"The Thales Way" by Bob Luddy

"The Thales Way" by Bob Luddy

Recently, I joined the faculty of Thales College as an adjunct professor.

My inaugural course is entitled Philosophy of Business and Management. In it, I cover the ideas behind the great business and management thinkers of the 20th century, including Peter Drucker, Clayton Christensen, Masaaki Imai, and a host of other luminaries.

Thales College is an outgrowth of Thales Academy, a successful network of private schools in the Raleigh, North Carolina area. It was founded by entrepreneur and philanthropist Bob Luddy, who turned his company, CaptiveAire Systems, from a small startup into the largest privately held manufacturer of kitchen ventilation systems in the United States, with revenues exceeding ~$500 million per year.

Although this college is small, and to date remains relatively unknown in the wider world, I was drawn to the opportunity to teach there because of Thales' unique approach to higher education – combining the best of classical thinking with real-world experience, yet still affordable for people of average means.

I recently had the opportunity to read The Thales Way, a book in which Luddy outlines his vision and mission in the world of education, and how this translates into providing "the best opportunities for as many students as possible."

Thales schools are named after Thales of Miletus, a pre-Socratic philosopher, one of the "Seven Sages" of ancient Greece, credited with the saying, "Know thyself"

The Thales approach to education is based on the ancient Greek tradition of the trivium, which breaks down learning into three parts – grammar, logic, and rhetoric – each building upon the former, and resulting in a well-rounded thinker and communicator. Underlying this framework are core values which give purpose and meaning to the student's life, and work.

Truth, Goodness, and Beauty

The book begins with a quote from Alice von Hildeband: “The purpose of education is the pursuit of universal truth.”

Pursuit of Truth is indeed a noble endeavor, and one to which we should all aspire as lifelong students of the world. In classical thinking, Truth is the first of the "three transcendentals" – and it leads directly to the next two, Goodness and Beauty.

"To know that I do not know" is considered the very first truth. This humble admission is where we all must begin, for in order to learn anything, we first must acknowledge our own ignorance. Being honest about this gives us a genuine, solid foundation to build upon.

Beyond this, what is Truth? Having Truth means that our thoughts and perceptions accord with objective reality. Being in accord with what is real, we are able to use our mind to make choices, to direct our will in ways that are congruent with Truth. When we do this, it is called Good.

Because we are not perfect, we often fall short of doing good. In fact, even with continuous, conscious effort to overcome our weakness, our ability to discern Truth remains clouded. This hinders our ability to consistently choose to pursue Goodness. We feel we must make a sacrifice in order to do so.

Beauty manifests when our own will is displaced by the will of the higher ideal, when this feeling of sacrifice transforms into a feeling of joy, a feeling of peace. When we begin to love Goodness, find joy in Goodness, find pleasure in choosing the Good, we call this Beautiful.

Human Dignity

Every human being is endowed with a special gift, something they are uniquely able to contribute to the world. Recognizing this, it is the responsibility of the teacher to nurture and magnify this gift in each student, leading them to fulfill their highest potential.

Establishing and holding students to high standards is in service of this end. When we compromise ideals for the sake of expediency, or a false sense of mercy, we deny the inherent dignity of the student, we limit their potential, and we prevent them from embodying the fullness of their calling.


A well formed character is critical to making excellent decisions.

Our moral compass helps us make sense of the knowledge we have learned.

  • Character development
  • Skill formation
  • Habit formation
  • Virtue formation


  • Learning: Recognizing ignorance, Searching for knowledge and wisdom, Retaining knowledge and wisdom
  • Reasoning
  • Patterns of thought for facing new and complex challenges
  • Math: quantitative and analytic reasoning
  • Humanities: imaginative reasoning
  • The scientific method
  • Economic reasoning
  • Communication
  • Expressing ideas clearly and persuasively across different media
  • Being articulate in writing improves and conveys excellence of mind
  • Trivium: grammar, logic, rhetoric


  • Effective entrepreneurs are those who have learned the art of interacting with people with authenticity
  • We must decide to be the  main character in our lives and respond to each situation as such


  • Virtues exist at the midpoint between two vices (golden mean)
  • Four cardinal virtues (Aquinas)


  • The mind’s recognition of what the right action is
  • Judgment on how to apply ethical rules


  • Starts by doing right to actual people around one’s self
  • Expands outward until we treat all people rightly


  • The mother of all virtues, and the hardest
  • To be courageous, we overcome fear and moderate boldness
  • Courage makes prudence and justice manifest


  • Trains our desire to take pleasure in doing the right thing

Direct Instruction

  • Siegfried Engelmann
  • Precise and unambiguous rules lead to effective learning
  • “What humans learn is perfectly consistent with the input they receive”
  • Repetition, seat checks, choral responses
  • Be clear
  • It is much more difficult to correct a mistake later than it is to teach the correct rule first
  • Order your presentation of examples so that you rule out all the other possibilities
  • Be efficient
  • High time on task
  • Mastery through a series of steps (algorithms) and familiar frameworks
  • Choral responses maximize the number of students engaging with content
  • Teach to mastery
  • Lessons designed to contain 15% new material, 85% review material
  • Builds upon knowledge with logical sequences
  • Repeats concepts until they are cemented
  • Quality versus quantity
  • Celebrate success
  • Praise positive student behavior and achievement whenever and wherever possible and praise it precisely
  • Beware of intuition
  • “You cannot fall in love with your own judgment” -Engelmann
  • Student progress is measured by real data and not subjectivity
  • “More scientific evidence validates the effectiveness of (Engelmann’s) methods than any other approach to instruction” -Shepard Barbash in Clear Teaching

Classical Curriculum

  • The role of the teacher as mentor is most important
  • The teacher imparts him or herself beyond just the content of the lesson
  • The academic vocation is a contemplative one: philosopher, theologian, monk
  • Three stages of learning (trivium): grammar, logic, rhetoric
  • Grammar: terminology, formulae, axioms, history
  • Logic: understanding meaning, cause and effect, “reasons why”
  • Rhetoric: self-expression, original thought, and persuasive  communication
  • Masters of thought
  • Socrates and Plato
  • Humility is the first step to growth of any kind
  • To interact with a master of thought is to face your ignorance
  • Socratic reasoning
  • Searching repeatedly through dialogue to discover something solid, and the key questions a subject depends upon
  • Requires setting aside false or mistaken ideas
  • Interweaves thinking and communication skills

The Arts and Vocational Training

  • The original quadrivium: arithmetic (discrete number), geometry (forms of number), music (harmonic number), astronomy (dynamic number)
  • Fine Arts: understanding and expressing beauty
  • Industrial Arts: the means to be self-sufficient and independent


  • The ability to communicate well is necessary for students to achieve excellence throughout their lives
  • Words tell the story of humanity and have the capacity to dictate what chapter comes next
  • Debate
  • Thinking, presentation, quickness, good memory
  • Organize logical arguments in a series of clear, succinct, well-presented ideas
  • Willingness to respect other viewpoints and revise your own
  • We may have good ideas, but unless we can convince others of them, our ideas flounder

Get The Book

If you are interested in the field of education, and learning from someone who has created a unique and successful model for private education in America, I highly recommend reading this book. The book can be purchased on Amazon, or downloaded for free from the Thales Academy website.