Why Classical Christian Education?
"For the sole true end of education is simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain." - Dorothy L. Sayers
Imagine a culture that expects great things from its children. Too often, students are believed to be capable of too little and the result is poor achievements and low aspirations. But what if we had high expectations of them and encouraged them to achieve great things? Classical Christian Education (CCE) is a method of education that works alongside the student’s natural development by taking advantage of their natural inclinations through the stages of Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric, as laid out in the essay 'The Lost Tools of Learning' by Dorothy L. Sayers.
"If we are to produce a society of educated people, fitted to preserve their intellectual freedom amid the complex pressures of our modern society, we must turn back the wheel of progress some four or five hundred years, to the point at which education began to lose sight of its true objective." -Dorothy L. Sayers
Have you ever noticed the ridiculously impressive memories of young children? They love to recite things like nursery rhymes which shows the ease with which they learn to recite or chant words and phrases. This natural proclivity can be used to memorise all sorts of facts from multiplication tables to Scriptures, Geography, English, Foreign Languages… the lists are endless! This is known as the Grammar stage, where the necessary facts which form the foundation for each subject can be leant.
How easy to chant conjugations before we lose the lively memory we have at this early age! Children remember stories and can be introduced to even ancient masterpieces of literature and encouraged to recite back what they have heard. Historical dates, events, lines of Kings and Queens can be learnt now, which will be of help later on, with the aid of historical costume and architecture so that the dates conjure up visual imagery. Even Theology can be learnt, reciting the books of the Bible, the Lord's prayer, the Ten Commandments and Apostle's Creed.
People may object to the memorisation of facts without understanding at this stage. It is wrong, however, to assume that children cannot enjoy the memorisation without the ability to analyse. At this stage, the aim is to collect the material which will be expounded and understood more fully later on.
“The end then of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him, as we may the nearest by possessing our souls of true virtue, which being united to the heavenly grace of faith makes up the highest perfection.” -John Milton
In our modern society, the value placed on logic has fallen. This is evident in the lack of ability to argue correctly and follow simple logical trains of thought. To prevent this inability amongst our own children, it is necessary to cultivate this skill when arguing is enjoyable.
Roughly at the time when a child becomes a teenager, they naturally become more inquisitive, which can result in a tendency to critique, argue back and contradict. Rather than fighting against these developments, students can be trained in how to use these skills appropriately, to question knowledge and discern truth. By taking advantage of this stage in the student's development, encouraging debate and reasoning, the natural argumentativeness may well be disciplined in school and therefore be less pronounced at home.
In this age of critical thinking and debate, research skills can be taught; how to use libraries, reference sources and discern credible from incredible sources are among vital skills that they will benefit from throughout their lives. Following the logical outworkings of Maths leads to more advanced arithmetics, debating ethics, discussing reasons for historical action and critiquing meaning embedded within literature can all be enjoyed and encouraged at this stage.
“The scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and microphone of his own age.” -C.S. Lewis
As the teens mature, they reach a stage where they want independence to express themselves. At the Rhetoric stage, students are taught how to communicate their own thoughts and ideas eloquently and persuasively. The imagination may be stirred up again at this stage, following the dormant time of reasoning and critique during the logic stage.
Specialisation in subjects may begin at this stage as the students show particular interest, though it is beneficial to keep an open mind regarding the inter-disciplinary nature of subjects (students inclined to the sciences should be encouraged to continue to engage, but to a lesser degree, with the humanities and vice versa). Students are encouraged to be creative with their ideas and express them clearly, consistently and convincingly. These skills will lead them comfortably into further education should they chose that route, although it is not necessary if the student would prefer to enter a vocation.
By teaching the students these 'tools' of learning, they are equipped to turn their hand to whatever interests them, rather than simply being spoonfed information to regurgitate for exams.
"For we let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armour was never so necessary." -Dorothy L. Sayers
Education is not, however, simply reducible to knowledge; education should be holistic, shaping and cultivating the character of the students as well as their minds. Philippians 4:8 instructs us on what our minds should be focusing throughout the day, '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.' CCE incorporates these things into learning so that students are trained to love what is good, true and beautiful. As they say on their website, ‘in short, education is primarily about what we are trained to love, not just what we are taught to know.’
In this way, children are taught how to use a Biblical worldview to interpret all of life. It is more than just learning a Bible verse at the end of every class- students are shown how all subjects reveal truths about God. By creating a culture that seeks truth, we want to instill in each student the desire to pursue truth that is ongoing.
"Everything taught and done here is oriented toward the worship of God." -Anthony Esolen