What is Classical Education?

Classical Christian education is unique in that it seeks to faithfully restore the most proven form of education ever developed. This education produced the greatest thinkers, leaders, and scientists in the Western world from the time of the Greeks until the late 19th century, including America’s founding fathers. From the heritage of America’s Ivy League colleges and classical day schools, leaders in every field continue to emerge from the fragmented legacy of classical education.

A Classical Education

What makes classical Christian education so effective? First, it is based on what has been called the Trivium. No matter how your child learns, he or she goes through three phases. In grades K-6, students are excellent at memorizing. In grades 7-8, students become more argument-oriented. They are ready to be taught logic and critical thinking. In grades 9-12, students become independent thinkers and communicators particularly concerned with their appearance to others. To this end, classical education teaches them “rhetoric,” the art of speaking, communicating, and writing.

Providence Christian Academy integrates subjects like literature, history, language, art, math, and science. Students read the great works of Western literature and philosophy. Classical languages (specifically Latin) help students understand and think with greater depth about the world around them. Formal logic and rhetoric help students become great leaders and communicators. Classical teaching methods range from class lectures, to debates, to Socratic (discussion-oriented) teaching. Independent learning skills are sharpened at all grade levels.

A Christian Education

One frequent question we hear from parents is “what about a Bible class?” Some parents fear that the classical method will overshadow the importance of Christianity in their child’s education. Classical and Christian schools understand that a Bible class is not enough. Yes, most classical and Christian schools have Bible classes. However, the real power is in teaching ALL subjects from the perspective of the Christian worldview.

Classically educated students will not distinguish between “God’s creation” and “science”; between “God’s order” and “mathematics”; or between “Church history” and “world history.” Throughout the curriculum, an inseparable association exists between “subject-matter” and “spiritual matters.”

A 21st Century Education

Is classical Christian education still relevant? Yes, more now than ever. Our world is accelerating as technological, cultural, and geopolitical forces reshape our daily lives. The subject matter and skills required in the market are evolving and changing rapidly. However, thinking, articulate people are always in demand. Those who are able to acquire new skills rapidly and independently are sought after regardless of the field. Classical Christian education has a proven track record of turning out these types of students.

History of Classical Education

Birthed by ancient Greeks and Romans, refined by generations of Europeans and employed by early Americans, the classical model of education has shaped the growth of Western civilization over the last thousand years. It has historical ballast.

Early Christians incorporated the core concepts of Classical education into a teaching method centered on the Seven Liberal Arts. The first three of these disciplines, collectively called the Trivium, focus on providing students with the “tools of learning,” training them not only to comprehend the content being taught but to master a means of learning that can be applied to any content area. The Trivium consists of the arts of grammar, logic and rhetoric. The study of grammar focuses on the foundational “bits and pieces,” the facts of a given subject which must be memorized. Logic is the reasoning or set of thinking skills that ties those facts together and leads to deeper understanding. Rhetoric teaches students to express what they have learned in a polished and effective way, emphasizing genuine understanding and graceful communication.

PCA employs a two-fold approach to the Trivium; it influences what we teach as well as how and when we teach it. The elements of the Trivium naturally line up with the developing stages of a child, thus Classical education capitalizes on the natural abilities and desires of the student at each stage. At the grammar stage, elementary students use chants, songs, rhymes, and drills to aid mastery of the basic facts of different disciplines. Latin is introduced at this stage when students are best equipped to successfully memorize the vocabulary and other building blocks of language. As students progress to the logic stage, they learn to analyze the basic information of each content area. In addition, a formal logic class is taught at the middle school level, the stage when the tools of logic, discussion and debate are highly utilized. The rhetoric stage, during the high school years, develops the student’s communication skills through thesis papers, speeches, presentations, drama, etc. Great works of literature are integrated as part of each stage of a classical education.

While the Trivium provides the model for our curriculum and instructional methods at PCA, it should be noted that these time-honored practices of Classical education are incorporated in all subject areas at all stages of learning. Though critical thinking skills are formally taught, emphasized and pervasively used at the middle school level, they are introduced and utilized during the elementary years. By the same token, students at the rhetoric stage are still responsible for the memorization and recall of material.

Classical education furnishes students with the basic thinking and character skills needed for a lifetime of growth and learning. By implementing these proven educational practices in a purposefully Christian atmosphere, PCA is raising up a generation of leaders who are equipped to impact their culture for God’s glory. We believe that this model (the Classical & Christian approach) is the finest model of education that currently exists.

For more information, please  read this article by Dorothy Sayers titled, “The Lost Tools of Learning”.