The Purpose of Christian Classical Education
What is the purpose of classical education? I will suggest several goals. First, as the Westminster Catechism states, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” With this in mind, classical education should be pursued with a Christian focus; it should be Christian classical education. God’s character and work can and should be identified and highlighted throughout all the disciplines of study. For example, in math, one learns process and order, and thus, children see that God is a God of order, not confusion. It is up to God to change our children’s hearts, but through the classical model of education we can give them a solid foundation of the truth and help them understand that God created them to glorify and enjoy Him. We are also giving them the tools to examine and debate and come to their own decision to live for Christ or not, so that they own their faith, not just repeat words from their parents or pastors. We are preparing them primarily to worship, to give God his due and worth as He is seen in every discipline.
Christian classical education is giving children the tools necessary to discover, explore, and use their God-given gifts but not merely for job preparation in a global economy. Every child has been given a gift from God, some in mathematics, some in literature, some in music, some in art, some in science… With a Godward focus, they can understand and develop amazing mathematical formulas or scientific theories, or they can create literary masterpieces which tell the redemptive story or art or music that declares the glory of God. For example, Isaac Newton, the “Father of Physics”, studied mathematics, astronomy and physics which helped bring glory to God in science by addressing mysteries that caused some to be superstitious rather than trust in God; he helped men to understand scientific explanations for gravity and laws of motion. Also, by developing calculus, he provided more accurate measurements of the area of objects with curved sides among other uses of calculus. Newton’s classical education enabled him to use his gifts in an incredible witness to the world of a God of order and not because he only studied subjects and developed skills which would help him fill a job to serve the needs of his country or compete successfully in a global economy.
Interestingly, as Daniel B. Coupland, Associate Professor of Education at Hillsdale College reasons, “[I]n the ancient world, job preparation was known as ‘servile education’ because it prepared the student to ‘serve’ a master in a particular kind of work. Modern theorists would say that I am being ridiculous to associate the ancient notion of ‘servile education’ to ‘skills for the 21st century’ which will allow students to adapt to an ever-changing society. But as long as students are told that the end of education is a job or career, they will forever be servants of some master…The ancients knew that in order for men to be truly free, they must have a liberal education that includes study of literature and history, mathematics and science, music and art. Yes, man is made for work, but he is also made for so much more. Education should be about the highest things. We should study these things – stars, plant cells, square roots, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Mozart’s Requiem, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address – not simply because they will get us into the right college or a particular line of work; rather, we study these noble things because they can tell us who we are, why we are here, and what our relationship is to each other as human beings and to the physical world that surrounds us.”*
Also, Isaac Newton expresses how easily one can be distracted from the pursuit of higher learning: “I was like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” Progressive education not merely creates diversions from the truth but erects a humanistic, godless bulwark to hide God’s truth, whereas Christian classical education provides the opportunity to dive into the ocean of truth as children seek to see God’s hand in the world in history, science and literature, learn Latin, Greek and Hebrew to be able to read source documents in the original languages, and ask questions. Also, sadly, in many public schools, art and music are cut out, but when children are not taught to appreciate art and music, they will live in a dull world where they will not be able to enjoy the beauty God has given. Christian classical education opens the door to not only truth, which sets one free, but also to beauty, goodness, joy and the other virtues.
Another purpose of Christian classical education is for children to reach maturity and their fullest potential, as did Jesus. “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” (Luke 2:52) If they truly attain wisdom, they will know Christ: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10) They will grow in favor with God and with man and thus be able to serve and build up the body of Christ as in Ephesians 4:11-16: “…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ…”
Finally, another end of Christian classical education is Christian love; a young person is able to love God and others. In 1 Corinthians 8:1, Paul the apostle tells the church that “knowledge puffs up while love builds up.” Also from 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, Paul says: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” Who is this love toward? Not self! Love is sacrificing self to serve God and others, and this should happen as one reaches the rhetorical level of classical education! It is a beautiful thing!
Christian classical education glorifies God and gives children the means to ascertain and employ their God-given talents. Also, through Christian classical education and exposure to history, literature, mathematics, science, music and art, children are exposed to truth and freedom, beauty, goodness, joy and the other fruits of the Spirit or virtues. There is no guarantee that our children will be saved, reaching their fullest potential by serving Christ and others in love, but they will have the opportunity to reach maturity and discernment as they grow and ask questions through the three stages of the Trivium. Let us pray that as they gain knowledge and understanding, they will apply the truth in wisdom. To God be the glory!
*Coupland, D. B. (2013, June 4). Common Core Common Sense: Why It’s Illiberal and Unconstitutional. Lecture presented at 2013 Frank A. Fusco Washington-Hillsdale Lecture.
All Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®, Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan.
The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education by Leigh Bortins
The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer