Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What Makes Classical Education Christian?

Somewhere in Rutherford County tonight is a little boy living in an apartment with his mother.

He already knows he is poor; that he is low class; and that he is destined for a life of menial labor. He will never know what the Gettysburg Address was about. He will not understand the phrase "to be or not to be," or anything of its original context. He will not comprehend why grown men tear up at the sound of Handel's Messiah. He will not know, or understand, or view as even relevant the words or deeds he may hear in passing from the likes of Voltaire, Jefferson, St. Augustine, Mahatma Gandhi, or John Calvin. 

This boy, this lost little boy, will use the technological toys he acquires through thrift or through theft to amuse himself -- to drag his mind into ever deeper levels of unawareness of this universe and its meaning.  He will not learn to budget his money. He will not learn to plan his life. He already believes himself to be a pawn of fate, tossed about by forces that seem to him incomprehensible and irresistible. He is a Stone Age child, about to be thrust into a world he will never understand and to which he will never relate.

This child will breathe air for seventy years or so. He will eat food. He will procreate. Then, he will die. He will do all these things without thought, without ever stopping to ponder the meaning of his own existence or the purpose of his own life.

The reason he is lost, the reason his future is so poor, so empty, so devoid of self-awareness, so bereft of any sense of rootedness in time or space is simple: no one will ever tell this child that he is an heir of a vast fortune, accumulated over countless centuries by his own ancestors on both sides of his family.

His mother is Greco-Roman Civilization. She offers him art, science, literature, philosophy and the political understanding she had gathered in her countless experiments building community. 

He Father is the Creator's revelation to ancient Hebrews. This father offers the boy eternal life, personal meaning, and the values and principles that have led multitudes to experience individual and communal flourishing.

The union of this mother and this father represent a fortune so massive that no one will ever fully access it or ever exhaust it.

If by chance, this little boy should ever encounter, through the life and words of some saintly person, the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, he will receive the unspeakable gift of eternal life. However, even then, he may bide his time through this vale of tears, waiting for his blissful eternal home, without awareness of the wealth contained in the Book of Books he carries devotedly under his arm. 

Oh, he may memorize a few verses from this book and repeat them occasionally at proper times and places. But these verses, however comforting, will be little more than clichés. Despite his devotion to the scriptures, he will not know how to access and apply the words of Solomon, Isaiah, Job, or St. Paul to his everyday life.

Although an heir to the vast wealth of Western Christian Civilization, this little boy will live and die within its borders without comprehending, or even noticing, the gifts of mind, heart and community it offers.

Classical Christian education is a formation of children in their own heritage; in the ways of this Christianized Greco-Roman life we call Western Civilization. It develops mature disciples of Jesus Christ and prepares them for citizenship. It gives students the keys to this storehouse of knowledge accumulated over the millennia.

The students to whom this gift is offered are first of all our own children and grandchildren.  For we know that despite any financial security and family stability we believe them to posses, it is possible for them to grow up ignorant of the values of life and mind that sustain those assets. We know that they may yet squander their lives and fortunes on plastic beads and things that glow in the dark. We know that if we teach them how to make a living without teaching them to live a life, their meaningless world will, sooner or later, become unbearable and then collapse.

For these reasons, Classical Christian education is not a brainwashing process. It is not a method to program young minds. It is a way of training students to think. It is an awakening of their minds. It is a discovery of their vocation. It is their preparation for living in community. It is the development of their bodies through a view of sportsmanship that defines athletics as not merely a form or recreation but a way to honor of the human body as the temple of the Holy Spirit.

In short: Classical Christian education is an acknowledgment of that core Judeo-Christian concept: that human beings are made in the image and the likeness of God.

Globalization forces us to notice other notable civilizations; the infinite wisdom of Asian cultures, for example. It also forces us to acknowledge other Christian civilizations. The heritage of Byzantine, Armenian or Coptic Christianity comes to mind. These other cultures contain insights any student should find fascinating and enlightening.

However, it is impossible to even care about other world cultures unless and until we are at home in our own; unless we are aware of what our culture asserts and offers the world.

Providence Christian Academy exists to make these things known to our children. This school insists that the sort of formation it offers is not meant to be the sole property of those relatively few people born into families already possessing a grasp of Western Civilization. This school does all it can to offer that gift to those not so privileged, including people like that little boy whose future appears so dark.

This school, however dedicated to the Classical heritage it embodies, is even more resolute in its desire to be faithful to the centerpiece of Western Civilization -- the Savior of humanity, whose values were probably never more succinctly stated than when he said, "come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me ... learn of me ...

What our ancestors learned of Him produced our colleges, hospitals, art, philosophy, literature .. an entire civilization that although already in formation before he was born,before He was born, accepted His correction and His guidance to become a powerful source of human transformation.  

Thats what this school is about: bringing that lost little boy into the redeeming and transformative reach of this heritage of faith. That is what we mean by Classical Christian education.  It is, quite simply, the most important tool we have in our quest to protect and perpetuate the culture we have received, and which we so fervently wish to pass on to future generations.

This statement was given at Providence Christian Academys annual dinner for parents and teachers, hosted by Stone River Country Club in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, August 20, 2013.

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