Training the Next Generation of
Christian Leaders to God’s Glory

CLASSICAL CHRISTIAN EDUCATION

 

What is Classical Christian Education?  To better answer this question, it is first helpful to define Classical Education, which is the authoritative, traditional and enduring form of education, begun by the Greeks and Romans, developed through history and now being renewed and recovered in the 21st century.1

However, it was the church and Christian educators who cultivated and strengthened this form of education for almost two thousand years that produced the greatest writers, mathematicians, scientists, statesmen – the greatest minds throughout history – including America’s founding fathers.  During the founding of our country it was the church that started Christian colleges and seminaries, such as, Harvard, Yale, Amherst, Princeton, Columbia, Dartmouth, and the list goes on and on.  The program of education they all offered – a Classical Christian Education.

For centuries and centuries a Classical Christian Education was the hallmark of learning.  Then, with the advent of modern progressive education, curriculums and student expectations were watered down and lowered to coincide with the egalitarian society that came upon us during the 20th century.  In most schools throughout the United States, classical literature, Latin, logic, rhetoric, strong grammar and math skills, and God’s Word were tossed out the proverbial school window and replaced with a secular education that prepared students strictly for a vocation.  Although there is nothing wrong with preparing for a vocation, classical Christian educators have always known that education is much more than just preparation for a job. 

It has always been the Biblical goal of education for a child to be trained in the knowledge, wisdom and ways of the Lord and be transformed in mind, body and soul through faith in Jesus Christ, and to grow in Christ and His Word.  If we miss that, we have missed the mark and education is void of true meaning.  “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his soul?” (Mark 8:36)  The answer is nothing.  Education must be Christ-centered because Christ is the One in “whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:3).  Knowing Christ is the “beginning of wisdom and knowledge,” then we are to grow in wisdom and knowledge from the Word of God and a Christ-centered education. 

Now that we’ve looked at the foundation and reason for education, the next question should be what form or program of education is most effective? For education to be effective, it must go beyond memorizing and conveying facts.  It must also cultivate creative and logical thinking in students who are able to develop facts into sound arguments and communicate those arguments clearly and persuasively.  It must be the type of education that helps students become lifetime learners and guides them to educate themselves. 

To many, a Classical Christian Education follows the three-part process of methodology known as the Trivium, which consists of the grammar stage, logic (or dialectic) stage, and rhetoric stage.  The word Trivium is a Latin term meaning “the three ways” or “the three roads.”  This methodology has been used for centuries with great success because it teaches students, not only the subjects, but most importantly, how to think. 

The three stage development of the Trivium teaches students, not only the subject matter of grammar, logic and rhetoric, but also the three stages of learning.  The grammar stage is foundational and takes place in the primary and elementary years of the child’s education, from kindergarten through fifth grade.  It is named the grammar stage, not because students spend all their time doing English grammar, but because it is the time when students learn the building blocks of all subjects – the grammar of English, history, science, math, reading, spelling, writing and languages.  In the grammar stage, children can absorb much material like sponges and learn information and facts.  The grammar stage is the foundational or building block stage when students are taught to memorize and learn rules of grammar, vocabulary, foreign languages and other fundamental information.

The logic stage is usually from the sixth grade through eighth grade, or what is commonly referred to as middle school.  During these years, students begin to reason, question ideas, classify information and argue.  Yes, argue, and students should be taught the art of argumentation, how to argue correctly and effectively.  The logic stage is when students are also taught logic, the subject.

Finally, the third stage is the rhetoric stage which builds on the first two.  Students in this stage are in high school, ninth through twelfth grade.  Students in the rhetoric stage apply the foundation acquired in the grammar stage with the reasoning and analytical skills of the logic stage to express their ideas with clear and elegant language, written and verbal.

As we look at these three stages more closely, we find the foundation of Classical Christian Education that developed over two thousand years with the goal of training young minds to have wisdom.  When students are taught with this methodology, teachers soon discover that they are teaching “with the grain,” instead of against the grain.  Children are learning what comes naturally and for most students if becomes a joy to learn.

What subjects are taught in Classical Christian Education?  It varies from school to school, but along with the core subjects of English, history, math, science and Bible; also taught and emphasized in elementary school are grammar, writing, reading classical literature, music, art and Latin (Please read the section, Why Latin).  In middle school, along with these subjects, the subject Logic is introduced (Please read the section, Why Logic).

