Defining Classical, Christian Education
What is Classical, Christian education? Does it mean studying history? Reading boring old books? Is it only for SUPER SMART students? Six years ago, God gave me a passion for classical, Christian education, and during that time, I have shared the model with many, many families. The classical, Christian education model is a simple, time-tested model that focuses on training the skills to learn anything, and nurtures the whole person to fulfill their calling as man made in the image of a sovereign God, set apart for His glory, in this life and the next.
Three Attributes of Classical, Christian Education
Three main attributes of classical, Christian education discussed here are skill-based learning, the interrelatedness of all subjects to all other subjects, and the recognition of the value of man, who is made in the image of God for a purpose. There are other attributes of a classical, Christian education model, but these three provide a backbone for it.
Classical education is skill based. These skills are collectively referred to as “The Trivium”, a Latin word meaning three ways. The three ways are three stages of learning and development, each with its own tools: the grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric stages.
- The first stage is the grammar stage. It starts at birth, and developmentally extends until around age 11. In this stage students are learning vocabulary, facts and principles of any subject in the world around them in a rote fashion. Their understanding may be very limited at first, but they are becoming familiar with the world they encounter. Students in this stage learn best by exploring, experiencing, observing, repetition, memorization, and dramatization.
- The second stage, naturally occurring from around ages 11 – 14, is the dialectic or logic stage. At this point, the student develops a drive to understand and relate one to another all the experiences and facts they have and continue to collect. This stage is characterized as a time of questions, challenging authority, and starting to rely on their own thinking. Students at this stage benefit from learning to ask good questions, reason logically, and debate ideas respectfully.
- Finally, around age 14 students who have been trained to think well, will begin to emerge from the dialectic stage into the rhetoric stage. At this point, students can use their knowledge and skills to creatively relate information in new ways while practicing communicating information eloquently and winsomely. To learn new things they will delve back into the grammar and dialectic stages briefly, to learn the facts and process the information, but will be able to efficiently bring that information into a relationship with the other information they know hold, and continue to communicate their ideas.
The stages and tools of the Trivium function like a computer. The grammar stage is input, the dialectic stage is processing, and the rhetorical stage is output. Once a student has the skills from these three areas, they can spend a lifetime processing any and all information they encounter through their own “computer”, a working understanding of the tools of the Trivium.
While it may look like one has to be super smart to do well with a classical, Christian education model, the reverse is actually true: the classical, Christian education model goes with the grain of student development, and is effective at equipping students with the skills they need to learn and understand anything in a faster, easier, and better way.
Developmentally Appropriate Skill Development is Fruitful
Often, in modern education, we see mismatches between assignments and developmental stages that create frustration. Examples would be: asking a first grader to break apart math problems and relate different strategies to the same problem, asking the grade-schooler to invent something meaningful, asking a twelve year old to take a well-reasoned stand on a social justice issue, asking a high school student to memorize a bunch of facts with no need for application.
While there are always exceptions, and students may enter a stage early in an area of gifting, mostly mismatches like these needlessly create frustration and confusion that ultimately can drive students to think either too much of their own abilities, or more often not enough. Teaching the students skills that correspond with their developmental stage, and that are effective for learning, should reduce frustration and create confidence for learning.
An Interrelated World
After planting our roots in the model of the Trivium, classical, Christian education is focused on understanding the inter-relatedness of all subjects. Since we believe that all of heaven and earth was created by one, sovereign God, it comes to make sense that all subjects would be interrelated in some way.
A modern education student might be accustomed to being the center of a paradigm that asks them to learn math, then reading, then bible study, then history, and is interested in their reaction to those individual subject, often independent of all else. In a Christian, classical education the student is removed from the center of the model, and God is rightly reflected as the center of all creation, all knowledge, informing us about all things, and all things reflecting back information on Him.
The classical, Christian model continually asks one to consider how each subject relates to all other subjects. Contemplating how the arts relate to the sciences, or how history relates to literature, will produce insights that studying either discipline alone would not likely produce. Likewise, taking a single topic, for example the topic of water and considering how it is represented in science, art, music, math, or history, and how those representations connect one to another, will deepen understanding of all parts of that analysis.
One may even choose specific concerns to compare and relate: How is water conservation policy at your local river related to artistic freedom? How is popular music related to current events? How is the founding of Rome related to your curriculum decision? How does man relate to God? How does the Old Testament relate to the New Testament? How does a leader today relate to a leader in the past? When you practice finding the connections and relationships between points like this, you will find these questions lead to ideas that lead to other questions, and each will continually reveal layers of understanding about the world around you.
The Value of Man
As Christians we believe that man was created by God, in His image, to glorify Him. The world and everything in it, is to be brought into submission to this purpose. While modern education is focused on science and the material world, classical, Christian education recognizes the physical world as well as the heart, mind, and soul, and that we live in with the tension and promise of a transcendent reality, beyond what our five senses can detect.
While modern education looks for the new, useful, and profitable, classical, Christian education considers what is good, true, and beautiful. While modern education considers man without meaning, nothing more than a primate with skills, a random, chance occurrence in nature, classical, Christian education knows that man is made for a purpose and can grow in wisdom, and virtue in order to further fulfill that purpose.
How does classical, Christian education achieve these lofty, yet abstract goals?
Thankfully, this world has a long history of men and women considering these ideas in thought, word, and deed, and a modern student can join in The Great Conversation by reading classic literature and studying history. The term “The Great Conversation” represents the ongoing process of writers and thinkers referencing, building on, and refining works of their predecessors.
All the tools and skills of the classical, Christian model come together in The Great Conversation, and work together to give one opportunities to refine their discernment of truth, goodness, and beauty, building wisdom and virtue. This is, of course, a lifetime journey, not necessarily a destination we fully arrive at in this life. The constant refining of our reason and understanding, never being left stuck in as a prisoner to our selfish small world, is the true gift of a classical, Christian education.
(Interested in pursuing a Classical Homeschool Education for your child? Check out our course offerings at True North Homeschool Academy.)
The classical, Christian education model uses the stages and skills of the Trivium, a vision for an inter-connected worldview, unified by one, sovereign God, creator of all things, and the knowledge that man is made in the image of God, to glorify Him in this world in the next, in order develop the whole person, able to participate in all this world and the next has to offer. A classical, Christian education is for those who are interested in quality over quantity, timeless versus fleeting, and eternity versus the present moment.
By Natalie Micheel
Natalie lives in South Dakota with her husband and two awesome kids. She has now homeschooled for over 10 years with Christian, classical and literature-based paradigms, including teaching for and leading faith-based homeschool groups locally. She speaks locally on all things classical, Christian ed. She loves sharing the classical model and the hope and joy of homeschooling your own children with the next generation of homeschool mamas! Natalie enjoys speaking and teaching and thinking, as well as reading and writing and dreaming. She finds particular satisfaction in working with tweens and teens and moms to inspire them towards the good, true and beautiful, and walking beside them as they learn to equip themselves to fulfill their callings in this world.