Philosophy of Classical Christian Education

Philosophy of Classical Christian Education

Education comes from the Latin verb educare, which combines the root ducere—to lead or guide—and the prefix e or ex—out or away. In its origin, the word thus means something like “to lead out” or “to guide away from.”

We can further extrapolate that education is intended to guide us away from the state of being uneducated, away from a state of ignorance. But what should education lead us toward? The answer to this question is not obvious, but it is fundamental. The most frequent modern answer seems to be understood solely in the context of employment; as in, education leads a student toward a state of being employable or “a productive member of the twenty-first-century global workforce.” Jobs are undoubtedly an honest policy concern for citizens and politicians alike, but they offer too shallow a framework to organize most of the functions of primary, secondary, and even college education.

Human beings are not designed to be mere cogs in a machine; rather, they have been endowed by the Creator with the capacity to know, to think, to feel, and to act. None of these capacities are fully formed in small children, and each must be carefully shaped if a child is to grow into an informed, discerning, and responsible Christian adult. Schools, in partnership with the Church and Family, play a substantial role in this educational work. The guidance native to good schools—in books, art, music, physical exercise, and social interaction—makes them uniquely suited to guide children from a state of ignorance into being civilized and mature Christian men and women.

When we turn to the primary sources of the Western canon, we find men and women aptly described as rational and moral beings. From man’s rationality and morality, we extrapolate a third faculty: man is social or political. Excellence in these three faculties—knowledge of the world, moral self-government, and civic Christian virtue—provides the three legs of the stool upon which civilization and civilized man rests. The purpose of classical Christian education is to lead students to excellence in these faculties, and a classical Christian school serves as a bulwark for our civilized and free society against the onslaught of moral corruption and postmodern degradation currently plaguing Western Civilization. 

The aim of classical Christian education is high, but not unreasonable. Its primary function is the dissemination of Knowledge, Understanding and Wisdom. The Book of Proverbs states, “For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6). This biblical distinction in learning fits perfectly with the classical model of education. The grammar stage is the gaining of knowledge, the logic stage corresponds with understanding, and the rhetoric stage with wisdom. The classical method of education is indeed the best environment for students because the foundation of classical education is the Word of God. Therefore, any curriculum not founded upon “The Fear of the LORD” cannot lead to or develop biblical wisdom in students, but instead leads to the foolishness of denying God as the true source of all knowledge.