How Classical Education Shapes Us as God Intended

A funny thing happened as the 20th century came to a close. A number of Christians began to form what were being called “classical and Christian” schools. Believers who would have been (or were) involved in their local traditional Christian school or public school were suddenly making the case for Latin, reading the great books of the Western intellectual tradition, and talking about the traditional liberal arts—the trivium and the quadrivium.

Many in this growing movement of Christian and classical schools in recent decades would cite as inspiration a book by Douglas Wilson, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning (Crossway, 1989). Wilson’s thesis was fairly straightforward: Christian parents have a biblical mandate to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). Traditional Christian schools have done many good things, but a more classical approach relying on the “tools of learning” has better potential to train up children in ways consistent with Scripture. Wilson relied on a seminal essay by Dorothy Sayers, “The Lost Tools of Learning” (a lecture originally given in 1947). Sayers argued that the best way to recover true education in our day was by “turning back the clock” and adopting a form of the medieval syllabus. Sayers attended more to the trivium (grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric) than the quadrivium (arithmetic, music, geometry, astronomy), but she affirmed the legitimacy of both.

Not only have many new schools adopted this approach, but I also believe parents with children in other schools or even Christians on their own can benefit from the classical movement’s chief insight about learning and spiritual formation.

General Traits

While there are healthy debates within the classical and Christian school world about the true nature of classical education, several general traits can be identified.

First, classical and Christian schools are generally committed to some sort of word-based or word-centered education. One of the tragedies of much of contemporary education is a failure to retain the importance of language. Classical schools are trying to recover the centrality of the trivium (the language arts) as essential to true education.

Second, classical and Christian schools are almost always committed to recovering the great books of the Western intellectual tradition and attending to the past more generally. To be educated is to grounded in the texts of one’s own tradition, and for those of us in the United States, this means the central texts and ideas of the Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, and of course the development of the Western intellectual tradition from the first century to the present.

Third, classical schools are committed—to some degree—to the importance of the classical languages. This usually means that students at classical schools will take several years of Latin, and possibly some Greek as well. Latin and Greek are the languages of Western Christendom, and historically to be educated was to have at least some knowledge of these two languages.

Fourth, classical schools, in various ways, are also trying to recover the second and third components of the trivium—dialectic and rhetoric. Dialectic is the practice of trying to deepen one’s understanding of truth through back-and-forth conversation and debate. Rhetoric is perhaps best defined as the art of fitting communication (whether in the written or spoken word). You will find students at classical schools studying logic (a component of dialectic), engaging in debate, learning via the Socratic method, and honing their skills through repeated opportunities to communicate both through writing and speaking.

Fifth, classical education affirms that there is an overarching telos or “goal” at the center of true education. This actually gets at the heart of what makes classical and Christian schools unique. Classical schools—at their best—hold that education is ultimately about the formation of a certain kind of person. While different schools may disagree on this or that pedagogical theory, or this or that curriculum choice, virtually any classical school desires to reach back and recover the notion that education is about human formation and transformation.

This is where a classical approach to education can be—rightly!—very attractive to Christian families. When I helped found Augustine School (where my children currently attend), I served as head of school for a few years. I would recommend to virtually any parent asking one simple question to the person heading their children’s school: “What is your goal for my children when they graduate from this school?”

The best of Christian thinking has always recognized we are pilgrims traveling to the city of God. While we have many joys and duties in this life, we understand present existence against the backdrop of our ultimate destiny as believers—to see God one day. Keeping one eye on heaven, or the vision of God, need not diminish the importance of life in the world. On the contrary, knowledge that life in the world is part of a larger and grander story—which culminates in the vision and city of God—can be a constant reminder that life in the here and now is important, meaningful, and weighty.

The best Christian education sees this task as a transformative endeavor that prepares students for (1) a meaningful, faithful, wise, virtuous life in the present, and also for (2) our ultimate destiny—to one day see God face-to-face and know him fully. Once we begin to grasp that true education is best construed as a person-forming endeavor, we are able to see more clearly the link between the gospel and education.

