Middleburg Academy: Transitioning to a Classical Liberal Arts Education

Beginning in the 2019–2020 academic year, Middleburg Academy will transition to a classical education model. Hillsdale College, at the invitation of Middleburg Academy’s Board of Trustees, and alongside the Middleburg Academy administrators, faculty, staff, parents, and students, is excited to be working with Middleburg Academy to write this new chapter in the school’s history.
For Middleburg Academy, this transition is a natural next step. Building on the important work done at the school since its founding, Middleburg Academy now reaches a new and exciting stage in its development. The genuine emphasis on educating the whole person has always been essential to Middleburg Academy: in 1965, when Notre Dame Academy was founded as a Catholic boarding school for girls; in the 1990s, as the school became a coeducational Catholic day school; and now as an independent, classical liberal arts school.
For Hillsdale College too, this new relationship with Middleburg Academy is a fitting next step. Founded in 1844, Hillsdale College was the first college open to all students regardless of race, sex, or creed, with a mission to educate the young in the liberal arts, to develop their minds, and to improve their hearts. At Hillsdale College, “the liberal arts” isn’t another name for general education requirements; they are not a sampling of introductory subjects. Classically rooted liberal arts are studied the way they were meant to be: as a means of understanding the good, the true, and the beautiful and of fashioning a noble and successful life in accord with these high ideals. We study important and humane principles, whether they can be found in ancient Greece, the Renaissance, America’s founding era, or our own time. 
Middleburg Academy and Hillsdale College are excited about this association and enter it eagerly and with confidence about the future of Middleburg Academy and the growing educational opportunities it will offer families and students in the northern Virginia community. 

Classical Liberal Arts for Middleburg Academy

“The value of an education in [the] liberal arts...is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks.” —Albert Einstein

A classical liberal arts education is practical and personal. Bringing this approach to Middleburg Academy is meant to better serve parents in the education of their sons and daughters as sons and daughters, as friends, scholars, professionals, and citizens. This course of study will have an impact on how your son or daughter lives now—today—and in the near and distant future. It is the best college-preparatory curriculum; in addition, Middleburg Academy’s focus is both more immediate and more forward-thinking than college prep alone. It is an education aimed toward living a noble and fruitful life.

The liberal arts are often cataloged as seven—the trivium of grammar, logic, and rhetoric; and the quadrivium of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. They take their foundations from ancient Greek philosophy, history, poetry, and rhetoric. The birth of the term dates from centuries after Athens’ golden age when the great Roman humanist and orator Cicero referred to them as the artes liberales. They consisted of education, literature, and eloquence; later humanists would reveal a fourth category implicit in Cicero’s presentation, namely the laws, the traditions of humanity and the dictates of practical reason.

This is an important way to approach a classical curriculum in the liberal arts, and it will be a hallmark of their practice at Middleburg Academy—to think of them as “the arts of liberty,” as those things we must know and practice to be free.

Middleburg Academy’s motto, Cognoscere, Ducere, Servire (To Learn, To Lead, and To Serve), raises important questions: What to Learn? Where to Lead? How to Serve? The liberal arts ask complementary questions, ones that will help Middleburg Academy fulfill its motto for families and students:

What must we know in order to be free? A student of the liberal arts studies logic, grammar, and rhetoric and acquires a citizen’s knowledge of law—the laws of nature, the laws of our country, and the laws of humanity. History and English classes, as well as semester-long studies directly in Logic and Rhetoric, will incorporate these studies. These improvements will also strengthen the hard sciences in the curriculum, helping students to think in clear, scientific ways through classes in logic and rhetorical philosophy. And the emphasis in the curriculum on the humane and liberal arts will foster even more interest in the school’s excellent fine arts programs.

What must we do in order to be free? The increased emphasis on great books, on the thoughtful stories and histories of the past, on clear, logical thinking, and beautifully true and good speaking and writing—all these will help Middleburg Academy students to Learn, Lead, and Serve now, in college, and in a happy and full life beyond.

The Transition to a Classical Education

Middleburg Academy and Hillsdale College have developed and begun to implement a three-year plan to transition the school to a classical liberal arts curriculum, beginning in the 2019–2020 academic year and expanding gradually each year with incoming classes such that the school will be a thriving classical academy come Fall 2023.

It is important to understand that this is a transition: changes will be incremental and occur over time in a way that minimizes those changes for the returning upper classes. In the first year, consistent with a gradual transition, there will be minimal curricular change in grades Ten through Twelve. There will be no new graduation requirements for returning high school students.

This year’s freshmen will be the first to graduate from Middleburg Academy with the full implementation of the improved classical liberal arts curriculum, which, once planted over these three years, will continue to grow.

Some of the new and continued hallmarks of Middleburg Academy include the following:

(a) continued and deepened use of seminar discussions;
(b) expanded use of the great books of the Western Tradition;
(c) expanded practical training in clear thinking, writing, and speaking;
(d) increased access to rich elective offerings;
(e) literature and history classes that track together, while integrating various subjects, increasing knowledge and communication skills;
(f) foundation in Latin with its benefits in SAT/ACT preparation, as well as preparation for medical, scientific, and legal fields, not to mention the practical wisdom of the ancient works in that language; and
(g) introductory courses in Logic and Ethics & Rhetoric.

Graduation requirements will increase slightly overall, but access to more elective choices will also be a feature of the transition, as the school undertakes a study this fall as to how best to optimize the daily schedule. We are confident that an adjusted daily class schedule, similar to those at other classical liberal arts preparatory schools, can be implemented for the 2020–2021 school year. An improved schedule will provide time for more excellent required courses as well as flexibility for students to pursue courses that both play to their strengths and interests, round out their education, in the fine arts, for instance, and prepare them for a competitive college application process.