What Is Classical Education?
Classical education utlizes a three-stage approach to education known as the Trivium. The intent of this approach is to educate through a paradigm that mirrors a student's strengths as they progress through various stages of development. The three stages of the Trivium are Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric.
Grammar Stage (K-6th) – This stage develops a strong foundation of each subject through the mastery of basic skills, or the “grammar” of each discipline. Through the use of songs, rhymes, games, and the like, we capitalize on the students’ natural ability to learn large amounts of information.
One of the core requirements of the grammar stage (as well as the Logic stage) is the study of Latin. Visit the following link to learn more about why we teach Latin. http://founderschristian.org/academics/our-approach/.
Logic Stage (7th-9th) – This stage develops the analytical mind. By developing strong logical reasoning skills, we capitalize on the students’ natural urge to question the validity of ideas.
During the Logic stage, we study the classic literary works of the Western culture (it should be noted that this is not simply an indiscriminate love of such literature but a biblically informed assessment of how those works and the ideas contained therein have inﬂuenced the Western world, whether positively or negatively). Additionally, the study of informal and formal logic begins, where we cultivate clear thinking and reasoning skills as well as sound argumentation. Students will learn to recognize poor argumentation and logical fallacies and will be able to avoid them in their own written and oral works.
Rhetoric Stage (10th – 12th) – This stage develops the art of effective and persuasive speaking and writing. Through the formal study of rhetoric, we capitalize on the students’ natural desire to speak their mind and be respected. They learn how to express their own ideas in a cogent manner.
The formal study of rhetoric consists of the student learning and mastering the skills of invention, arrangement, style, memorization and delivery of ideas.
Following from the Logic stage, we continue the study of the classic literary works of Western culture (it should be noted that this is not simply an indiscriminate love of such literature but a biblically informed assessment of how those works and the ideas contained therein have inﬂuenced the Western world, whether positively or negatively).
Additionally, the option to study Greek and other foreign languages is made available. Visit the following link to learn more about why we teach Latin. http://founderschristian.org/academics/our-approach/.
The culmination of an FCS education (12th grade) is characterized by the public presentation and defense of a thesis. The thesis defense is a demonstration of the student’s ability to take a particular topic or body of information, master the basics (grammar) of it, to understand that information and formulate sound arguments (logic) in favor of or against it, and be able to deliver an organized, coherent, and compelling presentation of that body of knowledge (rhetoric).
The training of the mind of the student is of great importance—virtually every culture in every era has seen this importance and established educational institutions as a result. As Christian educators, however, we must recognize a fundamental difference in the education we provide and that of non-Christian institutions. We must recognize that since the fall of man, sin has negatively influenced and undermined human intellect. This effect is commonly known as the “noetic effect of sin.” In addition to the results of the fall on our intellect we have a very real enemy, more powerful than ourselves, who himself works to undermine human thinking:
“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” – II Corinthians 4:3-4
Overcoming this ruin of humankind is the very purpose of education! In his essay entitled Of Education, John Milton says it well: “The end then of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright and out of that knowledge to love Him, to imitate him, to be like Him as we may the nearest by possessing our souls of true virtue, which being united to the heavenly grace of faith makes up the highest perfection.”
Though the intellect is affected, man’s chief problem is not intellectual and we cannot merely take an intellectual approach to repairing the ruins. According to theologian and apologist Dr. Gregory Bahnsen, “God’s word makes clear that man’s rebellion against the truth is morally, not intellectually, rooted. The sinner needs a changed heart and Spiritually opened eyes, not more facts and reasons.”
Education must be aimed at the heart. It must be redemptive in nature. As long as knowledge—any knowledge—is divorced from its redemptive purposes, the result is hardening of the heart.
This is why Paul tells us that knowledge “puffs up.” But, when knowledge is incorporated into the student’s view of Christ the result is a continuously renewed heart and a transformed mind. Though we recognize that the changing of a heart is the work of the Holy Spirit, the educator can point the student daily to Christ and the wonder of His creation; the educator must daily commend the souls of his students to the Holy Spirit for renewal and pray fervently for them. In so doing, the educator acknowledges that it is not ultimately minds for which we toil, (though we reiterate the importance of the training of the mind) but souls. In the words of Cornelius Van Til, “The Christian teacher…has the full assurance of the absolute fruitfulness of his work. He labors in the dawn of everlasting results.”