Applied Broadly

Some readers do not have access to this kind of education (at least in a formal way or setting), or do not have school-age children. Nonetheless the classical vision of education is worthy of attention. Its most important insight can be applied broadly: education is about the formation and transformation of a boy or girl into the man or woman—under God—they ought to be. This should be parents’ goal, no matter what school their children attend. Many homeschooling families are able easily to “convert” their homeschooling efforts in a classical direction, using a book like The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise.

Any parents can create space for this flourishing simply by turning off the television (or closing the computer screen), starting a fire, and sitting as a family reading a good book. I share precious memories reading with my children C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, or J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, or Douglas Bond’s Crown and Covenant or Faith and Freedom series.

Parents can also begin—when appropriate—to let children join certain adult conversations about theology, politics, and other topics. My children enjoy the sharing of ideas, and they are learning how to think and discuss themselves by watching daddy and his friends engage in meaningful conversation.

Even if you’re not raising children, you can still reap the benefits of a classical-type education. Read, read, read. There are many lists of “great books”—one might start with the appendix to Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book and Leland Ryken’s Realms of Gold: The Classics in Christian Perspective. If accountability would help, why not start a reading group that meets monthly? Or consider scheduling your next vacation or trip around a key conference or educational experience that inspires your reading and learning.

As I have argued in The Gospel and the Mind: Recovering and Shaping the Intellectual Life, we are ultimately shaped and transformed by the gospel itself—which is the only means and way by which we will ever see God face-to-face and become whom God has intended. Within that theological framework, a classical education can be a helpful tool by which we are shaped over time. Classical education—at its best—can be a gospel-fueled tool or resource used to shape and transform God’s people, so that God’s people might be prepared for their ultimate destiny—being presented to Christ as a spotless bride without blemish, and to see God face-to-face.

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  • Chris

    Thank you for posting this fine article. We need Classical Christian education more than ever at this point in our nation’s history, where children are “educated” to think that everything is easy and that one can do “anything” in life, if only one wants it badly enough. Further, government schools educate children to think that all ethics and world views are equally valid and useful, as long as one is sincere in his or her beliefs. There is no immutable truth. What’s true for you may not be true for me. Atheism is taught as the only “impartial” world view. Any thinking man or woman knows better. Secular, progressive atheism is indeed a religion — a world view — and the schools are promoting it in every subject that is taught, leaving parents to pick up the pieces in what little time is left at the end of the school day. God help us.

    The Classical Christian approach is clear in its understanding that all truth is God’s truth, and that all truth begins and ends at the top. It also recognizes that children learn in specific ways during various developmental stages of their young lives, so the trivium/quadrivium pedagogy makes good use of this reality.

    We must train up men and women with chests, who know and recognize truth, goodness and beauty, can separate rhetoric from logical argument, and are always aware of who they are in relation to God; well-educated, thinking, discerning men and women who know and love God, and can truly be salt in a morally-relativistic society. This is HARD. It takes disciplined WORK to train such a mind, not quick lessons designed to build self-esteem or to “expose” kids to a superficial smattering of this and that, so they are deluded into believing that they “know” everything. Sure makes them feel good about themselves, though. Classical Christian education rises to this challenge.

    I would also suggest another great read — “Climbing Parnassus” by Tracy Lee Simmons. Right now, is out of this excellent book, but I’m sure you can find it elsewhere. I have heard Simmons speak at the Society for Classical Learning conference, and having read his book, I can tell you that the man’s elegance, gentleness, historicity, and solidly logical approach in both his spoken and written word is in itself a powerful affirmation for the classical education that he had, but most of us didn’t. We geezers are working on it. Let’s give our grand children the education we were cheated out of!

    Unless we have studied those who came before us in a disciplined fashion, preferably in their own language, and can stand on their shoulders in full understanding of what they did well and poorly, in light of the world view on which they made their decisions, we will never ascend very far in our own Parnassus climb. We are doomed to make the same mistakes that those who came before us made. One step forward and two steps back.

    Unfortunately, Simmons does not deal with the “Christian” aspect of classical education in this particular book, but it is well worth reading anyway. Just keep that in mind.

    Now to deal with the reality that parents must pay for the government indoctrination centers that their children don’t use, then have to come up with tuition to educate them properly. Elections have consequences. Don’t be afraid to ask politicians where they stand on education funding BEFORE you cast a ballot!

