Into the Promised Land of Classical Education

The title is a little tongue in cheek if you know anything about Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land. Any promise that an educational system is going to be idyllic will be found to be false, just as anything in life that promises to be idyllic will be false. Marriage, child-rearing, work, art…these are all arduous tasks fraught with difficulty. Any parent who thinks that choosing the right school will solve their parenting problems needs a reality check. Having said that, there’s no sense making life harder than it has to be. Not all schools are created equal.

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I left off yesterday’s post with my first impressions of a local Classical Christian School called Gloria Deo. I think my oldest was still about three when I first stopped in, so the next year we put her on the waiting list for Kindergarten. In this post I’m going to try to explain Classical Education and then I’m going to try to answer some possible objections or dilemmas regarding making a choice besides public schools.

Maybe the easiest place to start with Classical Education is with its modern development, even though its roots go back much further. In 1947 Dorothy Sayers gave a lecture at Oxford that turned into The Lost Tools of Learning. In 1991, Douglas Wilson wrote a book called Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning that popularized Sayer’s methodology and became associated with the modern Classical Education movement. (It is important to note that Classical Education is more than a methodology, but sometimes it is helpful to jump on in before trying to figure everything out). The methodological model is the Trivium, pictured below, where students are taken from Grammar to Logic to Rhetoric as they progress from elementary school to middle school to high school. From a purely “process” standpoint this means that kids are first taught facts and basic skills, then taught to how to fit those things together, then taught how to defend/use them. Some examples: my daughter had to memorize all the countries in Africa during her kindergarten year (obviously among other things); Latin is still a requirement; as is writing in cursive.

Because Gloria Deo is a Christian school, the Grammar stage includes things that they would not normally hear at a public school, such as the creation account in Genesis 1. It is interesting as 2020 has progressed to see how much of the traditional narrative of Western civilization is being replaced in public schools with questionable history such as the 1619 project, but Gloria Deo remains committed to understanding Western civilization as more than an oppressive patriarchy. Even within the framework of the trivium, content is still key.

When I stopped off at the school and asked about Classical Education, the principal told me that the big difference she had noticed between the public schools and the Classical school was that at the public school, kids were taught where to find answers, but in the Classical school they were required to memorize/know the answers. That appealed to me because my own experience of “learning” is that it begins with a foundation of knowledge, so when learning a foreign language things like vocabulary and syllabary were starting points which could then be built upon.

If your kids attend a Classical school then you are going to hear lots of songs about the names of States, countries, historical events, etc… It may driver you a little crazy. But on the other hand, if I’m ever on some kind of quiz show and there’s a question about States I can always sing Fifty Nifty now! As a parent it really is amazing to see how much stuff kids can soak up and memorize.

If you choose not to send your kids to public schools you will obviously face some challenges. Private schools cost money. Public schools are shaped around a 5 day work week so you may find yourself with a scheduling challenge when homeschooling or attending private school. There are also considerations about socialization, community, sports, and such things. So like a good king going to war you ought to count the cost before embarking on this journey. I will limit myself to the dilemmas that we faced in making this choice.

First, there was the financial issue. When we started down this road money was very tight and so we knew that even a few hundred dollars out of our pocket would be a stretch. But you find a way to afford what you really want, whether that is a new car or a vacation or a nicer house. Once we made the decision to do this we knew that we would have to steward our resources and trust God. One nice thing is that if you are already committed to giving to God first, you have already established a pattern of faith and obedience in your life that makes this easier to tackle.

Second, there was the issue of scheduling. With 2 younger kids not of school age and an “at home” component to Gloria Deo, we knew that the daily schedule would be taxing. In this we have been very blessed with help from willing grandparents. But again, this decision was made easier as a result of praying/planning for Katie to be a full time domestic engineer. Titus 2:4-5 makes clear that this is a godly aspiration for any wife/mother. Actually, calling it an aspiration is too weak. This is the biblical mandate for Christian wives and mothers.

Tit 2:4  That they (older women) may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, 
Tit 2:5  To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. 

Then there was just the sheer courage it took to take the path less traveled. Would the school be good for our kids? Would they miss out on important things? Would they be overly sheltered and unable to cope with the world? Being a parent is a heavy responsibility as the choices we make for our kids’ childhoods will be their childhoods! And whatever choice you make as a parent will be up for criticism by others and by your future adult children.

We are only a year into this journey as our eldest starts first grade, but we are continuing down this road with faith and joy. It’s always dangerous to recommend a specific course of action to others because it is impossible to control outcomes. I do think that we have reached a unique time in our nation where the off-ramp of public education is more appealing than ever.

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