Although subject integration is a facet of classical methodology, it deserves special attention. Odds are good that most adults, in our educational experience, have had little to no experience with the degree of subject area integration employed in the classical model. Most adults (and most students today) have an educational experience wherein specific subjects are taught entirely independently of one another. For example, the literature teacher, the history teacher and the geography teacher may not have an idea what one another are teaching at any given time. Perhaps the literature teacher is teaching modern British literature while the history teacher discusses early Egyptian history and the geography teacher teaches American geography. This approach places a tremendous burden on the student to achieve synthesis of thought. On the other hand, if all three focused on the same time period and geographical region (and better yet, if the same teacher taught them all), a synthesis of thought would be possible to an exponentially greater degree. Moreover, in a Christian school, theology can and must be incorporated, thus providing a cohesive body of thought that is all the more rich. This is but one example of a great many benefits to a thoroughly integrated curriculum. Fellow educator and headmaster Dr. Christopher Perrin is the publisher for Classical Academic Press. In a short booklet entitled Introduction to Classical Education: A Guide for Parents, Dr. Perrin had the following to say about curriculum integration:
“Knowledge is more like a web than a chest of drawers; there are no subjects that are unrelated to others. Literature, history and theology for example are quite intertwined. Anything from the past (in any subject) can be history; anything committed to creative or excellent writing can be literature; and any subject considered in relation to God and biblical teaching can be theology. Until the 19th century, educators understood and taught knowledge as a web, rather than as separate departments”.
Dr. Perrin’s analogies of the chest of drawers and the web are good ones. When subjects are taught as compartmentalized, disconnected and independent disciplines, they are liable to remain that way in the student’s mind. When they are taught in relationship to one another however, then all are indeed intertwined, all bring to bear on one another, and limitless connections can be made. So if Dr. Perrin is right and this is how education was approached up to the nineteenth century, why are we stuck in the rut of teaching compartmentalized subjects when a much more thorough and robust education is to be had? Perhaps we have simply become too easily satisfied. Perhaps C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory was right:
“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about…when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. “
Let us abandon our mud pies and take hold of the infinite joy set before us!
It is interesting to consider whether, in making education a “right” rather than a privilege, we have not also taken away its perceived value. For indeed, what makes something valuable except that it is not readily available to all? Our desire at FCS is that the student would see the value and rarity of the education rooted in Christ. Though virtually every child in America is offered the opportunity for an education, few have the opportunity set before them to worship in spirit and in truth through their education. Every area of study should point the student to Christ, and the educator is instrumental in helping the student to make that connection. This approach is wholly different than that of the education that is a “right” of the student. Such an education makes the student the focal point, and the whole goal of education changes in such a system. The goal of the “rights” based, student-centered education is fundamentally pragmatic: “What score can I get on the SAT?” “What schools can I get into?” “How good or high-paying of a job can I get?” Moreover, the student is indoctrinated with the idea that he has a “right” to all of this. The Christian education, on the other hand, while recognizing the importance of matters such as attending good schools and having good jobs, also recognizes that these are by-products of a truly excellent education (see the section on commitment to excellence).
The goal of the Christian education is entirely different—it is that Christ may be all in our students! If we (parents and educators) are doing our jobs well, we hope to see that the fruit of education is doxology. The idea is not that we would have a series of disconnected, value neutral subjects taught throughout the day with the addition of a Bible class, but rather that study would be synthesized and that Christ would be taught everywhere and always, whether directly or indirectly. Indeed, this is how God intends His Word to be taught:
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
How then is this done? Let us take for example mathematics–the subject area most commonly cited as potentially “value neutral.” Mathematics, like everything else in the created order, tells us about the God of the created order. For example, the fixed order of the laws of math is indicative of the fixed, orderly nature of God. When one and one are added we always get two. Imagine if adding sums produced varied and unpredictable results! Not only is God orderly but He is also faithful. The laws of math never change because the God of math is immutable. As the student grows and sees greater complexity in math he will also see greater order and faithfulness therein. If God is faithful in the laws of mathematics, how much more with the people of His household! God Himself, through the prophet Jeremiah (33:20-21a, 25-26 ), encourages us to observe the fixed order of the laws of nature as a consistent attestation to His faithfulness and evidence that He will continue to be faithful with His people:
“Thus says the LORD: If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night will not come at their appointed time, then also my covenant with David my servant may be broken…If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed order of heaven and earth, then I will reject the offspring of Jacob and David my servant.”