  • Keaton Brownstead

    Mortimer Adler was also a big influence on Sister Miriam Joseph’s, “The Trivium (,” which is the best introduction of sorts to this area of study. I started reading through it in high school, and am still learning from it in college. I cannot even begin to explain how Adler’s, “How to Read a Book,” has impacted my life. I skim through it at least once every six months. One thing that really helped me was seeking out a member of our church who was a PhD student, and asking him to be a mentor. All things considered, however, it all boils down to, as Dr. Green says, “Read, read, read.”

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  • Andrew Ford

    Your title appears to have a huge claim in it that you don’t seem to address: “as God intended”. This “as God intended” seems like a rather bold statement and short sighted. It seems rather “western centric”. Help me make the leap from a good education system to “as God intended” or am I missing the point. Would you say that China, for example, has it’s own “classic education” model that fits the “as God intended” idea?

    • Geoff Ziegler

      I echo Andrew’s question. Are we supposed to believe that Scripture teaches us to use the trivium (and that our consciences are thus bound to submit to this)? Are we also to understand that modern educational theory (which is not without Christian proponents) is sinful? My family has personally benefited from classical education, and I agree that there is much to be said for it. Yet aren’t you claiming too much in saying that classical education is the “God-intended” manner of shaping our children?

      • Marla

        I certainly don’t believe that the author intends to convey specifically that the classical method is “as God intended,” but rather that its goal of spiritual formation of the student as a whole, unique individual with an eternal perspective is “as God intended.” It’s not so much about the methodology as it is the goal, though the classical method may be the best way to achieve that goal. I can’t imagine the author would be trying to say that God intends for you to educate your children classically. God does however intend for you to education your children with the mindset that, as the article stated, we are merely pilgrims passing through on our way to God’s kingdom. We are to be ever teaching and training our children about God and His ways, whatever the subject, whatever the situation.

        • Ryan

          Sorry. Having spent over a decade attached to and in community with “Classical Education” cool-aid drinkers and a very prominent classical school in Franklin, TN, and classical education in other states/areas. This is exactly the kind of horrifying hubris and destructively unbiblical thinking that is common within the movement.

          At first, based on the title of the article I thought it was a parody, but sadly it is not, out of the heart the mouth speaks (and writes) and this is horrifyingly wrong thinking, these “as God intended” statement are always wrong when applied outside of direct scriptural mandates. The classical approach doesn’t even meet the criteria to consider it un-commanded but “normative” in scripture.

          Contrast an approach that, like good theology, actually starts with scripture as the foundational point for epistemology and understanding of human nature and you get a much better model for education (In the US the “principle approach” schools seem to have put the most effort into designing a methodology that is based off of, instead of poorly shoe horned into, scripture, and as a result they do a better job and are less mindlessly dogmatic about the “Rightness” of their methods, though they have their own problems).

          The Classical approach, just like any other manmade methodology has benefits and drawbacks, and seeks to rectify some problems while creating others, but the biggest and almost universal drawback demonstrated by US adopters is this absolutism in the rightness of the methodology.

          The author may back track in what he has said to save face, but this title is not a poorly worded throw away statement in the middle of a conversation, this is an exposure of a core belief that is both inherently divisive and outside of scripture.

  • Troy Simons

    I am so encouraged to see this article on classical education. If we are going to truly pass on the gospel and a gospel heritage then we cannot overlook the importance of education. I grew up with the very unbiblical idea of a secular life to which education belonged, and the sacred life to which church belonged. As absurd as that idea is, I think it just might be behind the refusal of so many in the church today to take seriously the overt efforts made in public school to undermind the passing on of a gospel heritage. Free education is very costly.

    Perhaps the best approach to these issues is not a rant about the ills and evils of progressive education (so easy to do) but instead to make a clear presentation of the merits and accomplishments of classical education. Professor Green has brought a clear presentation of many of those benefits. I would love to see some follow-up articles on the aspects of classical education that make it so great, such as:

    Quality of content- the classical curriculum is deliberately narrower because if focuses on the very best works of western civilization. Good is the enemy of great. Classical aims at the great.

    Quality of method (pedagogy)- We could all benefit from an explanation of the dialectic and the socratic as teaching tools. The Scriptures use both of these and both are critical to teaching.

