The Four Approaches to Classical Christian Education, Part 4: The Bluedorn Interpretation of Trivium-As-Stages
So, I started this series awhile ago, and it’s not that I’m not enthusiastic about the topic, but life got in the way…namely in the form of pregnancy morning sickness and sleeping when I would’ve otherwise been blogging. I’m also slowly in the process of turning this series into a book, which is sucking away my blogging energy. The topic of this series was originally my master’s thesis that I’m condensing waaaay down for the blog, so I’m trying to find a happy middle ground for print publication (plus adding things as I continue reading and learning on this subject). Anyway, I’ve had lots and lots of requests to finish out the series here, so I’m going to try to do that over the next couple of months. No promises, but I will try!
Today we’re going to briefly talk about the Bluedorns and their “subset” of the Trivium-As-Stages approach to Classical Christian Education. They really don’t represent a totally separate approach because they rely on the Sayers analogy of child development stages, which I discussed in the last post, so I’m not going to do a huge evaluation of their method. However, Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn state in their book Teaching the Trivium: Christian Homeschooling in a Classical Style that they “are attempting to write a different charter for classical education” (29), and there are indeed some differences in their approach to classical education.
First of all, rather than trying to argue that classical education is inherently Christian, they argue that the Trivium method of pedagogy is inherently Christian (“classical style” in their book title). Do you see how these are two different things? Education necessarily encompasses the whole body of learning and learning experience–curriculum, goals, pedagogy, etc., while pedagogy alone is simply a teaching method.
Where other classical educators would insist that a study of Western culture informs both the student’s mind and his Christian heritage, as Christianity grew up within Western culture, the Bluedorns do not embrace study of the pagan epics and myths or of Greek and Roman culture. Rather, they argue that Christians should focus on Hebrew culture and avoid, for the most part, the damaging influence of ancient pagan culture. While they don’t bring up this ancient argument in their book, to my recollection, they would side squarely with Tertullian in asking “What hath Athens to do with Jerusalem?” In other words, the Bluedorns seek to use the Trivium-As-Stages “classical” teaching method that was introduced by Sayers and Wilson, because, they argue, that this method best fits with the Bible’s teaching on knowledge, understanding and wisdom (similar to the argument made by Randy Booth that I pointed out in my last post)–but they don’t have any particular attachment to classical curricular content. So, are the Bluedorns really doing classical Christian education? Well…sort of. I’ll draw some lines between classical Christian education and Christian education in general in another post. I’d be more comfortable saying that the Bluedorns have presented a different paradigm for Christian education than that they necessarily fall under the classical umbrella. For now, however, suffice to say that the Bluedorns are at least grouping themselves within the classical tradition to some degree or another, and if you’re following their recommendations, you’re not doing something awful! It’s just not perhaps the most “true-to-classical” approach.
You may be wondering why the Bluedorns are so down on the Greeks and Romans. They list eight reasons for their cautions against Greek and Roman studies. They argue that studying the Greeks and Romans and exposing your children to pagan classic literature
- Puts new wine in old wineskins (Luke 5:36-39)
- Can cause children (or parents) to stumble
- Does not redeem the time
- Is not profitable
- Has no value for eternity
- Is doubtful
- Is not best
- Desensitizes children to immorality
They are obviously very concerned with following Scriptural principles, for which I applaud them. But do their arguments hold up? I’m not going to exegete Scripture here for you, nor am I going to tell you to violate your conscience if you agree with them. I will just say that this argument is a bit reductionistic. Also, despite the fact that the ancient pagans didn’t know Christ as Savior or acknowledge Him as the source of all Truth, they did live within a worldview framework that acknowledged absolute truth (unlike today’s unbelievers)–and they were searching for that truth. C.S. Lewis argues that their stories point to Christ, even though they didn’t know it.
Many have argued this more fully than I have the space or knowledge to do here, so I will link to just a few (out of a myriad) of these articles for your perusal:
- Is Hebrew Better than Greek? by Martin Cothran
- Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics (a 10-part series) by Cheryl Lowe
- Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics by Louis Markos (He also has a whole book on this subject.)
- How Reading Homer Makes Us Better Readers of Scripture by Bret Saunders
- The Church Fathers and Classical Education by Andrew Kern
The other main differences between the Bluedorn recommended approach and the Sayers-Wilson recommended approach is that the Bluedorns suggest foregoing formal math and grammar studies until age ten and, not surprisingly, they emphasize the study of Greek and Hebrew over that of Latin (though they’re not opposed to Latin as a third language).
If you want to read more specifically about the Bluedorns’ approach to the Trivium-As-Stages, their book is quite detailed, if somewhat repetitive.
I’ll be back soon with a post on the second distinct approach, the Liberal Arts and Sciences Approach to classical Christian education.
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.