have to do this in 2023!! Segregation is not of God, but Unity is! Since I answer to God and in Heaven we will NOT be segregated, I feel I must keep trying to be in this space and with the support of others in this space, inspire change. There is a way to address diversity concerns in a Biblical way and gracious way, without the political or cultural frameworks that are so popular today. One day we will all be allowed to come boldly before the throne of Christ. Let it be done on earth as it is in Heaven! On this side of eternity, I am determined to create that space. I stand on the Word of God. I stand on my faith. I may read and listen to varying perspectives but my heart and mind are resolute, that the love of God is the only way forward and that the wisdom of his Word is the best guide for us during these trying times. My foundation will always and forever be the Word of God and everything I may read or discuss is brought into the light of his Word. So, wherever I am welcomed, I will be present, loving folks and telling my story of how classical education has inspired me as a Black woman and has inspired my ancestors. I will keep teaching it to my children and students. I will keep being a gadfly in this classical space and prayerfully God will use my voice and others to make the world see that classical education is not the close-minded community that some would like it to be.

Classically ONWARD! Anika

1 thought on “An Open Letter to the Classical Community

  1. Dr. Prather, you inspire me. I appreciate your work so much.


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