    Quality of mind- One of the aspects that is under discussed in classical education in my opinion is the result that it has in forming the mind. The study of Latin and Greek is the key for producing a strong memory, organized and logical thought, clarity, and a general alacrity of mind. Anyone who has thoroughly studied another language knows that it has great benefit on how you think, process and understand. The structure of Latin and Greek grammar make them optimal of producing quality of mind.

    What better tools could we hope to give our children to know and understand the word of God? I second the recommendation of Climbing Parnassus and add to that Norms and Nobility by David Hicks. Homeschool parents would really benefit from The Latin Centered Curriculum by Andrew Campbell.

    • Chris

      Great post! Forgot about Norms and Nobility. Another outstanding read!

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  • Grace

    I find it interesting that classical education has such an emphasis on Latin. Certainly learning Latin is useful in the study of modern Romance languages, and even English, but it may be beneficial to place a greater emphasis on the study of Hebrew for the purpose of better personal intepretation of the Bible, as in seminaries. Such a curriculum may better adhere to the goal of the formation of the Christian mind, instead of adhering to the goal of the formation of a tradtional western mind.

    • Chris

      Grace, your point is well taken. Yes, we do want to educate the “Christian mind,” but not in the sense that doing so is some sort of indoctrination. We want to develop minds that understand and can discern truth, goodness and beauty. If the history of redemption in the Bible were not true, then there would be equal value in forming a “traditional western mind” that believes there is no immutable truth, and that the purpose of education is to get a job that will make me lots of money so I can buy cool stuff.

      If the Bible IS true, however, then forming the “traditional western mind” is downright dangerous. It is nothing more than vanity and human folly — the very reason why we are in the mess we are in. The western mind is currently incapable of discerning an logical, truthful argument from rhetorical propaganda. It prefers to watch American Idol, rather than reading a challenging book, talking and debating with family and friends, praying, self-examination, or even listening to complex music. Education in America is a disastrous failure.

      The emphasis on learning Latin and Greek within the trivium-based approach is twofold: First, the languages are difficult, and demand enormous discipline to master. This trains the mind, and humbles youthful arrogance in the process. Both Latin and Greek, by their very structure and vocabulary, offer a rich depth of meaning to various words and phrases that English and the modern Romance languages do not offer. The classical languages are nearly impossible to translate accurately.

      This leads to the second reason why these ancient languages are inherent in classical education: Reading the works of the great classical authors in their own language takes out any translational biases, leaving the student better able to get into the mind of the author, within the context of the culture that surrounded the author during his lifetime. The reader is also able to experience the timbre and rhythm of the classical works when reading them in their own language. This is especially important for poetry. If we are trying to educate “men and women with chests,” this is exceptionally important.

      Remember that discernment of truth, goodness, and beauty are primary goals of Classical education. Not everything that has been written — regardless of the language in which it was written — is either true, good, or beautiful. The quality of the collection of books that students are given to master is critical to achievement of this goal. I guess I would have to suggest that the Bible, alongside the great philosophers, and poets, is far superior to having our kids read “Heather Has Two Mommies” or some politically-motivated drivel on man-made global warming! After having mastered the great books, when a kid picks up modern rhetorical, agenda-driven nonsense, he is better able to discern what it is and why it was written. When he picks up vulgar, superficial books, he casts them aside as boring. Quite the opposite of what kids educated in the government schools are likely to do.

      • Grace

        Chris, thank you so much for your thoughtful response. I agree with you that

        • Grace

          Sorry about the break in my comment. Chris, I agree with you on so many different points. I also like the point that Laura made below about studying a Christ-centered history. Then the study of Latin would be so useful to studying western Christianity. Of course, like you said, texts are best read in their original language, hence Hebrew would be useful to someone desiring to really understand the OT? No educational system could ever be perfectly flawless, so my suggesting ancient Hebrew, along with Greek and even Latin to today’s smartphone-wielding 13-year-old…maybe in an ideal world. :D And yes, at least Christian classical education is a big step up from today’s American public school system!

