Article XIV: Classical Education is Formal, Traditional, Rich and Rewarding

The second installment of a speech entitled “Classical Liberal Arts Education” delivered to the Coram Deo Academy College of Faculty at a Headmaster’s Day.

A classical education is precise and formal:

In the tradition of the west, this is education that is chronological and ordered, not haphazard, or fragmented.  From poetry to physics, recitation to rhetoric, systematic line upon line, precept upon precept, principles are taught, reinforced and applied.  Precision and formality in education run against the tide of a casual, apathetic and egalitarian culture.  It acknowledges the supremacy of God, the Bible and the teacher in the classroom, and parent-educator at home in the life the child.  Rather than placing the child at the center, content and structure fill and organize the child.  The student learns needed habits of mind.

A classical education is traditional and enduring:

It is an approach to education that held favor for at least two thousand years before its Hegelian displacement over a century ago.  Unlike other educational methods, this is one that is time-tested; it enjoys historical ballast.  The student moves through an established body of content with specific tools and methods employed for centuries.  Everyone studies the same general curriculum.  Eratosthenes, Blaise Pascal and Dorothy Sayers had their lessons in grammar, logic and rhetoric and so do our sons and daughters.  Isocrates and Quintilian advised that children learn a progressive set of thinking, speaking, and writing heuristics through the progymnasmata. Our students not only learn these formulas but employ them as a means for learning to reason and express that reasoning with poignant creativity.  This approach is no easier or harder than ever before.  In post revolutionary America, Thomas Jefferson bemoaned that children no longer read the good books.  Leonardo Bruni, Chancellor of Florence in 1404 wrote The Education of a Renaissance Woman, and stated that true learning has almost died away amongst us.  However, in their day, only the privileged received the upper levels of such an education.

John Adams was the only child in a large family to complete this kind of education because he was the one with the most potential.  We seek to provide this education to every enquiring being because of a passion to develop free people under God.  This traditional and enduring education will enable students to make innovative decisions for the coming decades.

A classical education is rich and rewarding in the content of the liberal arts:

This Christian education in the liberal arts includes a curriculum, an educational culture (paideia) encompassing the scope and sequences, books, methods, classroom environment and decorum from the debate podium, to the soccer field and back to the dinner table. The goal of a classical education includes learning how to learn, a skill that will serve the student, the parent and the educator for the rest of their lives.  Moreover, a Classical Education serves to connect students, parents and educators with valuable knowledge from centuries past and an invaluable view forward to the Lord’s return.

Consider that the liberal arts produce artists, for they are traditionally the arts taught to the free or liberated person. Just as the master of wood, paintbrush or structure is trained to produce something true, beautiful and good; so is the student trained in the liberal arts.  While the process is demanding, arduous and time consuming, it is also joyful and the product, like the beautifully painted canvas, gracefully carved falcon, or consummately designed opera house is to be a thing of beauty, rightly proportioned and useful to the world around it.   The liberal arts when applied to the human mind, heart and imagination can produce similarly beautiful things in the life of the student. The mind of the student is developed, disciplined and nimble. The heart is inspired and trained to discern good and evil—true, sacrificial love compared with selfish, faux love.  In addition, the imagination is guided to be keen, creative and true, like the mind ’s eye, it vividly pictures the story of dedicated Moses, wise Eratosthenes, handicapped Demosthenes, available Cincinnatus, prudent Oliver, observant Galileo, brave Joan de Ark, creative J.R.R. Tolkien and perceptive T.S. Eliot. These ideals guide the liberal arts student who has worked hard, cooperated with the process and grown to love God as the source of all truth.

Thus, a student trained in the liberal arts should mature to great fruitfulness guided by a mind well furnished, a discerning heart and a vivid imagination.


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