What is Classical Education?
Classical education is the study of classical books, languages and disciplines that empower students to think logically, communicate effectively and live virtuously. This is the education of Aristotle, Augustine, Galileo, Newton, Luther, Calvin, Madison and Jefferson. It has consistently formed the minds of great thinkers for over two millenia and is now experiencing a revival in America.
Click on the boxes below to find out what sets CLASSICAL EDUCATION apart from PROGRESSIVE EDUCATION, the current mode of education in most public and private schools today.
Progressive: The goal of education is for students to get a job. In this way, truth is seen as a means to an end. Students are encouraged to work hard for the purpose of getting good grades, college admission, and a lucrative career. Education is essentially a self-centered enterprise.
Classical: Students receive an education to become free, virtuous and wise human beings. This type of education empowers students to make just and prudent decisions in every arena of life whether it be at work, in their family or in civil affairs. Truth is not viewed as a means to an end but as an end in and of itself. Truth, wisdom and virtue not only make a person employable, they set a person free to do one’s own thinking and live with a good conscience. In the words of Jesus, “The truth will set you free.”
Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace.She is a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed. Proverbs 3:13-18
Progressive: Students read overviews and summaries from textbooks that change every few years. Students must rely on the synthesis of a textbook author who may or may not be familiar with original works. This allows the state to more easily control what is taught and how information is presented.
Classical: The student experiences original sources firsthand (ad fontes). By reading original works, the student is able to form his own opinion instead of relying on the perspective of a textbook editor.
The Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Acts 17:11
Progressive: Students read books that are popular now and that are not very challenging. Modern education operates under an evolutionary understanding of the world in which new things are considered better and more advanced by virtue of their newness, and old things are considered primitive or irrelevant.
Classical: Students read books that have stood the test of time and that have been passed down for generations (and in some cases millenia). These works have endured for a reason. They speak through the ages to humanity in general instead of to one specific generation. They communicate significant ideas in beautiful language and an elevated style. Many of the people who received a classical education in the great books have produced great books of their own (Plato, Aristotle, Virgil, Cicero, Augustine, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler and Newton, Aquinas, Dante, Shakespeare, Luther, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, Adams and Hancock to name a few). Reading these works is to the mind what exercise is to the body and music is to the soul.
Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. Jeremiah 6:16
Progressive: Truth, goodness and beauty are not fixed, objective realities. They are subjective concepts that change depending on individual preference.
Classical: Truth, goodness and beauty are objective realities that do not change with personal preference or the passage of time. They find their source in the God who does not change. To say that truth is subjective is to contradict oneself by making an objective claim about truth. To say that morality is subjective is to deny that anything is inherently evil or wrong. To say that beauty is subjective is to deny the objective beauty of God’s creation (sunrises, galaxies, flowers, etc.).
I the LORD do not change. Malachi 3:6
Progressive: Since there is no sure standard for truth, goodness and beauty, students are encouraged to express themselves by following their inner feelings. The child is viewed as an essentially good and moral person whose negative qualities are more a product of one’s environment than of any inner problem.
Classical: Since there is a sure standard for truth, goodness and beauty, we are not called to follow our heart or selfish feelings, but to imitate godliness and holiness. Just as bad company corrupts good character, so good company refines character. Since we become what we behold, it is imperative that we surround students with the highest and best. This means giving students the best of literature, music and art available. It also means placing them in a beautiful, orderly environment and placing them at the feet of teachers who model wisdom and virtue.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8-9
Progressive: Students learn subjects, but are not taught how they all fit together. This leaves the students with a fragmented knowledge of the world. Students are taught about the trees without a comprehensive view of the forest. This undercuts the joy that comes from making connections across disciplines.
Classical: Students learn how subjects relate so they have a cohesive view of the world. A single piece of literature can inform us on a time period (History), viewpoint (Philosophy) and doctrine (Theology). It can help explain the Music and Art of the era. It can be used to develop the students’ reasoning (Logic) or ability to articulate an argument (Rhetoric). The laws of Math and Science are not random, isolated subjects. They point us to an orderly, consistent and incredibly complex mind (Theology). By showing the relatability of the cosmos, classical education gives students a greater admiration of its harmony and beauty.
For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:16-17
Progressive: Students receive little to no formal training in classical arts such as Logic and Rhetoric.
Classical: Students receive formal training in Logic and Rhetoric. Logic teaches students to think in an organized and consistent way. Rhetoric takes it one step forward by teaching them to communicate in a winsome and effective manner. In a society in which logical and gracious discourse has gone by the wayside, these disciplines are needed more than ever.
The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness. Proverbs 16:21
Progressive: Students spend little to no time discussing the ultimate questions of life that provide students with meaning, purpose, direction, value and hope. A student without these things is susceptible to both misery and apathy. Students are unaware that they are being taught the religion of Secular Humanism (Darwinian evolution, moral relativism, scientism, etc.).
