Westside Rhetoric

What is Classical Christian Education?

classicaleducgraphimageBy Bernard J. Mauser, Ph.D.
With the increasing failure rates, violence, immorality, and attacks on God in public schools, many believers are looking for an alternative when it comes to educating their children. Those that look into classical Christian education wonder how it differs from other types of education. Education that is classical is admittedly old.  Some may fear that any appeal to an education that is classical must be inferior because it is not new. After all, isn’t real progress seen in the incredible technological advances we’ve been experiencing the last 150 years? This way of thinking is identified by the late British scholar C.S. Lewis as an example of ‘chronological snobbery.’ Those that reason this way say that what is new is good while what is old is bad. Both old and new things each need to be evaluated to see whether they are good or bad.

What is the standard by which to judge whether an education is good? To answer this one must answer what the point of an education is. After all, it makes no sense to say a particular thing, for example a knife, is good or not unless you know what its purpose is. If one looks at a functional explanation, things that fulfill their purpose are good; those that don’t are bad. A good knife is one that is sharp and cuts well. A bad knife is dull. Similarly, a good education is one that both causes and equips a person to become a better human being leading them to ultimate happiness, i.e., God. A bad education corrupts mankind and leads away from the highest attainable goods.

What are the elements of classical education that one can evaluate? There are several important marks that make an education classical, but three are evidently different from the public schools. These are the trivium, studying Latin, and reading primary texts.

First, schools identifying as classical emphasize teaching what is called the trivium, namely grammar, logic, and rhetoric. More is entailed in the trivium than is immediately understood. Many of us remember learning grammar in school, how to think about things, and being required to explain our work in different contexts. The work many of us did that overlapped with the trivium did so accidentally. It is simply because of the nature of communication that we learned patterns of speech and thought from our parents, teachers, and environment.  Classical schools intentionally work to improve these three areas as they are the foundation of the life of the mind. Philosopher Miriam Joseph explains:  The trivium is the organon, or instrument, of all education at all levels because the arts of logic, grammar, and rhetoric are the arts of communication itself in that they govern the means of communication—namely, reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Thinking is inherent in these four categories. Reading and listening, for example, although relatively passive, involve active thinking, for we agree or disagree with what we read or hear.

Reading, writing, and reckoning – though covered in both types of schools—are emphasized differently in Classical schools as they keep an intentional focus on the trivium.

Second, classical schools emphasize that students learn Latin. Although the importance of Latin cannot be overstated, there are five noteworthy reasons to have students learn Latin.

  1. People undertaking a detailed study of Latin truly understand English grammar. This overlaps with an explicit goal of the trivium.
  2. Leaders in our society retain portions of Latin to communicate with each other (e.g., in medicine, science, and law).
  3. Learning Latin and its forms allows a student to imbibe a rich cultural heritage that has been shared with some of the greatest minds for the past 2000 years.
  4. It helps students score extremely high on the Verbal section of standardized tests (162 points higher than the national average on the SAT) leading to more possible money for college. This is possibly explained due to the fact that 60% of English words are derived from Latin.
  5. For the Christian, the majority of Christian thought has been written using Latin for the last 1600 years.

These five reasons combine to provide a reasonable justification for (at the very least) teaching children Latin in school.

Third, classical schools emphasize students reading primary texts. Rather than reading about a book, a classical approach makes sure students are exposed to the great works of some of the greatest thinkers that have lived. This differs from most public schools and even undergraduate programs. Rather than having textbooks written by others that tell you the thoughts of great works, students get to enjoy the thoughts in each book first-hand. For those of us that love teaching primary texts, we see it as the difference between telling someone how great something is versus bringing a student along to experience it (imagine someone telling you how good something tastes compared with actually getting to enjoy it yourself).  This approach also means that of the scores of books in existence, students get to focus on only the greatest and most enduring. This shapes each student’s taste for quality work.

What about the Christian component? It doesn’t take long to notice that not every classical school is Christian (some may say not every school that calls itself Christian is either). The classical Christian school has an edge over others.  The reason is that there are certain things God has revealed about Himself (e.g., He is Triune, Jesus is God, God created the heavens and the earth, etc.) and the rest of reality that can help guide us as we evaluate different works. As believers there is the admonition to make right judgments and demolish arguments that are against the knowledge of God; there is also instruction to focus on the pure, excellent, and praiseworthy.  These can be implemented as an important grid to help guide both teacher and student. The teacher is a support when the student struggles with the material until the student also learns through instruction and example how to stand firm.

In sum, a classical Christian education emphasizes the trivium, Latin, and primary texts guiding students to understand all of reality through the lens of a Christian worldview.  Miriam Joseph refers to English poet Matthew Arnold on the goal of education:  The fruit of education is culture which is “the knowledge of ourselves and the world.” In the “sweetness and light” of Christian culture, which adds to the knowledge of the world and ourselves the knowledge of God and of other spirits, we are enabled truly to “see life steadily and see it whole.”

We see this classical Christian approach as providing a means to help us reach our chief end- to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

A Christian Perspective on Constitution Day



By Bernard J. Mauser, Ph.D.
Many of us recognize that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Even so, few have actually read what it says. Surveys indicate a terrible lack of knowledge that the general public has about what is actually in the Constitution. Recognizing that many college students also have a severe ignorance of basic American history (including who won the war between the states), I guess this shouldn’t surprise us. The Annenberg Public Policy Center found, for example,

  • While little more than a third of respondents (36 percent) could name all three branches of the U.S. government, just as many (35 percent) could not name a single one.
  • Just over a quarter of Americans (27 percent) know it takes a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to override a presidential veto.
  • One in five Americans (21 percent) incorrectly thinks that a 5-4 Supreme Court decision is sent back to Congress for reconsideration.

