Classical Christian education is historic, biblical education.
Classical education is based on Scripture. Jesus Christ is the chosen and precious cornerstone on which classical Christian schools are built. (Acts 4:11, I Peter 2:6). He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” He prayed for His disciples and asked His Father to “sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” (John 17:17). For education to be true, it must include Jesus Christ and accept the truth of Scripture. Classical Christian educators teach truth to students and live truth before students by recognizing that God’s word is relevant to each subject and to every activity. A school’s purpose is to see that everything is consistent with the truth; they help parents obey Paul’s instruction in Ephesians. “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition (the paideia, that is, to rear a child, training, discipline, and chastening) of the Lord.” This is similar to the command God instructed Moses to give Israel, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” (Deut. 6:7)Children were to be taught these commands so they, their children, and their children after them would fear the Lord their God as long as they lived, so they might enjoy long life. A classical Christian education provides biblical training, admonition, and teaching to children.
Children at classical Christian schools receive opportunities to consider and to think about things which are lovely, pure, just, honorable, and true. Students are taught there is lovely art, honorable speech, and admirable music. Objective standards exist in art, music, and speech; students begin to recognize and apply such standards. Classical Christian schools also recognize the limits of their work. Schools recognize that God gave authority and responsibility for raising and teaching children to parents, not to schools. When children are taught well and consistently by parents, churches, and schools, good fruit is often borne in the lives of students. Schools also recognize that education, even a classical, Christian one, does not save men from their sins. Sinners need a Savior, not an education. This is a knowing rejection of the messianic nature of American education—for the ills of our society cannot be resolved through education. It is Christ, the cornerstone, who reconciled men to God, “This Jesus is the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4: 11-12)The word classical refers to the structure and form of the education as well as the content of the studies.
What is the purpose of classical education?
Modern versus medieval
Modern education focuses on teaching subjects. Classical educators focus on teaching students the tools of learning in preparation for further study of subjects after high school. “For the sole end of education is simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain”. (Sayers, The Lost Tools of Learning)
How does classical education work?
Child development and the Trivium
Classical Christian education takes advantage of natural inclinations of children at different stages of their development to maximize learning. When young children find it easy and fun to memorize and enjoy chorale recitations and chants, they are given opportunities to memorize all types of facts in math, geography, English, bible and Latin. These facts are the “grammar” or building blocks inherent in every subject.Once they become teenagers, students like to contradict their elders, they sometimes are guilty of back talk, they enjoy pointing out other’s mistakes, and they like to propose and discuss difficult problems that have no easy solution. These students are ripe for instruction and training in formal logic.
If all goes well, in their later high school years students begin to show signs of creativity. The students, eager to achieve independence and longing to express themselves, are taught to communicate eloquently and persuasively through instruction in rhetoric.
It was Dorothy Sayers who proposed this marriage of the three stages of the Trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) to the three stages of children development (roughly elementary, junior high, and high school). Through careful and thoughtful planning with a specific focus on curriculum and instruction, classical educators “cut with the grain” and help students develop skills that, once mastered, equip the children to learn for themselves.