Why Classical Christian Education? Bringing Order Out of Chaos

comic02By:  Emily Billings

C.S. Lewis eloquently summarizes my love for great literature in his book An Experiment in Criticism, “The best safeguard against bad literature is a full experience of good; just as a real and affectionate acquaintance with honest people gives a better protection against rogues than a habitual distrust of everyone.”  This is what a classical Christian education gave me: the tools to safeguard against the lies that the world offers, and an opportunity to participate in the Great Conversation. The Great Conversation is the ongoing process of writers and thinkers referencing, building on, and refining the work of their predecessors.

Some parents may think, after understanding what a classical Christian education is, why is it so beneficial? Isn’t a Christian education sufficient for the welfare of the child? I will argue an emphatic “no” in this article and seek to explain so through the academic benefits, spiritual benefits, and personal benefits I have received from a classical Christian education.

First, the trivium in classical Christian education is multifaceted. It can be used for several different purposes in education. Etymologically, the Latin word trivium means “the place where three roads meet”. These three “roads” are grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Grammar is the “ABC’s” of a subject, logic is the “why” behind the subject as well as a defense of, and rhetoric is the capstone in which a subject is fully understood and articulated winsomely.  The trivium can be used in an individual concept, within a subject as a whole, and also for the understanding of child development.

The trivium can be applied to a single subject. For example, my third graders memorize the ABC’s of their multiplication table (grammar), then they articulate that 3 x 2 means three groups of two, adding three two times (logic), and finally they can complete multiplication problems with two digits (12×15) and explain the process as they complete the problem (rhetoric).
The trivium can be applied to a larger subject area. Sticking with math, in the grammar stage students memorize addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts as the foundation of mathematics, along with basic math principles. In the logic stage, the students move on to more complicated math learning the “why” of math in algebra and syllogisms in geometry, and finally in the rhetoric stage all principles previously learned in math are applied.

Finally, the trivium is applied to child development. Children in the grammar stage (grades K-6) are excellent at memorization. They memorize math facts, timelines, grammar jingles, all with joy. Children in the logic stage (grades 7-9) become interested in the “why” questions behind what they have learned and learn how to present arguments intelligently. The rhetoric stage (grades 10-12) is the capstone of learning in which students speak and write on works of literature, history, apologetics, and so on. The trivium not only complements the academic development of a child, but also enhances spiritual development of the child.

Left alone, the trivium without Christianity is sorely lacking.  Without the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, knowledge is futile. After all, our love of creation is a holy use of our intellect for God’s glory. Classical Christian education offers Biblical integration throughout all subject areas. At a classical Christian school Biblical integration is not simply Bible class and chapel, but teachers implement sacramental practices in their classrooms such as prayer, worship, service, and scripture memorization. Classical Christian teachers teach under the umbrella that “all truth is God’s truth”, and to study the creation that God redeems in the resurrection of His son Jesus Christ. Such Biblical integration in science, math, history, etc. develops intelligent men and women prepared to fulfill what Jesus prayed to his Father in John 17, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” Classical Christian education offers personal discipleship of the student by their teacher who prays for and exhorts them in the way they should go. The trivium, Biblical integration, and personal discipleship enable students to love the Lord with both their mind and soul as they go out into the world and seek the welfare of the city in which they live.

St. Augustine says in book two of his On Christian Teaching, “A person who is a good and true Christian should realize that truth belongs to his Lord, wherever it is found, gathering and acknowledging it even in pagan literature.” Some parents look at me quizzically when I tell them that I teach Greek mythology in third grade. Why teach such pagan literature? The answer is that my students are to find truth, wherever it may be found. They learn to articulate the terms polytheism vs. monotheism and learn to pick out Christian virtues found in Greek mythology (there are many!).  Virtues in story, myth, and heroes are all found in such works, as well as much pagan literature of the Great Tradition. For example, Athena, the goddess of wisdom, is a just and good goddess who protects and respects those around her, whereas Ares, the god of war loves bloodshed and is portrayed as unintelligent and a crybaby. Naturally, my students would rather be an “Athena” than an “Ares”. Even though I don’t believe in Plato’s religious philosophy, his Allegory of the Cave portrays a Christian principle of salvation and coming out of darkness into light.

Learning the Great Tradition (primary texts in the canon of great literature) and participating in the Great Conversation taught me how to thoughtfully engage in culture, loving the Lord with my mind. I can now intelligently reflect on presidential debates, criticize arguments of pop culture, and weigh the theology presented by my pastor. Classical Christian education equips students to become lifelong learners who as adults seek the welfare of their cities, intelligently present and defend the gospel, and practice thoughtful criticism of the postmodern world in which they live. Classical Christian education reflects God’s character of bringing order out of chaos. In a world where virtue is called vice and vice virtue, students are given the academic, spiritual, and social tools to engage the world with the mind of Christ through completion of the trivium, Biblical integration, and personal discipleship.

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.

A Priority of Play

by Jim Whiteman

Here is a quiz for you. Just how much time at school do you think your young child should spend in outdoor free play? Twenty minutes? An hour? None at all? Adults often do not ask this question thoughtfully. When I asked a few children what playShotWebschool would be like if they had no recess, the responses included the words sad and torture. This reaction is no commentary on their classroom adventures, only their fundamental understanding that free time and outdoor play is essential.