The call for basic civics education can help us to regain some of that which has been lost.   The study of civics should include more than is currently taught.

Government – where one person or group rules over another – is an ethical activity. This may come as a surprise when looking at our current government. Over a century ago Mark Twain quipped, “It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.”  When teaching government, I start with asking students what improvements our nation has experienced since its founding.  Overwhelmingly students recognize our technology is better. There is, however, a sense that certain practices in our society are worse (even if some are better).

Thomas Jefferson appeals to natural law in the Declaration of Independence in reference to inalienable rights that were violated. Natural law is the universal moral law that gives a grid through which to evaluate whether a law is good or not. Note that this law was cited when condemning the evil of the Nazis after WWII. The Apostle Paul refers to this in Romans 2 as the moral law written on the hearts of all people. Given its importance, both instructors and politicians should be very familiar with natural law in order to judge whether a law is good or evil.

There are other aspects to the Constitution a Christian worldview shapes.  If these aren’t grasped, it undermines the context for understanding this founding work. It is also why so many disregard the Constitution and in effect destroy the limits of government.

One belief of the founders was that man is inherently sinful. This explained the structure of the government they devised. James Madison famously wrote in The Federalist 51:  But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

Note that human nature (in contrast to angels) is given as the reason for the separation of powers. This was so no single branch gains power over the others. Due to the desire men have to dominate others, dividing powers keeps the other branches of government in check (establishing the system of checks and balances).

The founders provide something that counters sinful tendencies of mankind.  Given that men seek power, the Constitution does several things. First, it keeps the federal government from accumulating more power over its citizens. Second, it keeps the other branches of federal government in check. Third, it delineates what powers the federal government actually has. And, fourth, it gives all other powers to the states. The primary author of the Constitution, James Madison, explains in the Federalist 45, “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.”

The Constitution not only delineates the expressed powers of each branch of government, it also is given to protect citizens from the federal government. Those familiar with history know that the Federalists and Anti-Federalists debated this very topic and the result is seen in the ‘Bill of Rights’ added to the Constitution. Note that these rights restrain the Federal government. Perhaps the most neglected, and arguably the most important, the tenth amendment is a robust statement defending state’s rights against an encroaching federal government. It says, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” The significance of this amendment is huge. States can use this amendment to stand against federal regulations that have gone far beyond what is allowed in the Constitution.

The founders also did not view the Federal government as superior to the government of States. Federalism is the view that there are two levels of government having authority over the same group and yet are independent of each other. This was a unique contribution of our nation’s founders. It was an idea that had never been heard of before 1787.
Government exists not only to restrain evil, but to promote good. Politics and government is NOT a neutral activity, but is by its very nature daily engaging in debate and enforcement of laws that are taken to be good in order to oppose evil. The founders all agreed that government has a vested interest in inculcating virtue in its citizens.  Moral guidance and promoting virtue is essential to a nation that values freedom and desires to maximize human flourishing.

The natural law explains why people have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To guarantee its citizens these things required protection from not only foreigners, but also from domestic powers. The primary domestic power that created concern was in fact the Federal government itself and the Constitution served to keep this power in check. In order to have liberty AND the ability to pursue happiness, the Federal government needed to minimize their intrusion into the lives of its citizens while protecting them from foreign powers.

In sum, every course that teaches American government or civics should provide a study of ethics rooted in natural law, the proper understanding of Federalism, and delve into how the founder’s view of human nature influenced the structure of government. These three areas were developed from a Christian worldview and provided a unique answer that was unheard of before this time in world history. Until the time when the Lord returns as our judge, lawgiver, and king – our American government as it was originally conceived may be the best human government we can have. Understanding the Constitution and returning to its restrictions on the Federal government is perhaps the greatest hope we will have for mankind to flourish as one nation under God.

At WCA, students study the different types and foundations of government along with the Constitution as part of their 10th grade Civics class.

Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in a Tale of Two Cities

By Katie Good, Westside Christian Academy Student, Grade 9


Charles Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities in 1859. This excellent story of a family struggling to stay together during the giant turmoil of the French Revolutionary season is a literary masterpiece featuring a complex plot, creatively incorporated literary devices, and a heartwarming romance. Although there are distortions of Biblical concepts in this book, there are also various elements of truth, goodness, and beauty displayed.

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Just What Did Mary Know?

By Jim Whiteman, Headmaster, Westside Christian Academy

Ah, the profound questions of Mary, Did You Know?

Mary did you know that your baby boy will someday walk on water? Mary did you know that your baby boy will someday save our sons and daughters? Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new? This child that you’ve delivered will soon deliver you.

Thus begins a popular song written by Mark Lowry that our own school’s children recently sang at our recent Christmas concert.

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Why Do We Teach Latin?

By Kelly Brenner, Latin Teacher, Westside Christian Academy

Each day at WCA, we are about the business of educating and preparing leaders to impact the world for Christ. Offering students God’s truth and knowledge of our world, past and present, serves to equip them mightily for whatever our Lord calls them to do.

Winston Churchill, beloved Prime Minister of England and rhetoric genius, has been said to have “mobilized the English language and sent it into battle” during World War II. He credited his mastery ofwords to his training in Latin, which he called a “privilege to learn.”
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