          • Chris

            So true, Grace. Love this discussion :-)

      • Ryan

        You are confusing “traditional western mind” with “post-modern western mind”, a fairly recent phenomenon. Just look at “Traditional/Modern Western” thinkers like Francis Schaeffer, surely you would not confuse him with being a moral relativist?

        Ancient literature has no greater hold on, or truth value than any modern written word. Just look at the “First Church Father” Clement who extolled on the Phoenix as being a real world example of a spiritual truth in his letter to Corinth. While it is important that we grasp and think about ideas, and the great books are wonderful, and learning them in their original language and context can be a real joy, the only language “necessary” and precise enough is logical notation. To extol the virtues of latin is just primitivism arising from our current cultural decadence.

        The problem is that you advocate that the discernment of “truth, goodness, and beauty” is BEST executed as being the “Bible, alongside the great philosophers and poets”, alongside? The Bible + Something Else != A Biblical foundation. This is a common trend in “Classical educators” in the US, and is part of the reason you see so many kids who grew up in that movement becoming Catholic, Anglican, Buddhist and “Radical Charismatics/Gnostics”.

        This Classical movement is misguided and is a reactionary call to “primitivism” which is a just another symptom of living in a decadent society. It is a movement that does not properly value the comprehensive nature of Scripture. Latching on to a rote methodology allows you to avoid critical thinking about the nature of man, epistemology, etc. and it’s implications in human learning and experience as taught by scripture.

        Examine the life of Dorothy Sayers, examine the culture of Oxford at the time that she spoke (it was very “Classical” at the time, so her presentation in context is actually quite insidious.). When everything is viewed in context, with awareness of the culture, her life is abhorrent and her “teaching” is laughable marketing copy, written to sell, in an already decadent culture. Completely divorced from Dorothy Sayers the framework is flawed from a purely idealogical perspective, adding her into the picture just provides perspective.

        What we need is “Foundational” biblical teaching. The classical approach, consistently implemented, is antithetical to this. I am sure that many people, due to idealogical inconsistency will sometimes implement amalgamations that are less destructive.

        • Chris

          I think we are in agreement on more than you realize, even as we fundamentally disagree on the outcome of Classical Christian education. You take great pains in tearing down Classical education, but offer no constructive alternative, which leaves me scratching my head. After hearing and reading Simmons and others who were classically educated, and marveling at their elegance, brilliance, and demeanor, I guess I fail to understand your hostility.

          Is Classical Christian education for everybody? No. Not all can succeed at it for a number of reasons.

          While the pedagogy is structured to correspond with developmental realities of the young student, this methodology by no means AVOIDS critical thinking about everything that matters. The dialectic portion of the child’s education ENSURES the development of critical thinking to the extent possible for each child.

          While Oxford has offered a classical approach to learning over the years, the west as a whole has not done so since the mid- 1800’s. The result has been sad indeed. Sayers understood this and responded to it. The same may be said for CS Lewis, who was a beloved friend of hers. I love her writing, find it to be quite brilliant, and have no interest in evaluating whether or not her life was “abhorrent.”

          We have all been cheated out of “education” since the day our culture decided that it makes more sense to train children to be a useful cog in the ever-turning wheel of society. We are trained, not educated.

          As for your commentary about study of classical philosophers alongside the Bible, perhaps I mis-stated what I mean by that. If one does not consider all things IN LIGHT OF the truth that comes from the mouth of God in Scripture, we have a problem. We cannot discern truth from rhetoric.

          Kids and adults apostatize for a variety of reasons, but approaching education from the supremacy of orthodox theology as expressed in Scripture is not why a kid would move toward a more legalistic religion. Au contraire, actually.

          We will have to agree to disagree, I’m afraid. Thanks much for your thoughtful comments!

          • Ryan

            I am sure we agree on many things concerning modern education, but I refuse to endorse the subtle lie of the Classical Approach.

            In my other post I did mention the “Principle Approach” which I am in no way affiliated with, and not only are their starting principles more thoroughly and intentionally scriptural but their students test better as well. Last I checked their students also score the highest on the PEERS “worldview” test. Also, the idea you tried to plant that an alternative has to be presented to provide validation/usefulness of a critique is a poor misdirection. Another alternative springs to mind, Whitver Academy in Nashville (I believe the original founder has now died, and I am not sure if her Godly influence still holds) was a wonderful example of a method that was based on the foundational teachings of scripture as it addresses the nature of man and the family, and if memory serves it had more National Merit Scholars (as well as other kinds of scholarships) from that one school than perhaps all the Classical Schools in the U.S. combined. So yes, there are other schools following alternate methods that do a much better job, but no, they aren’t as vocal or self-aggrandizing.

