Whitefield Academy Blog

Why “Specials” Aren’t Special at Classical Schools

by | Jan 21, 2021 | Classical Christian, The Arts, The Classroom | 2 comments

A “Special” Part of Childhood

Most of us remember a few bits and pieces from or days in elementary school. If we attended a typical, modern American school, we had our classroom and a little desk. We had a teacher who gave us lessons in reading and math. In those classrooms, we learned to tell time and count money and do a thousand other little skills.

And then, at some predictable time each week, all of that stopped. Perhaps there was a chart on the classroom wall to tell students the predictable time at which the classroom lessons would end.

It was time for “Specials…”

Most, if not all, of our teachers called them Specials. It’s just a common piece of elementary school vernacular. You know what Specials are:



PE (or “Gym”)

Why were they special? That title carried a lot of assumptions.

Maybe it meant that those classes were a little extra bonus. You know, a reward for all of the real learning students had done.

Or perhaps those classes were a privilege for students. (Meaning the privilege could be removed!)

The weekly appearance of the teacher with the paint-stained apron or the warm-up suit and whistle communicated something different to each student. One student fed on the noise and chaos of PE class while another felt anxious or insecure. At least a couple of us were just relieved that the classroom lesson was over.

Those classes might have been “special.” But maybe not for the right reasons.

No More “Specials”

Admittedly, it’s just an easy word to use – it’s just shorthand.

But during this last year at one of our Tuesday morning faculty meetings, an interesting thing happened. One of us used that word – “Specials.”

And another teacher jumped in, “Can I just say something? I don’t think we should call them that. Because we don’t have Specials.”

We all instinctively knew what our colleague was saying. We didn’t need to be convinced. We just quietly considered the truth of what had been said. We already knew that Art isn’t just “craft” time. Music isn’t just “singing” time. PE isn’t just “chaos” time.

In the silence, I joked, “Maybe we should call them ‘Regulars.’”

More Than “Craft Time”

So what do I mean we don’t have “Specials?”

But here’s what we really mean, what we have been practicing all along:

We don’t consider Music, Art and PE to be “extra.”

They aren’t “bonuses” for kids if they do their work, or if the school happens to have leftover money to fund them. (One day in my Kindergarten Art class, we only had green paint. That’s all the school could come up with for our poor teacher! I know this because my mother taught there and she was only given one piece of paper per student per day.)

They aren’t some contractually obligated hour of babysitting so the teachers get a planning time.

Whatever we call them, we consider Music, Art and PE to be essential to our students. They are equal to Math, Science and Reading. Those are the hours when students learn to delight not just in how their minds are made, but their whole selves. In Music, they learn to control and work with their voices. In Art, they learn to control and work with their hands. And in PE, they learn to control and work with their bodies. They learn the pride of craftsmanship, the delight of interacting with God’s laws just by kicking a ball. They learn that God has made them to create with their minds, bodies and spirits.

In every classroom, our students learn virtue. They learn Prudence, Temperance, Justice and Fortitude – the four cardinal virtues, posted in every classroom at Whitefield. The Justice of a well-played game, the Fortitude of well-done work, the Temperance of well-sung melodies, the Prudence of well-solved problems. There is so much more that happens than the painted paper that comes home or the points scored.

We haven’t settled on a better word yet. The thing about classical education is that it’s a lost art. And sometimes, we have to create a new vernacular.


  1. James Perkins

    Another well rounded education argument. I remember when I chose not to take an art class one of my high school years. I was very talented with art but I wanted to do something else that conflicted and I made a choice. The art teacher would give me dirty (grimacing) looks that whole year whenever I passed her in the hall or by the art room. I did enjoy art. The art teacher’s looks worked and the next year I was back in the art room. We need to exercise all of our brain the left side and the right because they work together. Creativity is art and without it, no one could invent anything. PE works the body that helps to clear the mind and it makes our bodies feel good to be used. Back in my school days I never heard the term “Specials” probably because of growing up in a small country town. We had classes we had to take then we filled up the other classes with what we liked to do band, art, language (Spanish or other), woodshop, or other common things in the past. I am so thankful for Classical Education because the public school system has lost its way as it now has an agenda that is not to educate our children with knowledge and skills to enrich their lives.

  2. Richard K. Williams

    Thank you for your observations. The Kindergarten teacher at my school sent me the link to your post.

    Specials came into use because the instructors were considered specialists in their subject area.

    We, too, struggle with what to call them. The one suggested term I like the most is calling them co-curricular, which also includes athletics.

    I’d be interested in what you come up with there. Thanks again.


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