Is the educational philosophy that the importance of certain works transcends time. Perennial works are those considered as important and applicable today as they were when they were written, and are often referred to as great books. Common examples include Melville’s Moby Dick, Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Dickens’s Great Expectations, and Dante’s Inferno. Perennialism is sometimes referred to as “culturally conservative,” because it does not challenge gender stereotypes, incorporate multiculturalism, or expose and advocate technology, as would be expected of contemporary literature.
The goal of a perennialist education is to teach students to think rationally and develop minds that can think critically. A perennialist classroom aims to be a closely organized and well-disciplined environment, which develops in students a lifelong quest for the truth. Perennialists believe that education should epitomize a prepared effort to make these ideas available to students and to guide their thought processes toward the understanding and appreciation of the great works, works of literature written by history’s finest thinkers that transcend time and never become outdated.
Perennialists are primarily concerned with the importance of mastery of the content and development of reasoning skills. The old adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same” summarizes the perennialists’ perspective on education. Skills are still developed in a sequential manner. For example, reading, writing, speaking, and listening are emphasized in the early grades to prepare students in later grades to study literature, history, and philosophy.
The Paideia Proposal, a book published in 1982 by Mortimer Adler, described a system of education based on the classics. This book inspired the school model referred to as the Paideia program, which has been, and still is, implemented by hundreds of schools in the United States. Teachers using the Paideia program give lectures 10% to15% of the time, conduct Socratic seminars for 15% to 20% of the time, and coach the students on academic topics the remaining 60% to 70% of the time. Socratic seminars are lectures in which the teacher asks a specific series of questions to encourage the students to think about, rationalize, and discuss the topic. Perennialist curricula tend to limit expression of individuality and flexibility regarding student interests in favor of providing an overarching, uniformly applicable knowledge base to students. Vocational training is expected to be the responsibility of the employer.
Understanding essentialism will enable you know and improve basic teaching skills and perennialism will allow you as a teacher to continue operating in the success of methods, concepts, and best practices that were used in education over time.