            I have seen first hand the kind of damage that the “Classical Approach” can cause, these observations come from over a decade of practical observation, it is always worth voicing first hand experience especially when the school was started by no less an individual than Dr. George Grant. His execution of the classical methods, and his quality of teaching was quite unrivaled, and it was horrible to behold. In fact Classical schools tend to work in reverse proportion to their devotion and excellence in execution of the method, they always seem to do a better job in their formative years when they are doing things fast, loose, and poorly, or when they are led by people who do not excel at or fully grasp the method, in this case poor implementation hides many flaws.

            Classical schools work better than public schools and traditional christian schools, sure, but then again so does “Unschooling” by Christian parents, when you set your measuring rod against such horrible systems, literally practicing NOTHING (unschooling) provides better results, such a relativistic measurement provides zero validity/confirmation.

            Dialectic ENSURES nothing. There is a reason why neo-orthodoxy and existentialism are also known as Dialectic Theology. Ecclesiastes contains many warnings about the pursuit of knowledge that apply quite well to the classical approach and the dialectic method. Francis Schaeffer wrote well and repeatedly about the subject, I will not appeal to him as an authority but if you would like further reading I would suggest his trilogy, starting with “The God Who Is There”.

            Much of Logic, Grammar and Rhetoric SHOULD be taught as useful tools, but they should NOT be taught IN LIGHT OF scripture. Your nomenclature exposes exactly the systemic problem with Classical schools and the approach itself (at least in the U.S.), they teach these things IN LIGHT OF instead of holding scripture as THE FOUNDATION. Full stop. This is a totally different method of thought and the terminology is inherently different, the fact that the classical approach and its movement uses all the also/and/integration terminology exposes what is truly foundational to the ideology. The subtle lie of the classical approach and its value system, as exposed by the nomenclature of the movement, is what causes so much damage to faith amongst its students.

            I have seen no evidence that C.S. Lewis ever endorsed or was part of Sayers proposed methods, not that it would matter if he did, lets try to avoid invoking his name as if it adds legitimacy, these kinds of “soft” appeals to authority are unhelpful. As Aaron Carr notes, naming a classical school after Augustine has a kind of delicious irony to it, yet classical schools will persist in invoking his name.

            Dorothy Sayers used her maketing talents to weave a compelling story, but it is flawed, and upon closer examination within the context of her audience and her life, the meaning of her entire vacation speech at Oxford grows ugly, as such, it was delivered not as a call to traditional Christian education and culture, but as a call away from it. It was an effort to present modern (at the time) ideas of learning in ancient dress. If you haven’t critically studied this recent history, its context and its implications concerning a topic and speech/teaching/teacher that is so dear to you and that you espouse, how can you make informed statements and even worse, recommendations about the nature of ancient/modern thought and education?

            You are clearly a brother or sister in Christ, and it is always encouraging to see a fellow believer seriously grapple with the issues of education and learning, and without a doubt a student in a classical school IS better off than a student in a public school, but do not settle on such a flawed system, you have pursued the truth, but do not halt here at House Beautiful, Christian, press on, pursue scripture and its teachings as your sole foundation. My words are intentionally direct because I do not wish hide the seriousness of the issue.

  • Laura

    Those Christians who turn to “classical” education are interested in the “Great Conversation” that spans centuries. What *actually* happened in history? Who fought and why? Who won, and why? What kinds of things did people believe, argue and hope in each age?

    The emphasis, as I have seen it, is not so much a Latin-centered education as an education centered on Christ and history, or better yet, Christ *in* history. Christian education that neglects history risks fideism. Historians that neglect Christianity risk ahistorical subjectivism.

