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Classical Christian Education: Four Distinct Approaches, part 1

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series

"Classical Christian Education: Four Distinct Approaches"

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I’m guessing that a lot of homeschool parents, like me, encountered classical Christian education (CCE) through either Doug Wilson’s excellent book Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning or through Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise’s very helpful The Well-Trained Mind. Wilson first convinced me of CCE, and Bauer and Wise made me think that I could do it at home. However, I think many of us sorta stopped there. We had our “tools” a la Wilson (and Sayers); we had our classical “homeschooling bible” (the many lists and resources–the plan–provided by Bauer and Wise). It was tidy and categorical. “I think I can. I think I can,” said the little mom that could. But what many haven’t realized is that the CCE train that we got on hasn’t stopped there. What began (or re-began) as a philosophy of education in the 1980’s and was formalized in the 1990’s and early 2000’s in schools and homeschools has kept developing, as philosophies tend to do–and developing for the better.

The modern CCE movement started as a movement that involved the “Trivium” stages of child-development–Poll-Parrot/Grammar Stage for ages 9-11 (or 1st-4th grades or all elementary), Pert/Logic Stage for ages 12-14 (or 5th-8th grades or junior high), and Poetic/Rhetoric Stage for ages 14-16 (or 9th-12th grades). This is what many know as CCE. Even when people talk about the different approaches to CCE, they usually mean different ways of using this Trivium division (such as The Well-Trained Mind, Classical Conversations, Tapestry of Grace, and on it goes). I have had comments on this blog and emails telling me that I need to chill because CCE equals the Trivium. The end. Don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be.

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Well, my goal is certainly not to make it more complicated, but we need to get this out in the open. (And I’m not the only one saying this–read these books and blogs for starters: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.) Classical Christian education does not equal the Trivium. The Trivium is certainly part of CCE, but they are not equivalent. Now, don’t hop off the train. The train that we got on was a good one, headed in the right direction. But as the CCE philosophy has developed, we’re now able to see a fuller picture of how to arrive at the destination–and as Christians, the destination (and how we get there) should be important to us. The goal of any educational endeavor for a Christian should be growth in Christlikeness. (Call it Virtue if you want. Semantics.)

What I’d like to do over the next weeks is discuss the four different ways that evangelicals are doing classical Christian education in 2015–more than 30 years after Doug Wilson re-introduced us to Dorothy Sayers and the Trivium. How has this movement developed, and what might we be missing by limiting ourselves to the Trivium and its stages of child-development?

Here’s my approximate trajectory:

  1. The Classical Christian Education That We Know: The Trivium and Child Development Stages
  2. The Next Phase of Classical Christian Education: The Hebrews Don’t Mix with Those Greeks and Romans
  3. Phase Three of Classical Christian Education: Throwing Out Trivium Stages and Introducing All Seven Liberal Arts to Children
  4. The New Horizon of Classical Christian Education: Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning and Loving Beauty, Goodness, and Truth
  5. What Now?: Putting Feet to the Fuller Picture of Classical Christian Education
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Becky Aniol

About Becky Aniol

Becky holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and music and a master's degree in Christian education. She taught classical upper school grammar, literature, and history and lower school composition and grammar for two years, elementary school music for one year, and Kindermusik classes for four years before the birth of her children. She now loves staying home with her three children, Caleb, Kate, and Christopher, and homeschooling them classically.

One Response to Classical Christian Education: Four Distinct Approaches, part 1

  1. Thanks for this analysis. I was introduced to CCE at a private school that held rigidly to the 3 developmental stages, and it just didn’t seem right to me. My 9 year old could analyze and write persuasive essays, but they would have her just memorize facts and not move past that for a few years. I decided not to place my kids in that school because I thought I could teach better on my own, without those constraints. After that I read Sayers essay for the first time, and I see that I’m not alone in that criticism- I love the idea of CCE, but not that application.

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