If the student can thus be pointed to God, to Christ, to the gospel, everywhere and always, whether directly or indirectly, then may he see the value of the education rooted in Christ and may he stand he stand amazed in the presence of his Savior in a way that we as parents and educators wish we had when we were in school.
The study of classical languages is another distinctive of classical education and of Founders Christian School. It is a distinctive that also deserves special attention. The study of Latin, and to a lesser degree Greek, has been commonplace for the majority of the history of education in the Western world. It is only recently (early 20th century) that schools have ceased to require Latin as a core requirement and many schools are now realizing the value of such a study and re-incorporating Latin into the school, even if only as an elective. So great are the benefits of the study of Latin and Greek, however, that our desire at FCS is that from third grade onward students are taking Latin (3rd-9th) and Koine Greek (10th-12th). A few reasons we believe this to be the best approach are:
The study of Latin in the grammar school lends itself to the mastery of English grammar at an early age. Latin is the basis of much of the English language (modest studies say over 50%, some say over 60%).
The systematic and rigorous grammar of Latin makes it an excellent intellectual discipline. Latin is the mother of the Romance Languages (Spanish, French and Italian to name a few), so when a student learns Latin he has greatly lightened the burden of learning modern Romance Languages.
Latin is the language of many of the all-time historical and literary greats: Ovid, Virgil, Cicero, Julius Caesar, Pliny the Elder, Pliny the Younger, Quintilian, Seneca, Tacitus, Augustine, and Aquinas are but a few examples.
In 2009, students of Latin scored higher on the reading portion of the SAT than students of any other language. Latin students also scored higher than students of any other language on the reading and writing portions combined (students of Hebrew scored slightly higher than students of Latin on the writing portion).
Grammatically and structurally, the study of Latin also lends itself to the study of Greek. Accordingly, the student learning Greek has a distinct advantage if he has already learned Latin.
Greek comprises the basis of 30% of the English language. When combined with Latin, the two languages comprise the basis of more than 80% of the English language!
Koine Greek is the original language of the New Testament, making its study invaluable to the Christian student, as he will be able to study the New Testament in greater depth than if he were constrained to rely only on the interpretations of others.
For a thorough and healthy understanding of any subject, students must be taught systematically. Note that in virtually every subject a systematic approach is taken. Students are taught the most basic principles of a subject and the curriculum systematically builds upon that foundation until the entire structure of the subject is learned. Often this approach is not taken in Bible, and it is a travesty. Bible must not be taught in a way that is unorganized, superficial, eclectic, or devoid of clarity. Students at Founders Christian School will begin in grammar school by learning basic catechesis that provides a foundation for understanding the doctrines of God, creation, man, sin, the Bible, Jesus, worship, salvation, repentance, prayer, the Holy Spirit, the Church, the Trinity, evangelism, and heaven. Having thus been provided with the foundational grammar of the Bible the students will move into the middle (logic) school where they will survey the Old and New Testaments in order to understand the broad context and application of the truths they have learned. When the student reaches the upper (rhetoric) school they will have a doctrinal foundation and an understanding of how those doctrines are to be understood and applied in both the Old and New Testaments. The student will then take courses such as Church History, Hermeneutics, Systematic Theology, Apologetics and Ethics in order to help them learn to understand, defend, and apply all that God has taught them through His word.
“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (I Peter 2:2-3).
“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14).
“[An elder] must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9, brackets mine).
“But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1).
OUR COMMITMENT TO EXCELLENCE
The vision statement, the mission statement, and the philosophies of education of private schools all across America are shot through with rhetoric about “commitment to excellence,” so how do we dare say that such a commitment could be a “distinctive” of Founders Christian School? Simply put, at Founders Christian School we believe that the very way we view the idea of “excellence” is distinctive. Excellence, even for the Christian school, is often confused with superiority. This confusion produces unfortunate results such as pragmatic educational methods and hyper-focus on external performance evaluation. Excellence should be understood as a pursuit. It is an attitude—a habit—and it is continuous. It is a humble and vigorous pursuit of that which produces godliness (education being a fundamental part of the equation). Thus, at FCS excellence is not to be
measured by above-average ratings on standardized tests, nor by “good grades,” nor by getting into “good schools.” Make no mistake, those things are certainly important but they must be the product of excellence and not ends in themselves. The measure of excellence is whether or not the “daily grind” is acting as a crucible wherein students are daily refined and conformed to the image of Christ. Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo once said,
“In the end the great truth will have been learned, that the quest is greater than what is sought, the effort finer than the prize, or rather that the effort is the prize, the victory cheap and hollow were it not for the rigor of the game.”