    So if we consider education “as God intended,” we might argue that education be centered on Him, in particular, on His eruption into history in the Incarnation. All of history, BC and AD, are measured from that point in time. All of history since the Incarnation is oriented, as God has revealed, toward Christ’s coming again. So the movement of time and cultures toward Him is the most significant thing to study. In a “classical” education, one turns to the actual sources to see how each age embraced or shunned Him. The students — adults and children — who make the study are themselves thus orienting their own lives toward that end.

    Latin is circumstantial, since it was the dominant language of study for so much of western history. When tuning in to participate in the “Great Conversation,” it becomes more and more evident that the language of those speaking in so much of history happens to be Latin — even moreso than Greek or Hebrew, German or French. Ideally, as I’ve come to learn, each of those languages becomes important to “converse” with the widest range of cultures and ages on the revelation of God in history.

  • Aaron Carr

    Why would you name a classical school after a theologian who rejected the majority of the classical tradition as superfluous and wrong, someone who admitted that his time spent immersed in the classical tradition actually prevented him from seeing his own fallen condition?

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  • Women Living Well

    I love this post. I’m in my third year of homeschooling and my children attend a class – one day a week called Classical Conversations. It has been so enriching for them!

    I made a youtube video about it here that I just posted last Monday:

    The response was great with over 2,500 views already :)

    • Truth Unites… and Divides

      Awesome site, Courtney!

      Kewl thing to have your statement of faith on your about me page.

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  • Jason Shaw

    Is anyone else troubled by allowing Dorothy Sayers to be the pivotal role model in shaping our children? A quick search online will reveal that she fails both the test of character (a bad tree produces bad fruit) and the test of educational experience. Sayers’ personal life was marked by the most heinous of personal sins – she mothered a child out of wedlock, passed him off as an orphan, and disavowed him till her dying day – hardly someone to look to as a Christlike role model. As for her professional experience, she was an amateur classicist with no experience teaching children (obviously not her own) and no experimce in childhood development either. She did not found any christian school or leave any other legacy beside her essay The Lost Tools of Learning, which was delivered as a vacation lecture at Oxford while most of the students and faculty were away. She would be the last person I would trust to care for my child. I would also echo some of the comments here about the unthinking primacy of Latin in classical teaching. The roman world is often held up as the pinnacle of human society – this is a blind wishful reading of history. Aside from content, classical education carries incredible tendencies toward legalism, formalism, moralism, and eventually encourages Catholicism. The fact that you will find very few adults today who were successfully raised to honor Christ in this fashion should be telling – this may be another educational fad that puts the unrealistic expectations of parents above the basic needs of our children – to develop a natural love for learning, for others , and for the God of grace who has purchased us with his blood. I strongly urge the leaders of this website to produce a thoughtful response to this article and allow another perspective to be considered before holding up a human educational method as the one way that “God intended.” Thank you for your time and consideration. – JS

    • Chris

      On what factual basis do you conclude that “classical education carries incredible tendencies toward legalism, formalism, moralism, and eventually encourages Catholicism?” Would you please enlighten us with your statistical data?

      And, no, we do not teach our kids to emulate Sayers’ worldly behavior, any more than we teach them to emulate David’s behavior with Bathsheba or Paul’s behavior prior to conversion. We encourage faithfulness to the world of God in scripture. I think we need to be very careful before judging someone who may very well be one of God’s own.

      • Jason Shaw

        I am willing to admit that classical christian schools get positive statistical results – But I also think that these results may be in spite of the trivium/quadrivium rather than because of it. The trivium puts rote memory of abstract concepts over and above genuine age-appropriate comprehension. While paying lip service to encouraging a love of learning, I believe that the trivium inherently works against this love, that can only be born out of comprehension at each stage of learning.

        As for judging Sayers, I think the nature of her particular sins directly undermine any credibility she should be given with regard to education or childhood development. The fundamental difference between her life and those of King David or the apostle Paul is obvious: Sayers never repented or even admitted to any wrongdoing. That doesn’t mean that nothing she said has any value; but it should give us pause in choosing our educational heroes.

