What is Classical Christian Education?

Teaching Truth, Goodness, and Beauty to the Glory of God

What is classical education?

Classical Education is language-focused, and it has a lot to do with content instead of images or visuals. It is a method of teaching children according to the medieval understanding of how children develop. Dorothy Sayers defines these three stages as Parrot, Pert, and Poet in her wonderful essay, The Lost Tools of Learning.

Grammar (Parrot)

The first stage calls for the storing of knowledge, often referred to as the Grammar Stage. Children find it easy to memorize facts and rules. It’s all about filling up the “sponges” with as much content as possible. Ages 4-10.

Logic (Pert)

The second stage calls for understanding, otherwise known as the Logic Stage. Children now begin to make sense of what they have learned. They will start to reason and analyze the information they have accumulated. Ages 10-14.

Rhetoric (Poet)

And the last stage calls for wisdom, what Classical educators call the Rhetoric stage. Most children at this age yearn for self-expression and independence. It is also at this stage where they acquire communication skills so that they apply and integrate the things they have learned. Ages 14-18.

Distinctly Christian WORLDVIEW

While modern education seeks to put the child in the center of all learning, Classical Christian Education sees that God is the center of all learning. It recognizes that all truth is God’s truth, and that one cannot fully distinguish truth and error without understanding God’s truth as revealed in the Bible. Everything should then be examined through the lenses of Scripture, as it relates to God and His revelation. Children need not be shielded from the plethora of opposing philosophies and harsh realities of life. Rather, they need to be grounded firmly on the Word of God, which will then arm them with the grid whereby they can sift through different ideas that will come their way.

N.D. Wilson, son of Classical Christian Education proponent Doug Wilson, wrote this excellent piece on how to train children in his book Notes From The Tilt-The-Whirl:

The world is rated R, and no one is checking IDs. Do not try to make it G by imagining the shadows away. Do not try to hide your children from the world forever, but do not pretend there is no danger. Train them. Give them sharp eyes and bellies full of laughter. Make them dangerous. Make them yeast, and when they’ve grown, they will pollute the shadows.

I truly believe that Classical Christian Education will give children the tools to do just that. Children will learn how to acquire information (Grammar), how to think critically (Logic), and how to communicate with clarity (Rhetoric).

Francis Schaeffer once said about education:

If Christianity is not just one more religion, one more upper story kind of thing… then it has something to say about all the disciplines, and it certainly has something to say about the humanities and the arts and the appreciation of them. And I want to say quite firmly, if your Christian school does not do this, I do not believe it is giving a good education… True Christian education is not a negative thing; it is not a matter of isolating the student from the full scope of knowledge. Isolating the student from large sections of human knowledge is not the basis of a Christian education. Rather it is giving him or her the framework or total truth, rooted in the Creator’s existence and in the Bible’s teaching, so that in each step of the formal learning process the student will understand what is true and what is false and why it is true or false. It is not isolating students from human knowledge. It is teaching them in a framework of the total Biblical teaching, beginning with the tremendous central thing, that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. It is teaching in this framework, so that on their own level, as they are introduced to all of human knowledge, they are not introduced in the midst of a vacuum, but they are taught each step along the way why what they are hearing is either true or false. That is true education. The student, then, is an educated person.

Classical Christian Education is where knowledge and virtue converge. But ultimately, the goal is for children to recognize and treasure truth, goodness, and beauty, to the glory of God.

 

Resources

Learn more about the Trivium and Christian Christian Education from these valuable resources:

Read and Match

We’re on our second week of The Classical Preschool, and we’re off to a great start! I found a classic book that would surely rouse my two year old’s interest. This morning, I read an abridged board book version of The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper. Since he adores trains, it certainly caught his attention.

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The book was adorned with colorful pictures of animals, toys, food items, different trains—everything that my toddler loves. It also teaches hard work and resilience, virtues that seem to be amiss among millennials these days. But the little steam engine was as optimistic as she could be. We’ll certainly return to this book for a narration activity.

After reading aloud, I added a short matching work. Matching work is actually good for brain development. It helps little children identify similar items, relating pictures with actual tangible items.

I gathered a few toys that were included as characters in the book—a train, an elephant, a giraffe, a red bear, a monkey, and an airplane. I wished we had a clown lying around the house, but we didn’t.

When doing read aloud everyday, I would ask about where the characters are in the book. He would usually point them to me, but this time he was able to match the little toys to the images in the book. I understand why parents homeschool their children. It is truly encouraging to see their development albeit in small ways.

Perhaps you might be wondering what makes our Read Aloud days different that most of our reading time? Maybe some people are more keen that I am. But most of the time, I read to my kids for the sake of reading because I know it’s good for them. I read to my kids all throughout the day. But Read Aloud times for our homeschool is a notch better. You could say that I have my game face on, if that makes any sense. So what makes it better? I would say it is Intentionality. 

Commit to Memory, Commit to Heart

The second day of The Classical Preschool calls for memorization. And that is what we tried to do today. My tot grabbed another Curious George book about fishing right after breakfast, and I took the opportunity to teach him a nursery rhyme, “12345 Once I Caught A Fish Alive” which also teaches numbers.

I realized that I have to write down some goals for our homeschooling, and knowing his numbers, shapes and alphabets by the time he reaches three years old is definitely included. I have made a mistake of not being intentional about teaching preliteracy skills with my firstborn. I am not  going that same route again. We’re not doing any writing yet, but we’re committing these things to memory.

A big bulk of Classical Education composes of memorization during the Pre-Grammar and Grammar stages. Dorothy Sayers describes this life stage as Parrot, where children mimic and follow what has been taught to them,

The Poll-Parrot stage is the one in which learning by heart is easy and, on the whole, pleasurable; whereas reasoning is difficult and, on the whole, little relished. At this age, one readily memorizes the shapes and appearances of things; one likes to recite the number-plates of cars; one rejoices in the chanting of rhymes and the rumble and thunder of unintelligible polysyllables; one enjoys the mere accumulation of things.

The Reformed tradition blends perfectly well with Classical Education as it also emphasizes on catechizing tender hearts early on. Although my two-year old may not yet “parrot” all that I teach him, I am hoping repetition and lessons through song would aid memorization at this stage.

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As a Christian parent, my aim for child-rearing is not only to help my kids accumulate academic skills; my primary role is to make them disciples of Jesus and own their baptism one day. One of the ways to do this is to give them the language of faith through catechesis. Anthony Hoekema gives the definition and purpose of this instruction,

Catechesis is the ecclesiastical training of the children of the covenant, aimed at preparing them for profession of faith, active church membership, and kingdom usefulness. In the light of this definition, the purpose of catechesis will be to teach the covenant child such material as he needs to know in order to make an intelligent profession of faith within the church to which he belongs, to be a well-informed member of that church, to be a ready witness to the teaching of the church, and to live a full-orbed Christian life in accordance with the principles taught by his church.

While modern education seeks to put the child in the center of all learning, Classical Christian Education sees that God is the center of all learning. It recognizes that all truth is God’s truth, and that one cannot fully distinguish truth and error without understanding God’s truth as revealed in the Bible. Everything should then be examined through the lenses of Scripture, as it relates to God and His revelation. Children need not be shielded from the plethora of opposing philosophies and harsh realities of life. Rather, they need to be grounded firmly on the Word of God, which will then arm them with the grid whereby they can sift through different ideas that will come their way.

Catechetical instruction at home and at church, along with regular Family Worship, aids in this spiritual nurture.