Classical Education

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08/24/11 Notes from Chuck Colson at BreakPoint

Let’s do a little thinking about modern education — how it’s failed us and what alternatives we have.

So-called “modern” education was already failing students in Sayers’s time (1947), and it certainly is today.  That’s why so many people, including Christians, misunderstand facts, or they’re swayed by specious arguments, or they have no idea how to properly express ideas in ways that are coherent and believable. Modern America is rife with the telltale signs of miseducation.

What is a classical education?
Classical education advocate Susan Wise Bauer puts it this way: “Classical education depends on a three-part process of training the mind.

  1. The early years of school are spent in absorbing facts, systematically laying the foundations for advanced study.
  2. In the middle grades, students learn to think through arguments.
  3. In high school . . . they learn to express themselves.”

Classical education uses natural developmental stages to train students to discern between true and false facts, understand good and bad arguments, and develop the ability to turn their thoughts into intelligent words. What more could we hope for our kids? It’s the kind of education that prepares men and women for all areas of life. Plumbers, engineers, executives, housewives all will have to sort out facts and arguments and make themselves understood.

Classical education also trains young minds to think holistically about life. Most modern education is compartmentalized. Classical education teaches that astronomy is related to economics is related to philosophy. Truth in this model forms a rational whole, which is at the heart of a coherent worldview.

Now, while Classical education doesn’t have to be Christian, much of it is Christian. And when the classical approach is mixed with Christianity, the result is powerful. Children become men and women who have taken a Christian worldview to heart.

If you have children or grandchildren, let me encourage you to seriously consider classical education. More and more communities have classical schools. Modern education has been failing students and society for decades. We need — and in classical education we have — a better alternative.


Aug 23, 2011 Chuck Colson – Two Minute Warning

You’ve probably got a young child who knows exactly how many miles it is to the planet Mars or that Jupiter has 64 moons. How does he know that? He knows that because young children have an enormous ability to memorize facts. Parents and teachers recognized that as far back as the late Roman empire.

They also saw how what we would today call middle school, they begin to put facts together into arguments and then the process becomes argument. And teenagers have always tried to understand who they are by attempting to express themselves in the same way, it’s part of growing up It’s the process God has built into each of us.

Ancient teachers observed and then built an educational system around human nature. They called it the trivium grama dialectic and rhetoric and it’s making a comeback in the classical and Christian education movement and none too soon because our kids are really struggling.

Test scores are down. Students lack even basic command of history. Reading comprehension is dismal and careful argumentation is an absolutely lost art. Listen to the teenagers and you’ll understand.

Modern education fails students because it mixes up the natural order of learning. We want third graders to express themselves when they ought to be memorizing the multiplication tables and rules of grammar. Then we wait until high school to teach foreign languages when students have lost the desire to memorize. And we allow students of any age to spout opinions on any and every topic without caring whether or not they’re arguments make any sense.Where’d we go wrong?

Writing in the spring issue of the Wilson quarterly, historian Daniel Walker How made the connection between classical education and virtue. Really important. He explained the rise of moral relativism undermined the role of classics in American education ever since the Middle ages. He wrote, a classical education had represented a synthesis of reason and virtue. Citing scholar Karl Richard, How proposes that it was a consequence of declining confidence in human reason and virtue that dimished respect for the ancient writers and and the heroes they celebrate. Moral relativism undercut trust in the standards the classical authors have long embodied. A classical education may therefore provide our younger generations a path back from moral relativism.

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