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  • A Classical/Christian Teacher’s Observations

    I have taught at one of the nations premiere Classical Schools for quite a few years now. The longer I have observed the innerworkings of this school the more I am convinced that the methodology is not “helpful” at all in producing children who love God, love learning, or have a biblical mind capable of living out a Biblical worldview. (yes, I will be leaving soon)

    I have observed the following;
    (these are randomly listed)

    1. Parents, who seek out Classical education, tend to idolize the results (SAT/ACT) and scholarships or prestigious college acceptance far more than their Deuteronomy 6 obligations.
    Parents simply assume that since other Christian families, that they know from Church, send their children to the school it must be good.
    They see that those kids are smart and “behave” so well in class and after school. However, our goal is never to be “morality” but “Love of God and Neighbor”

    2. Anytime there is ever a clash (minor or major) between the Classical methodology and Christian Scripture the scripture is “spiritualized” and made to fit within the methodology.

    3. Students who graduate from our school either do not have a clear vision of what the Lord has created/called them to do in this life or they have a vision that is firmly built on prestige and monetary security. The one or two that did were by far the minority.

    4. In comparison to a public school student the classical student will graduate with a box full of “classical rocks in a box” rather than “normal rocks in a box”. The same flaw has been accomplished by both methods -> neither has a Biblical Worldview by which the rocks can be laid upon an already existing foundation of the scripture.

    5. I am certain that hard work and excellence are to be held as Christian ideals. However, the pressure to perform and get the grade put so much pressure on the students “works” that they either do not actually learn what they spew back out on a test or they hate it and cannot get away from the topic quick enough in normal conversation.

    6. If a student DOES NOT perform well it is assumed there is a deficiency “in the work ethic” of the student. If a student DOES performs well there is no further personal or character development sought “within the methodology”. The methodology produces virtue which is a grand word for secular morality. This is enough for the school.

    I could probably list more. However, I will end this list with a statement of warning and grace.

    I am horrified that the “idolized” authors of this site/blog would allow themselves to be so fooled. I was as well over the past years and now I see how wrong I was. There is a trend of fads going on these past decades. Everyone has a methodology for parenting, education, etc…. The Bible doesn’t give a methodology it gives principles that are to be followed in the course of one’s discipleship to the Word or God.

    Education was given to the sphere of the family. The state and Church have no instruction on the matter. As the church continues to “rediscover” the comprehensive nature of the Christian faith we will see the sacred/secular fall away first in the individual, then the family, and so on…..

    There may be some of you (like Chris) who have had or are having some success with Classical Education. I would encourage you to remember that God can redeem anything – even misguided decisions or blatant disobedience (thankfully). He preserved and is redeeming me although I was a product of the “Rural Public Schools”.

    There is not a day goes by that I do not see in myself remnant ideals learned from that methodology that I do not have to “unlearn” and/or take captive to Christ. I (WE) want more from our kids. We want someone who has the foundation and can keep building – not someone who will continually have to gut the house and remodel over and over again.

    Ryan, I think you hit some great points in your post. Most people do make decisions from anything but a Biblical mindset. May we be faithful to humble ourselves and submit.

    Jason, I hope that you and others like you are raised up to lead in the endeavor of educating our young people and living holy before the Lord. May you be as Daniel in the court of Nebuchadnezzar.

    Author, I would consider blogging a retraction with a more Biblical expression of education and the Christian family.

    • Shawn

      Interestingly though, empirical data shows that a truly Christian classical education far out performs a progressive or other models in producing children with a Christian Worldview – thinking based on Scripture. Thus, achieving the biblical concept of taking captive every thought. So, the one biblical measure we have that can be documented is a huge success for the classical model. The other models don’t even get close and if they aren’t even thinking Christianly they aren’t acting it. All models can be corrupted by human nature and must be guarded against. Humans will always say one thing and do another. Humans abuse freedom, but I don’t think we should take it away.

      • A Classical/Christian Teacher’s Observations

        Sadly, I cannot agree. I would ask you what “emprical data” you are referring to. I would argue against the existence of a “truly Christian classical education” as the two are antithetical in nature. I would challenge your statement that it produces children with a Christian Worldview. The data does not support that statement. The PEERS test is a standardized test that can attest to that.

        While I am sure you would want to try and defend your statements I would look at more data and consider your own understanding of the compatibility of a Classical worldview and a Christian worldview. Reading Augustine himself would help here as he was trained in the Classical model and groomed for excellence that he argued was not congruent with a Christian worldview.

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