Classical Christian Education: The Elevator Pitch

by Douglas Wilson

Thanks for asking. We are heavily involved in classical Christian education, but what do we mean by it?

logicBy classical we are referring to two things. First, our schools are built around a pedagogical method inspired by the medieval Trivium. The elements of that Trivium are grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric. As Dorothy Sayers once pointed out, these three categories correspond very nicely to certain stages of child development. The elementary years line up with grammar, which we take as the constituent parts of every subject. Dialectic, or logic, has to do with the relationships of the parts, and students are naturally good at this in the junior high years. Rhetoric has to do with the presentation of this knowledge, once it is gathered and sorted out, and this corresponds to the high school years. So we begin with rote memorization, move on to categorization, and conclude with presentation. If we were to use biblical terminology, we could call them knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.

The second meaning of classical has to do with our understanding of history. The kingdom of God must not be confounded with western civilization, but their stories are so intertwined that it is not possible to understand one without the other. When it comes to history, we do not want our students to be provincial, stuck in modernity. If all human history were a map, we want to teach them how to find the x that says “you are here.” This necessity affects the content of our curriculum.

rhetoricBy Christian we mean that we want all subjects to be taught as parts of an integrated whole, with the Scriptures at the center. We are confessing, orthodox Christians in the historic Protestant tradition. Because Scripture is central to us, this means that Jesus is Lord of Heaven and earth, and therefore Lord over the whole educational process. This of course means academic rigor, high standards, good moral discipline, and freedom from the arbitrary and inconsistent dogmas that are currently dragging down the government schools. But fundamentally, we would want to point to the fact that it means our schools can be places of forgiveness and joy—the only way anyone can come to understand the world.

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