Whitefield Academy Blog
Lifelong Learning through the Liberal Arts
If you’ve been around classical Christian education for even a little while, you will soon come across the phrase “lifelong learning.” We want our students to continue learning past their school years as they go forward into God’s calling on their lives. We want them to become leaders in their churches, able to read Scripture effectively and to proclaim its truth winsomely. We want them to be good spouses and parents, leading families through each new challenge that faces them. We want them to learn new ideas and skills that will equip them to succeed vocationally in our rapidly changing economy.
That’s a lot of different things to know! So how can we hope to accomplish these lofty ambitions?
“Lifelong learning” is not mere talk. Along with the fathers of our faith, we believe that teaching the seven liberal arts actually affords our students the opportunity to become life-long learners. We are not making stuff up. The 12th century theologian, Hugh of St. Victor, concisely and beautifully explains:
…[T]he ancients especially selected seven studies to be mastered by those who were to be educated. These seven they considered so to excel all the rest in usefulness that anyone who had been thoroughly schooled in them might afterward come to a knowledge of the others by his own inquiry and effort rather than by listening to a teacher. … Therefore, they are called by the name trivium and quadrivium because by them, as by certain ways (viae), a quick mind enters into the secret places of wisdom.” (Didascalicon 3.3)
Classical education tries to make teachers and classrooms obsolete in a student’s life–eventually. We want our students to be able to go find knowledge for themselves. Not that they would abandon their communities. Rather, they should become the kind of people who can discover new knowledge and learn new skills for the sake of their churches, families, and cities.
So what do we mean by the seven liberal arts?
The seven liberal arts are arts in the sense that they create a product. The carpenter plies his art to produce furniture out of the raw material of wood. Likewise, the learner uses the seven liberal arts to produce knowledge out of the raw material of thought. Most arts or skills, like carpentry or home building or cooking, create physical products. The liberal arts produce mental products: concepts.
The seven liberal arts are liberal in the sense that they set a person free. The word liber in Latin means “free.” These seven arts empower people to consider well what options lie before them; they are not enslaved to their ignorant first impressions or base desires. Those with the liberal arts need not be deceived by clever persons who seek to manipulate them.
There are seven: grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. The first three have to do with language. Together, they are called the trivium. In Latin tri- means “three” and vium comes from via, which means “path.” The trivium are the three paths of language into knowledge.
The last four liberal arts are the quadrivium. These four paths utilize the medium of mathematics on the journey to knowledge.
At Whitefield, our lower-school students spend most of their time learning the arts of grammar and arithmetic, even though they are introduced to all the other arts along the way. Our upper-school students also continue perfecting their understanding of grammar and arithmetic, but they dive deep into logic, rhetoric, geometry, music, and astronomy (which in the modern world has branched into all the other sciences).
Because students gain ability in these arts, they can go on to learn all sorts of other kinds of knowledge. In short, we teach the seven liberal arts so that our students can become “lifelong learners.”
Interested in transferring your older student to a classical Christian school? Click below to download our webinar on how to make the transition easier.
Have a future kindergartner at home? Be sure to watch our webinar on getting your child ready and reading!