Whitefield Academy Blog
Classical Christian Education: What’s the Difference?
I remember a conversation I recently had with a Christian friend who wondered aloud why our family would pay to send our children to a classical Christian school when the new charter school down the road was free. Caught off guard, I did not know how to respond. I mumbled some answer about how we really love our school and the people, both of which are true, but how does that compete with free?
Articulating just what exactly sets classical Christian education (CCE) apart from public education (or even a traditional Christian one) can be a challenge. The biggest difference lies not in what is actually being taught, but rather the end goals. Unlike modern education where a student is expected to simply know certain facts before moving on, the origins of classical training began with the ancient Greek approach to education. Steve Turley explains that, “The ultimate goal was what the Greeks termed morphosis, the transformation of the student.” Early Christians adopted the methods of Greek education and encouraged fathers to educate children in Godly wisdom and virtue; students learned to love the pursuit of truth.
Forming People Rather Than Workers
Over the past few hundred years, public schools have shifted from the ancient model to a more practical, utilitarian approach. The progressive era of education arrived where the end goal was no longer the pursuit of lasting things—wisdom, truth, goodness, beauty—but rather a means of obtaining a certain job or career. Career preparation is not inherently a bad thing, but when schools replace the glorious pursuit of knowledge and wisdom with career readiness, they are training workers not whole people. In The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education, Leigh Bortins writes, “Classical education encourages us that we are capable of becoming an Oxford don who builds bicycles, or a plumber who reads Milton, or a business owner who spouts theology. The classically educated are not defined by their occupation so much as by their breadth of knowledge and understanding.” CCE instills critical thinking skills and the ability to communicate ideas, the benefits of which are necessary in every career field.
Building upon ideals of traditional classical education, a Christian classical education not only ignites a lifelong love of learning, but it commits to the pursuit of God’s truth in our daily lives. In his celebrated book, How Should We Then Live, Francis Schaeffer states, “The biblical message is truth and it demands a commitment to truth…” We cannot teach grammatical, literary, mathematical, or scientific truths to our children without the Truth of the Gospel. The Bible speaks famously of the truth setting us free (John 8:32), and classical Christian schools believe strongly that we must teach children how to pursue these truths.
But What Does This Look Like?
So how is the pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty realized in the classroom? One major difference is that classical schools are not confined by “teaching to the test.” While classically trained students typically do very well on standardized tests, it is not to this end that they are taught, so there is naturally more freedom in the classroom. The following are just a few teaching methods commonly found in classical Christian schools:
- Cursive handwriting from Pre-K on
- An emphasis on the memorization of poetry and Scripture
- Training in composition and Latin in Upper Elementary
- Formal training in logic and rehetoric in Middle School
- Seniors write a thesis and orally defend it
Classical Christian education prepares students for the future by standing them on the building blocks of the ancients, emphasizing the love of learning and the pursuit of Biblical Truth over mere career readiness.