By Julia Duin, Special to CNN
(CNN) – In Maryland, a group of students ponder which depiction of the Nativity shows true beauty: A 14th-century Giotto, a 16th-century Barocci or a 20th-century William Congdon. The students are in seventh grade.
Outside Houston, second-graders learn Latin amid the Doric columns, Romanesque arches and the golden Renaissance hues of a gracious brick building.
And in West Tennessee, a first-grade classroom lists virtues - reverence, discipline, diligence and loving kindness - along with Aristotle's "four questions," a simplified version of the Greek philosopher's four causes.
The students attend some of several hundred “classical” schools around the country - institutions designed to reflect the scholarship from the past three millennia of Western civilization, rather than the latest classroom trends.
Classical schools are less concerned about whether students can handle iPads than if they grasp Plato. They generally aim to cultivate wisdom and virtue through teaching students Latin, exposing them to great books of Western civilization and focusing on appreciation of "truth, goodness and beauty." Students are typically held to strict behavioral standards in terms of conduct and politeness, and given examples of characters from history to copy, ranging from the Roman nobleman Cincinnatus to St. Augustine of Hippo.
Parents like them, too; the number of classical schools - public and private - is growing. The curriculum has helped to boost enrollment at religious schools and inspired new public schools.
By Julia Duin, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Julia Duin teaches journalism at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. She worked in newspapers for 25 years, including stints at the Houston Chronicle, the Washington Times, and for the past two years, as a contributing writer for the Washington Post Sunday magazine. Her website is juliaduin.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliaduin.
(CNN) - Remember those late summer days, just before the start of school, when you knew you were free as a bird until Labor Day?
I used to enjoy them, too. And then I moved to West Tennessee.
The Volunteer State is one of 10 states - all in the South except for Utah and Arizona - where a majority of schools begin classes before August 15. I’m willing to bet the school start dates here are the earliest in the country. Nashville public schools will begin their classes next summer on August 1. In Chattanooga, it will be August 8. Memphis will start August 5. Things are a little saner in Knoxville, where schools will begin August 21 this year.
But recently, my local school board in Madison County voted to begin school on August 2.
Yes, August 2. I’m the parent of a first-grader in one of the elementary schools in Jackson, a city of 65,211 an hour east of Memphis. It is best known as the place where legendary railroad engineer Casey Jones grew up. It is a center for cotton, soybeans, a Pringles Potato Chips plant - and early schools.
Before moving here, I lived in Maryland, a state that Education Week recently anointed as having the country’s best schools. We started school around the third week in August and ended in early June. Most of the country cannot comprehend starting school August 2.
I like to spend summers near family in the Pacific Northwest, where summer doesn't even kick in until July and August and September are the best months to be there. All around the country, there are reunions, sporting events, fairs, festivals and zillions of outdoor events in August. All my college friends from Oregon are having our once-every-five-years reunion the second weekend of August. In 2008, I went. This year, I will be stuck in Tennessee.