To understand that “the effort is the prize” is to understand excellence in Christian education. To understand that the “rigor of the game” is the very thing that gives the victory its substance is to understand the Aristotelian adage, “The roots of education are bitter but its fruit is sweet.”
Our aim at FCS is to pursue genuine excellence—not self-important superiority but that which is conducive to godliness. We desire that our students truly understand that excellence is an attitude essential to all endeavors so that upon graduation they do not see fit to cast off the pursuit of excellence as if it were no longer needed. Excellence must be pursued in every matter to which the student sets his hand—whether at home, at school, at church—no matter the setting. The impartation of this mindset is the very heart of excellence.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).
“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11).
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31).
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).
One of our chief aims at Founders Christian School, expressly stated in our mission statement, is that the student, by God’s grace and in cooperation with parents, will be equipped with the spiritual and academic tools for life-long learning, thus enabling them to think, reason, and communicate well from a Biblical worldview. We fully recognize the need for God’s hand in the accomplishment of this task and additionally assert that a partnership with parents is also necessary to achieve the desired end. The impartation of life-long skills is accomplished in many ways, which we believe to be among the aforementioned distinctives of FCS. The following three principles, by no means exhaustive, represent ways that we believe life-long learning skills are imparted to the student: First and foremost, because human thinking was undermined upon the fall of man, the student must learn to look at all things from a biblical worldview. The student simply cannot come to righteous conclusions apart from right thinking (that is, thinking that has been biblically informed). Secondly, by taking the classical approach the
student spends his early years mastering grammatical skills (not simply English grammar, but rather the grammar of all subjects), his middle years mastering logical skills, and his final years mastering rhetorical skills. Practically speaking, this is how the student learns to think, reason, and communicate well. Finally, by studying the people and works that were the most foundational and influential to Western culture the student is able, under the guidance of a godly teacher, to analyze the questions and ideas that man has wrestled with for centuries. In so doing, the student is able to avoid asking the same questions and making the same mistakes as those who have gone before us. Moreover, the student is well equipped to respond biblically to the questions and ideas that have been foundational to Western culture and to understand how those questions and ideas have impacted the way man thinks and sees the world today. By learning according to these three principles, along with many others, the student is equipped with the ability to think, reason, and communicate well from a biblical worldview for a lifetime.
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
We believe Scripture to be the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience (although the light of nature, creation and providence do manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, so as to leave men inexcusable, Romans 1:19-20). The protestant reformers also held a high view of Scripture, and from that belief they came to hold the doctrine of sola scriptura. Today that same disposition toward Scripture must govern the Church (and by extension, her schools). The verses that demonstrate the efficacy and sufficiency of Scripture are numerous, and a few references are appropriate.
Paul tells us in II Timothy 3:16-17 that,
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
Peter, in his second letter (1:3-8), tells us of the manifold blessings that come through the knowledge of Christ as revealed in the Scriptures:
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 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.”
Finally Paul, in the tenth chapter of Romans, demonstrates the centrality of preaching and the gospel as God’s ordained means of bringing about salvation for the unbeliever (vv. 13-15, 17):
“For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’…So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
So we see that Scripture alone can be the source of Godly wisdom, and accordingly it must govern every discipline.
Our desire for our students at Founders Christian School is an integrated, comprehensive, and synthesized education. Because the student’s doctrinal understanding is intimately related to his understanding of all things, including academic pursuits, a hodgepodge or superficial approach to doctrine is not sufficient. Many schools fail to communicate a consistent message in this regard. Christian schools in general are willing to teach authoritatively in areas such as science, mathematics, history, and even literature.
However, when it comes to the area where God has spoken to us the most clearly—through His Word—many if not most Christian schools shy away from teaching authoritatively and take the approach that all views deserve equal consideration. We send a convoluted message to our students when we communicate to them (through our practice) that in areas of general revelation, such as math and science, we may teach authoritatively, but that in the area of greatest importance—in the area of special revelation, we must not dare to teach authoritatively.
The fourth chapter of the gospel of John tells us that true worshippers must worship “in spirit and in truth.” In order to do this, we must know the truth, and in order to know the truth, it must be taught. As a ministry of Founders Baptist Church, we subscribe to the Statement of Faith and Doctrine of Founders Baptist Church, and will teach in accordance with and not contrary to said statement.
Having thus been provided with a robust doctrinal foundation, by the grace of God students will be able to grow into spiritual maturity so that they “may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”
“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm“