Article XIIl: The Head Teacher’s Hall of Heroes

As Head Teacher of Coram Deo Academy in Dallas/Fort Worth, I wrote blogs, sent letters, delivered speeches, posted pod casts, held great books conversations, served as a local newspaper columnist and used any available means of persuasion to build cohesion around classical education.  I knew the whole institution could easily drift toward mediocrity and like the frog in the kettle slowly become like the other schools in our region if I did not lead from the front with respect to our distinctives.  In fact, we viewed reaching the entire learning community that grew to three thousand children and adults in the course of ten years as great opportunity to change the lives that would improve the future.  Following is the text of a speech entitled Classical Liberal Arts Education delivered to the CDA college of one hundred faculty at a Headmaster’s Day a few years ago.  Since it is a bit long for one post I will break it into three.  If you would like to read entire text at one time you may do so in the growing eBook, The Headmaster.

The Hall of Heroes

A classical education is a Christian (traditional) liberal arts education.  It is an education in a historic Christian worldview through a vigorous classical curriculum.  Designed for the free person under God, this education enlarges those who recognize true liberty and work to preserve and extend its influence under God.  It is not a secular or pagan education in the liberal arts seeking the liberation of man in terms of himself.  Nor is it simply a superior education reserved for an elite class seeking an elevating education as part of their career track, even though it is most certainly an education superior to that, which dominates contemporary schools.  It is not a technical education designed to reap the highest SAT score and advanced placement test success although this is often a benefit.  A classical education develops in the student a virtuous, well-trained habit of mind that liberates the student for the glory of God.

The pantheon of classically educated covenant-influencers throughout the history of the world illustrates the value of such an education as preparation of the contemporary Christian student.   Moses received the classical education of his day when schooled in “all the wisdom of Egypt” and deeply infused with the traditions of his Hebrew fathers.  He went on to lead God’s covenant people out of bondage, to receive the Law of God on Mount Sinai, to deliver the covenant and promises and to prepare the children of Israel to inherit the land of Canaan promised to their forebears.  Solomon received a classical education when schooled first according to the Hebrew Shema, a verse of scripture that became the great confession of Israel’s monotheistic faith, and the verses immediately following it wherein the Lord said,

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.  And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when your walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up…”  (Deuteronomy 6: 4-7)

He became renowned for His wisdom, his grasp of natural sciences, art, architecture, poetry and music and brought Hebrew culture to incomparable heights.  However, his life illustrates the pitfalls awaiting even the best educated and the most brilliant.

Daniel, one of Israel’s best and brightest, educated as a Hebrew and as a captive in the Babylonian court, found his place as a remarkable prophet and a leader in Babylon.  Paul the Apostle illustrates the consummately educated Christian, beginning with his studies in the synagogal schools, mastery of the Torah, and of classical literature and rhetoric.  On Mars Hill, he brilliantly weaved his knowledge of Greek polytheism and poetry into preaching the resurrection of Christ with high rhetorical skill to penetrate the proud Athenian culture with the Gospel.  These giants of the faith transformed the world because of the equivalent of a classical-Christian education.

The hall of heroes continues as the educated Athanasius, contra mundum, doggedly defends orthodox Trinitarianism at and following the Council of Nicaea.   Augustine also liberally educated answered Tertullian’s question, “What indeed, hath Athens to do with Jerusalem?” by agreeing with Origen when he said, “All truth comes from God” and again that we should, “plunder the [educational] Egyptians.”  In other words, if truth is found in pagan literature and research we should acknowledge it as from God and enjoy its benefits.  His On Christian Doctrine saved rhetoric for the Middle Ages.  Later Thomas Aquinas brilliantly blended Christian theology and Aristotelian philosophy as an outgrowth of his monastic education developing the dialectic as a pedagogical form to sharpen the minds of his seminarians.  His works formed the Organum or instrument of education that dominated the Middle Ages.

In the fourteenth Century Gerard Groote was converted and established the Brothers of the Common Life.  The biggest impact of the brethren was in the area of education.  First he formed schools that made education available to common people.  Then these schools went on to cultivate a large number of famous pupils including Thomas à Kempis, author of The Imitation of Christ, and Erasmus, the greatest scholar of his age and an agent of reform. Likewise, such luminaries as Luther, Melanchthon and Calvin were all educated in Brethren schools earning Groote, a Roman Catholic, Luther’s praise as the “Father of the Reformation.”  The ideas taught by the brethren had consequences as far reaching as the foundations of western religious, political and economic liberty.

Their Christian schools transformed culture over the course of hundreds of years, just as yours will.


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