My grandfather was a carpenter, teacher, and born in Bethlehem. No, he was not our Lord Jesus Christ, but Pop Pop is a godly man and Christian servant. I think that grandfather’s philosophy of building homes is very much like a solid Christian classical philosophy of education.
A good education is like a well-built home. It takes a foundation, framing, and insulation to build a solid house, just as a good education requires a clear purpose, structure, and content as its guide. A well-built house is practical and at the same time beautiful. In the same way, a Christian Classical model of education serves both purposes.
The ultimate goal of education is to teach students how to be “life-long” learners who love their Creator. These two ends are related because a true love of God prompts study of his world. A heart that has encountered the truth of God through special revelation (the Bible) seeks to find beauty in general revelation (creation) as well. An individual enlightened by the truth of the gospel will want to find such beauty again and again, continuing in a pattern of life-long learning.
The second aspect of the philosophy is its structure. The framing of education is vastly important because a school guided by a powerful vision needs structure to ensure that purpose is supported. Ironically, the best “structure” is an integration of all subjects. Dorothy Sayers, in her essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning,” points out that the great defect of our educational system today is that we compartmentalize every subject. Schools have assigned periods for math, science, English, and so forth, but the subjects have no commerce with one another. An integrated curriculum, championed by Christian classical schools, is optimal because it provides a holistic framework for the child. Furthermore, integration is reflective of a Christian commitment. God has given us this entire world to study; one need not separate it.
Content is essential to building on a strong purpose and filling in the framework of a Christian classical school. The distinctive marks are rigor, formative in nature, and shaping students ready to partake in the great conversation. Practically speaking, teachers must present the lovely and admirable. Teachers are to illuminate that which is worthy of study, inspiring students to find pleasure in these subjects for themselves. In this way, the educational process is formative rather than simply informative. Throughout all curriculum content, the educational process must be characterized by rigor because education is not complete if one simply teaches students how to read, write, and cipher. Students must leave the schoolhouse able to think critically on their own about what they read. In thinking about content choices, education should leave students with “awareness of and gratitude for the heritage of Western Civilization.” 1 Reading is key to unlocking a liberated mind. Students should gain exposure to lyric, poetry, epic, parable, fable, myth, monologue, dialogue, theatrical play, history, fiction, fantasy, and current events. It is in literature that students can witness appropriate and effective grammar, logic, and rhetoric.
Just as a house built on a solid foundation, framed with care, and properly insulated will remain firm, a truly educated man will last. The truly educated person understands the reality that man was not created for himself, but to bring glory to his Creator. A student educated using this model will, by God’s grace, remain steadfast, and not tossed and fro by every wind of doctrine. (Ephesians 4:14) Ultimately, even the best constructed of houses will fall. But an educated mind, enlightened to love his Creator will never fail. His education is of eternal value.
1 Charles T. Evans and Robert Littlejohn, Wisdom and Eloquence: A Christian Paradigm for Classical Learning (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2006), 19.