Classical: Students spend ample time discussing the ultimate questions of life so that they can live fruitful and meaningful lives. Students are intentionally made aware of various worldviews including the one that is espoused by the school. Students are challenged to investigate worldviews and evaluate whether they are based in truth.
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. Colossians 2:8
Progressive: Students are taught modern day languages. However, it is often the case that students who study a foreign language in America are hardly conversant even after three or four years.
Classical: Students can learn modern day languages, but not before receiving instruction in a foundational classical language. Students who learn Latin have a firm grasp on how language works. It helps students categorize the elements of language into crystal clear categories that lead to orderly thinking and communicating. As the foundation of several other languages, once a student has learned Latin, he or she can easily acquire a modern day language (especially the Romance languages). Latin leads to a robust vocabulary seeing that over 50% of English words stem from Latin roots. Latin teaches students attention to detail. This is because students must pay close attention to the endings of the words to determine the positioning and function of the words in a sentence. Latin is the language of biology and of many great works in literature, philosophy, law, theology and history. To know Latin is to have a clear window into the past, especially the time period of Jesus and the Early Chuch. Historically, Latin is the time-tested discipline that young students learned almost exclusively to prepare them for all other subject matters. At one time, Harvard’s one entry requirement was for the student to have an adequate mastery of Latin and Greek. In the 20th century, schools began to stop teaching Latin, not seeing it as practical. Before that, practically all educated people were well versed in Latin.
Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. John 19:19-20
Progressive: The classroom is an informal environment. Children do not wear uniforms. Boys are not taught to practice “ladies first”. Cursive and beautiful penmanship are ignored. Absolute respect for authority is not required at all times, both inside and outside the classroom.
Classical: The classroom is a formal place where students take their job seriously. Children wear uniforms. They walk through the halls in a respectful manner. Boys practice “ladies first”. Students learn cursive at a young age. Students show respect for authority in various ways (e.g. standing for guests or waiting to sit until the teacher tells them). This does not mean that joy is absent from the classical classroom. The very opposite is true. Just as successful athletes experience great joy from serious training, so also successful students derive great joy from a formal education.
God is not a God of disorder but of peace. 1 Corinthians 14:3
Progressive: Students often engage in activities in which the students are responsible for instructing other students or work on group projects. Teachers think of ways to entertain students in order to engage them in the learning process. The heavy use of technology, entertainment and student-led instruction effectively makes the teacher a guide on the side instead of the central figure in the classroom.
Classical: The teacher, as the most knowledgeable and mature person in the room, is the center of instruction. The teacher’s goal is not to entertain students but to challenge them to meet high standards. The emphasis is on the written word and teacher-led discussion over watching videos and playing computer games.
Everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher. Luke 6:40
Progressive: Rote memorization is viewed in a negative light. Understanding is thought to be a necessary element of memorization.
Classical: Rote memorization is viewed in a positive light. Particularly at a young age, children love to repeat and should memorize as much as possible while their minds are like sponges. The natural progression for a child is to learn names, definitions and basic information (Grammar Stage), then to rationalize and synthesize the information (Logic Stage), and finally to communicate their thinking by means of persuasive argument (Rhetoric Stage). It is not necessary for understanding to precede memorization. We teach toddlers good manners before they understand the reasons why. We teach young athletes correct form even if they don’t see the immediate application. Parents compel children to practice musical instruments without the child grasping how this will benefit them in the future. While children are young and apt to memorize, they should commit copious amounts of beautiful language and important information to memory. This will set them up for future light bulb realizations and lifelong retention. Students who are taught through songs and chants have a tendency not to forget these things.
I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Psalm 119:11
Progressive: Teach children how to read through the technique of “Whole Language.” In this method, students memorize how words sound on the basis of looking at the entire word rather than learning the rules of phonics and sounding a word out.
Classical: Mastery of basic skills is essential and routinely drilled. Phonics is one of the basic skills that provides children with a solid foundation for future learning. Consequently, children learn the rules of how letters sound in various situations. This allows them to pronounce unfamiliar words in the future without delay. This enables them to become better readers and accelerates the learning process.
In the beginning was the Word. John 1:1
Progressive: Middle and high school teachers share information with students, but rarely if ever invite the students to question the truth of what they are sharing. Students spend little time investigating whether the logic or assumptions behind a teacher’s claim or their own claims are valid.
Classical: Middle and high school teachers invite students to investigate the truth of what is being discussed. The teacher challenges the thinking of the students through the use of dialectic and questioning. Socates and Jesus both used this style of teaching to expose ignorance and then set people on a path to discover truth. Students are not sheltered from opposing ideas but exposed to ideas that do not necessarily coincide with those of the teacher. This allows the students to develop the art of discernment instead of tacitly accepting what other people say.
Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” Matthew 21:24