Detroit Latin: A Classical Town School

Letter From the Chairman

Dear Friend,

Never underestimate a child. In every boy and every girl born under heaven, there is a spark of real genius. No one who believes otherwise should be allowed to come within three hundred yards of a school. Over the past half century, the tendency to miscalculate the intellectual capacity and moral imagination of youth has become the cardinal sin of America’s vast system of public instruction. In coining the oft-quoted phrase, “the bigotry of low expectations,” presidential speech writer, Michael Gersen, shined a bright light on the social engineering which has legitimated this tendency.

The good news is that kids are kids and demography is not destiny. It is fine to talk about “talented and gifted” kids or those who are “at risk” just as long as we don’t forget that all kids are talented and gifted and— in this coarsened culture—all are profoundly at risk.

The success we have enjoyed in leading, designing and building great schools is due to the simple fact that our confidence in kids is greater than our confidence in much of what policy makers say about kids. We believe in kids and they always justify that belief.

We believe that schools are, in the main, too easy. We believe that expectations are too low. We believe that even little kids can grapple with big ideas. We believe that languages, both ancient and modern, are best tackled in grammar school, not graduate school. We believe that encouraging the innate sense of wonder and habituating scientific habits of mind are also critical elements of a lower school regime. We believe that formal instruction in logic and rhetoric is a middle school rite of passage that prepares young women and men for the student- led classes, polished essays and speeches, brilliant scientific experiments and dazzling accomplishments in visual and performing arts that make a high school diploma more than a piece of paper.

One summer ago, we took a short break from our efforts to open The Detroit Latin School in the fall of 2020. We held a camp called Socrates in the Summer. Some of the Jr. High aged campers who attended were there because their parents wanted them to have some summer academic enrichment. Many came because a wonderful social service agency which serves some of Detroit’s neediest kids rounded them up in vans and dropped them at our doorstep.

Every boy and girl studied the seminal ideas transmitted from Socrates to Plato and from Plato to Aristotle and from Aristotle to Alexander the Great, who then spread them throughout the ancient world. They all read, discussed and enacted scenes from Homer’s epic poems, The Iliad and The Odyssey. They all experimented with soil and water, planted a garden and learned about the beautiful and fragile Lower Detroit River Ecosystem. They all studied classical forms in Detroit’s Art and Architecture, visiting many of the City’s iconic buildings and designing their own houses and courtyards.

On the day they received their well-earned laurels, one fine lad said, “When my friends ask me what kind of a camp it is, I tell them it is an abnormal camp. We study abnormal things we don’t learn at school.”

This letter is your invitation to consider the out-of-the-ordinary educational opportunity we call The Detroit Latin School. For students looking for real challenge, in and out of the classroom, it will be a very special place.

For Detroit,

T. Robinson Ahlstrom, Chairman & CEO The Detroit Latin School