A Closer Look at Classical Education
- Monday, March 29, 2010
When selecting a method for educating their children, many homeschoolers take one look at classical education and just walk on by. They view classical education as too rigorous and demanding, too tedious and unpleasant to even consider as a realistic choice. If that describes your thoughts, please take a little time to look at the basics; you might just discover that this approach is both a valuable and a viable option for your family. Of course, classical education appeals to intellectuals, but those of us with less than scholarly minds can still glean the benefits it offers. With a small amount of work on our part, we can take the various aspects of classical education, as well as the available resources, and easily adapt them to our own interests and abilities as we exercise our minds and expand our sphere of learning.
Contemporary classical education comes to us along the regular route of Western Civilization. From the ancient days of Greece and Rome, it has traveled through the centuries to Medieval Europe, across the Atlantic to early America, right up to our day. Traditionally, classical education has been reserved for the elite. In fact, our term liberal arts comes from the Latin word liber, which means "free" and refers to the type of education provided to free men in contrast to the slave population of ancient times. As Christians, we have the unique privilege of being set apart as both the common men and members of the elite, for we are servants of Christ yet joint heirs of the Kingdom with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Why not make good use of this educational heritage that was designed for nobility? Before the educational system of our country was essentially industrialized and students were placed on a mass production line of learning, formal education in America typically meant "classical education."
Now this particular approach might seem far too challenging, but you don't have to study as hard or as long as those who are more academically gifted. You might even be pleasantly surprised by just how much fifteen minutes of concentrated effort each day can accomplish. Imagine the results of that focused attention over a period of weeks and months and years. Yes, you are going to have to invest some time in research, but the "Who's Who in Classical Education" at the end of this article is filled with information to get you started on crafting a plan for your family. Implementing these five common features of classical education: (1) the pursuit of character, (2) reading the literary and historical classics, (3) learning the classical languages, (4) studying the core curriculum of the liberal arts, and (5) entering into a conversation about ideas does not need to be difficult. Reflect on the true goals of your homeschool Then take a closer look at classical education; look further into the purpose and content of this method, become familiar with the terms and resources, and consider the possibilities.
Wisdom and virtue are the two primary goals of classical education. The ancient Greeks sought to produce the ideal man and called that education the paedeia. The Romans picked up that same purpose, adapted it to their culture, and called it humanitas, similar to our word humanities. It has been handed down through the ages to us as the pursuit of goodness, truth, and beauty, some of the very things that Paul encourages us to think about in Philippians 4:8. In contrast to those ancient, pagan societies, we search for these virtues in the light of God and His Holy Word, for "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding." (Proverbs 9:10)
To obtain virtue and wisdom, classical education relies on actively reading and discussing the Great Books. These are books that have withstood the test of time. As my 16-year-old son explained, "If the author's dead and the book isn't, then it's a Great Book." Christine Miller's site includes a "100 Great Books List", Susan Wise Bauer offers a list within "Great Books: History and Literature", and the Veritas Press catalog includes shorter lists as primary reading in each of their Omnibus sections. Through these writings, we are brought into direct contact with great minds of the past, the best that man has to offer. As we consider the ideas presented by the authors, we enter into the Great Conversation, the ongoing discussion of what is good and true and beautiful. Again, we measure the things we read by the Word of God, which judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart, and we rely on the Holy Spirit, who searches all things, to reveal the truly noble ideas.
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