The Long Haul: When Classical Education is No Longer Cute

Danny & James

 

My sons, James and Danny, both attend Christ Classical Academy (in PreK 4 and CCA Care, respectively). They are surrounded by children who don’t teach them swear words. My five year old can identify some of Mozart’s symphonies and talk about Jackson Pollock paintings at the dinner table. They chant and wear matching t-shirts. Amongst much else, it is extremely endearing. What’s not to love? However, these are not the reasons I choose to educate my children classically. They are great benefits, but cuteness is not the aim of classical education. Sadly, this “cuteness” of classical education in the young obscures both the value and long-term purpose of the classical method.

 

As children begin to hit puberty and enter the Logic stage, the draw of the adorable nature of the classical method begins to wane. Singing is done; now they have acne and uniform violations and can use the knowledge gained in formal logic as anti-parent weaponry. At the same time classical education becomes the most valuable, parents begin questioning: Why classical education? Is it worth the cost? Can I deprive my child of the opportunity to take driver’s education and go to prom? What if my child’s best friend attends another school? Are there enough children to have good friendships? These are reasonable considerations. Yet the fact that the pull towards a progressive education is almost entirely a question of social experience betrays just how little modern education has to offer.

 

In her well-known essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning”, Dorothy Sayers writes: “For the sole true end of education is simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain.”  Furthermore, classical education aims to teach children to know and perceive truth. The Logic and Rhetoric stages are pivotal both in learning how to learn and learning to recognize truth. With a Grammar School education alone students do not have a complete education. In the Grammar School students prepare their minds by collecting and gathering information to be used in the subsequent stages of the Trivium. Without Logic and Rhetoric training students do not learn to reason logically or to synthesize information and then express it clearly and persuasively.

 

C.S. Lewis, himself classically educated, had much to say critically about progressive education. His book on education, The Abolition of Man, includes the following famous critique:

 

And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible… We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.

 

A true education trains the mind to seek virtue. Ultimately, virtue aids us in achieving our chief end, to enjoy God and glorify Him forever. The Apostle Peter writes: “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue… For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” How much more important is it to be effective and fruitful for the kingdom than to have memories of the “all-American” high school experience?

 

Recently I had the opportunity of sitting in on a Rhetoric School Omnibus class. I could not help but compare this with my time in high school. I had a great high school “experience”. I graduated from Leon, took AP classes, was in school plays, made great friends, and made precious memories. I graduated with honors and thought that I had a decent education. Truthfully, I did have some good teachers. I still have memories of slides of Vermeer paintings in Honors Humanities. Though we didn’t read them, I at least learned the stories of Greek classics while learning the history of drama. On the other hand, I had an AP teacher who was fired for showing an explicit X-rated film and a government teacher who was an aging Black Panther. For the most part, I was extremely intellectually bored. I remember many occasions asking to go to the bathroom and wandering the halls or skipping class out of boredom.

 

During the Omnibus class I listened our Rhetoric students discuss the meaning of truth in the context of Josephus’s writings. They examined modern news articles telling an event from different perspectives and discussed bias in the writing of history. The entire time I could not help but lament: what could I have done if I had had this education? Andrew Kern, the founder of The Circe Institute, argues that reading the great books prepares us to respond appropriately to suffering that we face in life. A sound education gives students the opportunity to examine and consider problems of life in a safe, truth-driven context. I can’t help but wonder how my experience as a 19 year-old missionary in post-Soviet Ukraine would have been different if I had been trained to consider difficult aspects of truth before facing them in the spiritual equivalent of Vietnam. It definitely would have been more useful than the prom dress decaying in my closet or the card games I won during driver’s ed class.

 

What might have been does not bare much speculation. What I am responsible before God to consider as a parent is this: what could my children do with this education? Will this best prepare them for life? More importantly, will this best prepare them to seek Christ and recognize Truth when it is found?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Alyson Hochstedler says:

    Thank you! Printing it off for my young men to read.

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