Within a Classical Christian Education, reading, writing, grammar, math and Bible are the foundation of the curriculum.  This type of education gets back to the basics.  A major emphasis is placed in the grammar stage when students develop a strong foundation to build on.  This is a major problem with many students today in middle school and high school, they never developed a strong foundation in the basics of reading, writing, grammar and math, and they struggle throughout the years and into college when they take advanced courses, even though they may make good grades in school.  Children must have a strong foundation in the basics – the fundamentals – before they can move on to more complex work.  In this way, history, science, English, foreign languages, advanced math, art, music and co-curricular studies become more valuable and take on deeper meaning as the student matures.  

Some parents of young students object to this type of education because it is not always “fun.”  Sometimes it stretches young students and can be hard at times.  However, education was not always meant to be “fun” and “easy.”  Education should stretch and grow the mind to learn new and exciting things and sometimes this growth can be hard.

On a practical level, postmodern pedagogy encourages students to have a good time.  Classroom activities that entertain (role-playing exercises, computer games, and watching lots of videos) take priority over those that are challenging and demanding.  Teachers are urged to avoid “value judgments” because grades, like other objective standards, are only subjective impressions.  As long as students stay involved in projects, no matter what their intellectual content may be, they are thought to benefit from the experience.  If a lesson stimulates, it has “worked.”  Material that is not fun – higher level math, theoretical science, difficult books, complex reasoning – is not emphasized.2 

Classically educated students know the pattern of learning facts, analyzing facts, and then expressing their opinions about these facts.  This lines up with the grammar, logic and rhetoric method of teaching and learning.  It is not something that comes naturally and it often takes time for teachers to develop this pattern of instruction and for students to understand this pattern of learning.  However, when it becomes a part of the educational environment of the school, students learn to express their opinions in a more articulate way.

Concerning reading classical literature, many students in schools today are reading excerpts of books or anthologies. This is typical in many schools with modern curriculums.  Many elementary, middle and high schools often use an English curriculum that includes reading parts of books, but students seldom read a book cover to cover and discuss it in class.  Reading a book and discussing it in class is a proven and powerful form of learning for a child.  Besides, there is something special about reading the whole book.

We strongly feel that “reading texts” (books with snippets of stories and poems followed by comprehension exercises) turn reading into a chore.  Books, even in the early grades, ought to be sources of delight and information, not exercises to be mastered.  A good classical education instills a passion for books in the student.3

To conclude, a Classical Christian Education will not be easy, but neither is learning to play the piano, training to be a gymnast, learning a language, or memorizing Scripture, but they all bring great reward.  Andrew Carnegie said, “Anything in life worth having is worth working for.”  A good education is worth working hard for.

Classical Christian Education is not a fad, but an educational model that has been proven and tested for two millennia.  What is needed to improve today’s education is not a more complex curriculum or a more sophisticated way of teaching, but educational simplicity and obedience to God’s Word.  The more complex and modern our “progressive” education has become, the less educated our society has become. The greatest leaders of history were educated with a very basic curriculum.  They would read, write, discuss and apply.  They would learn from the masters.  The greatest minds of history would be their teachers and give them instruction about life as they read the classics.  What would Cicero, Augustine, Marcus Aurelius, or George Washington do?  What did Aristotle, John Milton, Jonathan Edwards, or Abraham Lincoln say?  And most importantly, what does God’s Word say to do?  We are to learn the best from the past to educate for the future with God’s Word directing every step of the way.

Classical Christian Education prepares students to know truth, wisdom, justice, moderation, virtue, and be life-long learners.  In many ways it goes against the norms of our culture, but it produces Christian young men and women who are prepared for leadership in the home, church and community.  Classical Christian Education is the best form of education to teach and train the next generation of Christian leaders to God’s glory.      

 

[1] Christopher A. Perrin, An Introduction to Classical Education (Camp Hill, PA: Classical Academic Press, 2004), p. 6.

[2] Gene Edward Veith, Jr. and Andrew Kern, Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America, p. 6.
[3] Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise, The Well-Trained Mind, p. 57.