Classical education has served mankind for well over two millenia. It was developed by the Greeks and Romans, transformed by the church, and became a building block of western civilization. The classical approach to learning is comprised of three parts: method, content, and culture.
What is the Classical Method of Teaching?
Methodology in classical Christian schools, including Agape Christi, is modeled after Dorothy Sayers’ ideas in “The Lost Tools of Learning.” Sayers identified three learning stages in children and suggested the classical trivium provided an appropriate teaching style for each stage. The trivium is the historical pedagogy of the church and other ancient cultures. It is a method that has been well investigated from many angles and stood the test of time.
The trivium stages are Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. The Bible describes three types of learning: knowledge, understanding, and wisdom, which correspond with the trivium. By grounding the trivium in the fear of the Lord, it provides an effective method for instructing students in the acquisition of not only basic knowledge and understanding, but also wisdom (Psalm 111:10, Prov. 1:7, Prov. 9:10).
The first part of the trivium, Grammar, is implemented in grades K-6. Children are developmentally equipped to memorize quickly, easily, and joyfully during this period, so the focus is on teaching students the grammar of a subject – its structure, rules, and vocabulary. For instance, they learn times tables in math class, names of rivers in geography, and verb endings in Latin. They do this by rote memorization, chanting, and singing. It may seem monotonous to an adult, but children at this age enjoy it.
There is a subset of the Grammar stage for pre-K through 2nd grade (Early Grammar). At this stage rote learning is balanced with a greater emphasis on developing the habit of attention, hands-on exploration, and active learning through movement and song.
In the next stage, called Logic, the facts memorized in the Grammar stage are linked together to become understood. This corresponds to the middle school or junior high years. Students at this age are not content with the “what” of a subject, but now turn their thoughts to the “why,” the reasons, causes, and rationale behind the “what.” This can manifest itself as questioning, debating, or arguing. The object then is to use that natural mindset to train them into students who can reason and argue rightly. This is done not so they can grasp power by besting others in argument, but rather so they can correctly assess new ideas when they are encountered, accepting or rejecting them based on the standard of God’s Word and encouraging others to do likewise. In addition to a formal logic class, every course in this stage is taught with a heavy emphasis on reason and logic.
Finally, during the high school years when children become young adults and seek to express themselves, the classical method moves to the Rhetoric stage. Students learn to synthesize information from many sources in order to discern truth, form opinions, and articulate positions. There is a formal rhetoric class, but moreover, every course emphasizes public speaking, writing, and presentation. The goal is to take the student beyond knowing truth to sharing it. The wise student will use the skills of rhetoric to confront falsehoods in a winsome manner that suits a child of the King: with a heart seeking to rescue others from error.
What is Classical Christian Content?
The essential piece of any Christian student’s curriculum is the Holy Bible. We learn to read, so that we can read the Bible. We learn to write, so that we can share God’s word with others. The Bible contains His Story with Christ at the center of it. History then, is also an important piece of Christian education. Since God established and spread Christianity through the west, a historical, west-centric focus allows students to gain an understanding of the origins of their own culture and to view modern society from within its place in the greater story of creation, the fall, and redemption. Through this approach students also learn the historical context in which the Bible was written. This emphasis will greatly benefit graduates in a lifelong study of the Word.
History study at Agape Christi is broken into four time periods: Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance, and Modern. Teachers take an integrated approach, where the time period under study influences the topics not only in history class, but also English, music, art, etc.
An integral part of understanding a culture is knowing the language of the people. Since Latin is the foundational operating language for western civilization, it is taught at Agape Christi beginning in third grade. Click here for more on the benefits of studying Latin.
Agape Christi students study famous western philosophers, such as Plato and Aristotle. Much of our modern thinking comes from their schools of thought, for as Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” However, we do not teach their ideas to hold them in high regard, but rather to present the best ideas the world has to offer while training students to identify and refute any falsehoods from an intelligent, solidly-biblical perspective.
Agape Christi students also study great Christian philosophers, church leaders, and influential church matters. Typically marginalized in secular curricula, this emphasis equips students not only with an understanding of the historical impact of the Church on society, but also deepens their understanding of the modern-day Church.
Outcomes of Classical Christian Education
The classical approach prepares students for lifelong learning. The building blocks of grammar, logic, and rhetoric result in graduates who understand how to approach new subjects – they have learned how to learn. Further, they have done so in the context of joy, where a love of learning is freely modeled and shared as a means of glorifying God. Thus graduates are equipped not only with the tools of learning, but also with the desire to use them for His glory.
The classical approach also prepares students for godly leadership within their gifting. Graduates are equipped to pursue excellence and model servant leadership within their spheres of influence and as their role instructs, starting with their homes, churches, workplaces, and communities. In this way, classically-trained students who are grounded in a biblical worldview and in submission to Christ are equipped to go forth and transform the culture for His glory.