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Four Approaches to Classical Christian Education, Part 2: Towards a Definition

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series

"Classical Christian Education: Four Distinct Approaches"

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I recently wrote a post introducing a new series about the four distinct 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. I asserted that, despite the many who claim that classical Christian education is the Trivium and its “stages,” this is just not true. Classical Christian education does not equal the Trivium or the three stages of child development. There’s simply more (or perhaps less?) to it than that. I’ll put it this way: it’s bigger than that. More eternal.

I had the opportunity to attend the Great Homeschool Convention on Valentine’s weekend here in Fort Worth and hear some excellent speakers–such as Dr. Christopher Perrin, Andrew Kern, Martin Cothran, and others–discuss and define classical Christian education. I think their definitions of classical Christian education will help us as we move forward with these four distinct approaches.

They first offered John Henry Newman’s definition from The Idea of a University:

That perfection of the intellect which is the result of education, and its beau ideal, to be imparted in their respective measures, is the clear, calm, accurate vision and comprehension of all things, as far as the fine mind can embrace them, each in its place, and with its own characteristics upon it. It is almost prophetic from its knowledge of history; it is almost heart-searching from its knowledge of human nature; it has almost supernatural charity from its freedom from littleness and prejudice; it has almost the repose of faith, because nothing can startle it; it has almost the beauty and harmony of heavenly contemplation, so intimate is it with the eternal order of things and the music of the spheres.

Next, a more succinct definition from the CiRCE Institute:

The cultivation of wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty by means of the seven liberal arts and the four sciences so that, in Christ, the student is enabled to better know, glorify, and enjoy God.

Martin Cothran even gave a very short “if you meet someone in the elevator and they want to know what classical education is” definition. He said, “The liberal arts and the great books.” (Now, if you’re like me, the puzzled response often I get to a statement like that is, “What are liberal arts?” Or, people think they know what liberal arts are and really don’t. You can read a good definition here.)

You might notice that none of these definitions say anything about the Trivium specifically. (Yes, the Trivium is part of the liberal arts. I promise to talk about the sacred Trivium and its merits.) But more importantly, these definitions (especially the first two more fleshed-out definitions) focus on beauty and virtue (which I called Christlikeness in my last post), on the heart and the soul of man, on eternality. Read over those first two definitions again. They don’t sound easy, but don’t they sound restful? “Nourishing the soul.” “The repose of faith, because nothing can startle it.” “Heavenly contemplation.”

Let’s take and meditate on these ideas as we begin our discussion of the four different approaches to classical Christian education.

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About Becky Aniol

Becky holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and music, a master's degree in Christian education, and is currently pursuing a PhD 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 four children, Caleb, Kate, Christopher, and Caroline and homeschooling them classically.