Classical education also focuses around history. To the classical mind, all knowledge is interrelated. Astronomy (for example) isn't studied in isolation; it's learned along with the history of scientific discovery, which leads into the church's relationship to science and from there to the intricacies of medieval church history. The reading of the Odyssey leads the student into the consideration of Greek history, the nature of heroism, the development of the epic, and man's understanding of the divine.

This is easier said than done. The world is full of knowledge, and finding the links between fields of study can be a mind-twisting task. A classical education meets this challenge by taking history as its organizing outline -- beginning with the ancients and progressing forward to the moderns in history, science, literature, art and music.

We suggest that the twelve years of education consist of three repetitions of the same four-year pattern: Ancients, Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation, and Modern Times. The child studies these four time periods at varying levels -- simple for grades 1-4, more difficult in grades 5-8 (when the student begins to read original sources), and taking an even more complex approach in grades 9-12, when the student works through these time periods using original sources (from Homer to Hitler) and also has the opportunity to pursue a particular interest (music, dance, technology, medicine, biology, creative writing) in depth. The other subject areas of the curriculum are linked to history studies. The student who is working on ancient history will read Greek and Roman mythology, the tales of the Iliad and Odyssey, early medieval writings, Chinese and Japanese fairy tales, and (for the older student) the classical texts of Plato, Herodutus, Virgil, Aristotle. She'll read Beowulf, Dante, Chaucer, and Shakespeare the following year, when she's studying medieval and early Renaissance history. When the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are studied, she starts with Swift (Gulliver's Travels) and ends with Dickens; finally, she reads modern literature as she is studying modern history.

The sciences are studied in a four-year pattern that roughly corresponds to the periods of scientific discovery: biology, classification and the human body (subjects known to the ancients); earth science and basic astronomy (which flowered during the early Renaissance); chemistry (which came into its own during the early modern period); and then basic physics and computer science (very modern subjects).

This pattern lends coherence to the study of history, science, and literature -- subjects that are too often fragmented and confusing. The pattern widens and deepens as the student progresses in maturity and learning. For example, a first grader listens to you read the story of the Iliad from one of the picture book versions available at any public library. Four years later, the fifth grader reads one of the popular middle-grade adaptations -- Olivia Coolidge's The Trojan War, or Roger Lancelyn Greene's Tales of Troy. Four more years go by, and the ninth grader faced with the Iliad itself -- plunges right in, undaunted.

Sounds fascinating and rigorous, but what about the Christian part?

Why haven't I said anything about Christian? Because I strongly believe that parents who are Christians will give their children a Christian education while following this pattern. We say in our book, The Well-Trained Mind, that it is impossible to be neutral in education. And this is particularly true for classical education, which centers around the discussion of ideas. These questions cannot be answered without taking a stand on issues of truth. I don't believe that a Christian education consists of using math or grammar programs that continually cite Bible verses; rather, a Christian education is one that grapples with the ideas of history, science, and literature in the light of God's truth, revealed in Scripture and through the faithful obedience of Christ's church. If you want to give your children a classical Christian education, you'll have to work at it; there are plenty of resources to help you, of course, but you'll have to commit yourself to faithful membership in a local church, and to continual self-education in the foundations of your own beliefs, so that you can provide your children with the wise discipleship they need as they encounter the ideas good and bad, true and false of men and women throughout history.

Next time, Susan gives us a peek into her home-schooling day, discusses her favorite resources, and tells us what's up next on her creative agenda.

In His Sovereign Grace,