What is classical Christian Education?

What makes a “classical Christian education”?
Classical education begins with an authentic view of the human person as created in the image of God and created to share in his divine life. This understanding of the human person leads to a formation which is suited to the development of a child toward personal sanctification and full participation in a distinctly Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian culture. Classical education is most naturally and completely done in a Christian school where it can be sustained and perfected by the Scriptural life of the Church.

Classical Education Is…
1. Loving – Out of the superfluous (from the Latin super, “over” and fluere, “to flow”) love of the Trinity, man was created. By love and for love, man was made. From the teacher’s own loving relationship with Christ, flows his love for God’s fingerprint in creation and God’s very image in the children entrusted to his care. This love for God, man, nature, and art must be the primary motivator for both teaching and learning.
2. Integral – A classical educator knows that all knowledge is an integer, a united whole. At the lowest and highest levels, the inter-relation of disciplines is evident, but this must become a daily reality in the classically-oriented classroom. While our days may be organized according to subjects, these should never be artificial barriers to organic connections. We always try to study things as wholes: The frog in the pond, rather than (or at least before) on the dissecting tray; the complete work, not the anthologized excerpt; the historical event in its context, not isolated by the national holiday.
3. Orderly – Contrary to the dominant trends in education, the classical educator believes that truth has real existence (against the relativist), that it can be known (against the skeptic), and that it can be shared (against the cynic). Our teaching reflects a belief in the inherent order of reality. We need not resort to didactic instruction when the encounter between the student and the real is often sufficient for communicating truth. This order is hierarchical, and one of the principle tasks of the student is to cultivate orderly thinking by practicing distinction, division, and definition.
4. Natural – Our methods flow from the nature of the subjects and the nature of the student. Learning itself is an act of the student, not the teacher. Therefore, we accomplish exponentially more when we cooperate with the interest, abilities, and attention of the student. Certainly these must be cultivated and directed, but to teach without them is to waste our energy. Similarly, there is nothing in the intellect which is not first in the senses. So, by engaging eyes, ears, hands, and voices, we can multiply our effectiveness and engage our students completely: mind, body, and spirit.
5. Formative – Parents are the primary educators of their children, and the role of the teacher is to assist them in forming each student for the universal call to sanctity and their personal vocation of service of God. This two-fold vocation is the end of education which all else serves.
6. Leisurely – Classical education is not the way of the world. Seen from the outside, it is unreasonably difficult, but, once embraced, the yoke is light. We study the true, the good, and the beautiful because there is nothing better we could do with our time. Liberal education is liberal both because it is the act of a free person and because it liberates us from sin and from ignorance. Christ said to his disciples, “you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”
7. Focused on First Things – Confidence and joy in our method, materials, and ultimate end allow classical Christian educators to prioritize appropriately. Formation is first. Academics are second. Passing fads can go their way without perturbing a well-grounded teacher.

Classical Education Is Not…
1. Progressive – Works enter the classical canon by being judged to be beautiful and fitting additions to what Mortimer Adler called “The Great Conversation.” Neither the methods nor the materials used in a classical education will frequently be altered. Human nature and the standards of art are constant, so while times may change, our strategies for engaging and forming students need not. Most educational innovations become part of classrooms across the country while they are still younger than the students themselves.
2. Utilitarian – The purpose of education is the cultivation of the human. Growing in understanding, in discipline, in command of self, language, and matter fulfills our human nature. “Through education,” says the Hillsdale College Honor Code, “the student rises to self-government.” If we put formation first, we will always get “college and career readiness” thrown in.
3. Anxious – Accelerated communication, universal connectivity, and the resulting anxiety which characterizes modern culture are inimical to human flourishing. Therefore, we must cultivate silence and simplicity in our classrooms. Similarly, when it comes to content, the classical educator must learn to festina lente, make haste slowly. Students understand a lesson when they are able to see the truth in it, rather than simply remembering a procedure or fact. What is seen is known in a much more fundamental way and is more quickly recalled and employed than what is remembered. By teaching to mastery, rather than to the pace set by the textbook, more sure progress is made.
4. (Exclusively) Didactic – While educators who doubt the existence and communicability of truth must exclusively rely on didactic methods (lecture, test, repeat), the classical educator draws on a broader tradition which includes mimetic and Socratic instruction. We are also careful to remember that there is no such thing as a neutral medium or environment. Beautifully illustrated, carefully bound, high quality books communicate much more than the sequence of words of their pages. From the walls of the room to the teacher’s dress, all that meets the student’s eye or ear is a part of education.
5. (Purely) Rigorous – Perhaps the most universal pitfall of the classical education revival has been a tendency to substitute rigor for substance. Many schools which are classical in name substantiate the designation by showing off test scores, AP courses, or the pace of instruction. While well-rounded ability is a natural result of a sound education, rigor is not its essence. The key is to focus on teaching not many, but much (non multa, sed multum). Rather than making a subject “an inch deep and a mile wide,” the teacher focuses on covering a few essential things well, especially those skills which prepare students to direct their own learning.
6. Abstract – As the Scriptures frequently and beautifully reminds us, man is both body and spirit. He cannot be satisfied with any but a spiritual view of life. Just as we cannot live a faith relegated to abstract principles, so we cannot teach learning objectives divorced from content. This education must include a strong emphasis on language, including instruction in Latin, and preferably Greek as well, and the trivium studies of grammar, logic, and rhetoric. It must include a rightly ordered study of art and music, history of the ancient, medieval, and modern world, and great literature from Mother Goose and Aesop, to Homer and
Shakespeare. In every case, emphasis should fall precisely on what is most securely part of the tradition.
7. Salvific – A classical education is a beautiful thing. Those who come to see this beauty after being formed in a progressive educational environment are sometimes tempted to think that it is more than just conducive, but is instead necessary, to a good life. Diagramming sentences, reading The Illiad, and memorizing the funeral oration from Julius Caesar are all wonderful things, but they are not the one thing needful. Our final judgment will not be a quiz on Plato.

From The Liberal Arts Tradition by Kevin Clark and Ravi Scott Jain