Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Why I Believe in Classical Christian Education

It is an honor to speak to you today who teach and lead Providence Christian Academy. You offer something of great value to the people of Middle Tennessee and I appreciate the opportunity to tell you why I think so. 

Jesus once blamed lawyers for “taking away the keys of knowledge.” He said they had blurred the meanings of words, which had, in effect, blocked the common people's ability to learn what they needed to know to survive and thrive. 
If the Lord were speaking to modern Americans, I think he might blame our media, preachers and educators for doing the same thing. There are ways in which these people of influence often obscure the way to learning and make it difficult, or at least unpleasant, for children to acquire knowledge and wisdom.

The accumulation and retention of knowledge, and the ability to use that knowledge appropriately for the benefit of one’s self and one’s community, depends on how well one learns fundamental things.  For centuries, the guardians of civilization taught those fundamental things to their children in their earliest years. They assumed that children should first learn how to learn; should be given the “keys to knowledge” in other words. 

By “keys of knowledge,” I mean the basic elements of civilization, the building blocks of thought and discourse; the ideas, habits and disciplines that make the common life of a people possible. Without these fundamental elements of our common life, we retreat into the ghettos and jargon of our isolated occupations and private preoccupations. We keep learning more and more about less and less. We lose understanding, a word that means, after all, “knowing what stands under.”
The aim of a classical education is to teach children “what stands under” civilized life. A Christian institution like Providence Academy does this from a  Christian perspective.

In a classical education system one learns Latin, the linguistic foundation of Western European culture. Knowing Latin allows a person to gain fluency in most modern European languages, including the three major languages of our own hemisphere.  Even if one does not go on to become fluent in other languages, he will understand his own language and culture at a deeper level than those who have no knowledge of its roots. 

By studying grammar, logic and rhetoric a child learns how to acquire knowledge in any subject and to effectively communicate what he learns to others. Because he understands – knows 'what stands under' – he instinctively looks for the structures and rules of any discipline or skill he may wish to acquire.

A classically educated child is likely to excel in the rest of life because he has the keys of knowledge. He knows how to open the doors of this great mansion we call Western Civilization.
Furthermore, contrary to all the clich├ęs of modern film, a classical education is not a luxury accessible only to people from wealthy families. In fact, the children it benefits most are often those from families lacking material resources.

Children from educated and wealthy families usually pick up bits and pieces of Western civilization by osmosis. Armed with even a superficial knowledge of historic names and cultural jargon, they learn to be at ease with cultural protocol and language in ways that communicates competence, whether or not that competence actually exists. (Watch Melodie Griffith's movie, Born Yesterday, to see a delightful picture of how that works.)  In contrast, children from less affluent families often stumble through school and graduate only to experience continual difficulty finding even menial employment. Because they don't pick up on the subtle phrases and mannerisms that mark those from more privileged backgrounds, they may appear incapable and unreliable to potential employers and peers.

A classically educated child however, knows how to unlock society's doors. He enters those doors with confidence, regardless of his background. He has a sense of belonging in a world of work and discourse. He knows he is a legitimate heir of civilization and has learned how it works.

I hope it is obvious by now how much I believe in classical education. In fact, I believe that in order to offer an education that is truly Christian, a school must be classical, both in form and content. The reason I believe this is because a Christian education will not hide children from reality. It will not teach children to be fearful or hostile to the community, or the times, in which they live. A real Christian education will teach children to view all their experiences of life, all their knowledge of the world, all the facets of civilization that they discover, through the lenses of a Christian world view. However, it will also recognize that we are heirs of a specific sort of Christianity, formed by the Greco-Roman world it converted and absorbed. The structures of thought developed by this history are precisely what makes our culture work as it does. There is no basis for hostile sectarianism if one understands this.

A classically taught child learns how to articulate his beliefs with confidence, kindness and integrity. He learns how to respectfully process difference with others by analyzing the content of that difference instead of reacting viscerally, which a fear of others naturally provoke. By knowing his own culture well, he knows how to respect, appreciate and evaluate other cultures.

A classical Christian education teaches a child to retain his or her sense of wonder at the marvelous world God has made. It teaches him to honor all people. It teaches him how to to learn. It teaches him to love learning. It teaches him that learning never ends. It teaches him that formal education is merely a training in how to keep acquiring and utilizing knowledge. And, in the end, classical education makes the final acquisition of wisdom a less remote possibility.

A classical Christian education presupposes that a child has been created for a particular calling that will become clear as he walks through life. Classical education, in other words, prepares children to discover his or her vocation (Latin for calling) instead of merely preparing him or her to enter an occupation (meaning “staying busy.”)

Why should a Christian education be classical? Because classical education builds on a foundation carefully developed over two thousand years from the teaching of Moses, the prophets, Jesus, the apostles and the teachers of the church. It builds upon the work of a Christianized Greco-Roman civilization. It builds upon the principles that have developed modern science, technology, and abstract disciplines of all sorts; economic systems that have made the sustenance and advancement of complex modern societies possible; and political systems that have made it possible, for the first time in history, to protect the personal independence of a nation’s citizens within a stable social order.

Classical education offers the child the heritage won through the ages by his or her ancestors. It teaches him how to access the ever expanding knowledge humanity continues to acquire. It teaches him how to discover and then express the unique vocation that God had in mind for him before He created the world.

This is what you offer our community. It is one of the most important contributions one could possibly make to our culture at this time. It is worthy of support because, in the end, it is what supports every facet of our future. 



Marilyn said...

Thank you for sharing this with us. X

Marilyn said...

Thank you for sharing this with us. X

Kate Barnes said...

I also believe in christian education. being an advocate is a blessing!