Increasingly, schools around the country are ignoring research and sound developmental practice by reducing (and in some cases eliminating) recess, free time and play in the elementary grades. Reasons? To spend more time on math, to prepare for state-mandated testing, or to reduce conflicts, bullying and injuries that most often occur on the playground. “A central factor contributing to the growing disappearance of children’s spontaneous outdoor play and to the standardization of playgrounds is the prevailing view, even among many professional groups, that free, wild, spontaneous play is frivolous, inconsequential, and irrelevant in the educational program of schools.” (Frost; The Developmental Benefits of Playgrounds, p. 27.)

So is play so important? Isn’t it beneficial to take it out of the school day by replacing it with something more productive… more adult… something measurable? Our school believes (and research supports) that regular free play, especially outdoors, is vital for a child’s healthy development – socially, emotionally and cognitively. Play is what children do beginning in infancy. There is shear joy on a child’s face as she throws a beach ball, runs after or away from a parent, plays “peek-a-boo” or blows bubbles for the first time. Playing dress up with a friend, “house” with a sibling or “school” with a classmate comes naturally to most children. Even pretending to “work” by being a doctor or talking on a play cell phone or taking an order as if at a fast food restaurant is creative play that a child enjoys. Running free on the playground, playing games with rules, climbing on outdoor structures, digging in the sand, playing soccer without a referee – what’s it all worth? Volumes have been written on this topic, but for those that are looking for the bottom line, here it is.

There are four basic types of outdoor play.  Functional play includes movement for movement’s sake. Examples might include bouncing a ball, running, jumping rope, using the hula hoop, chasing and climbing. Constructive play is when children use objects to build, create cities or forts or paint on the sidewalk. Store-bought kits (such as Legos or K’nex or train sets) are great for this, but often the natural environment is preferred. Our youngest children often play this way in an area protected by trees. The casual bystander may miss the intricate town developed out of small sticks, tiny pebbles, leaves and dirt. Dramatic play provides children the chance to role-play, taking on the persona of another. Pretending to sail on the high seas, using a playhouse as a store, becoming a superhero, marrying one’s 5-year-old classmate, or playing with dolls are examples. Games with rules are another type of play that includes simple or complex rules. Some are created or worked out on the spot, while others are passed down by siblings and friends. I am not including organized sports in this, but instead games like hopscotch, four-square, “spud,” capture the flag or made up games with complex rules that develop over time. (Source: Burris and Boyd, Outdoor Learning and Play.) All four of the types of play are not only natural for children, they are still naturally attractive to many adults.
Play creates a natural environment that aids in a child’s development by:
  • Helping them negotiate change. A child’s outdoor free play changes often due do new opportunities, classmates’ preferences, varying playmates from day to day and environmental changes such as weather. Many eager children flow through change with excitement and ease. Others discover painful disappointment in unpredictability or in a modification in their preconceived agenda. On the playground, children learn to compromise, see change as an opportunity and discover new territory from others. “There is a time for everything, a season for every activity under the heavens.” (Ecclesiastes. 3:1)
  • Developing confidence by providing opportunity for risk-taking, developing physical and social skills and providing opportunity for role-playing and decision-making. As children get older we want them to be able to take steps of faith knowing that their confidence is ultimately in the Lord. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
  • Growing in social skills. The social world of children is most important and free play allows and even demands social growth that will transfer to a variety of social settings. In play they need to listen to each other, compromise, invite others in, develop a skill of saying “no thanks” and navigate the difficult waters of conflict. During group play, children interact with others without adults making the rules or playing referee. They figure out that trust is valued and being honest and fair gains the trust of peers and adults alike. “Love your neighbor as yourself…” (Matthew 22:39)
  • Encouraging creativity. Free play involves problem-solving, constructing and analyzing. By its very nature, play encourages the creation of games, rules, roles, drama, expression through art and imagination. As children get older, their play becomes increasingly sophisticated and symbolic. This, along with play’s healthy exercise, produces increased cognitive ability. “In the beginning, God created…” (Genesis 1:1)
  • Embracing joy. At our school, joy is serious business. Learning can be fun (but isn’t always) and school should provide a balance of reality that allows for shear enjoyment. Thus, our teachers will from time to time say things like, “Kids, the sun is finally out! Let’s drop everything and spend fifteen minutes outdoors enjoying God’s provision!” Many years ago I had a father proudly tell me that his 14 year old son had grown up so far without “all that child’s play” and instead focusing on more adult behaviors. A year later the boy attempted suicide. To take away regular free play is to rob a child of balance. “Let us rejoice today and be glad.” (Psalm 118:24)
  • Promoting healthy exercise. According to the Center for Disease Control, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past thirty years. More than one third of our children and adolescents are overweight or obese! The health issues are enormous and lifestyle habits begin in childhood. “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s spirit dwells within you?” (I Corinthians 3:16) “You were bought with a price. So glorify God with your body.” (I Corinthians 6:2

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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