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What is Classical Christian Education?

So we have officially plunged head first into a classical christian education at home. We have had several people ask us what this means exactly.  While a simple google search for “classical Christian education” will provide countless blogs, websites and articles about the subject, they are all usually written by people who have received classical educations. I am not one who goes around criticizing public education, but I have found lately that my schooling has left me inept to read many of the articles explaining what I am supposed to be doing as we classically educate our daughters.

Thankfully, the tutorial we are a part of – Classical Conversations – has parent practicums all over the country with presenters that help parents like me who don’t know which way is up to find North and gain my bearings. I feel that my single year of exposure to classical Christian education, combined with the reading I have done and the parent practicum will help me to provide a simple explanation of what it is. I would love to hear comments from others who are classically educating or who were trained classically. Please feel free to share below!

I will springboard off the contrasts made at the parent practicum and insert a few of my own observations. Most people are familiar with the way public education works.  Thirteen years of school with the content building on itself. Early in education, few subjects are learned and gradually more are added as the students gain a better understanding of fundamentals.  By the end of high school, the hope is that enough exposure to a particular subject has given the student enough interest to be able to specialize in something either in college or to move into the workplace specializing a a certain trade. Standardized tests are the norm to determine how the students compare to others. The standard educational model is entirely student centered. It’s focus is on helping the student master subjects and exalts the achievements of those who do well.  Each subject stands independent of the others. The diagram below illustrates this model with the student in the center and each of the subjects focused inward.

Many times a Christian education is no different. What makes it a Christian education is just that the Bible or theology is an additional subject still exalting the student’s achievements.  Christian schools may also attempt to integrate a faith-based perspective into the other subjects as well. The best example of this would likely be in science with the study of origins and evolution (…perhaps another blog post).

A classical Christian education, on the other hand, aims to remove the student from the center and to integrate the subjects. This helps the pupils to see how everything they study relates to everything else.  Further, God is placed in the center and the goal is to see how He has orchestrated this interrelation between the subjects. As the students observe how God has woven a thread through creation, history, art, grammar, science, language, etc., the natural response is to exalt him as the maker of all things. God becomes the exalted one, not the students.

Here the diagram looks much like a wagon wheel. Each subject exerts pressure on all the other subjects as it is being learned and the centerpiece (God) holds it all together. Remove the center, and everything falls apart. The method shifts away from an emphasis on studying subjects and more toward an emphasis on the tools of learning.  If students can learn “how to learn,” then their education will not end with graduation.

Classical Christian education is organized around the trivium, latin for “three strands/ways.” The trivium can be divided roughly into three phases of life. While there are no particular ages associated with each phase, in general they are distinguished like this. Grammar – These are the elementary years. Dialectic – Late preteen to Junior High. And Rhetoric  – High school. Each phase of the trivium is characterized by a particular way of assimilating and organizing information. In the grammar stage, students just take it in.  This is often referred to as the “poll parrot” stage because children love to imitate and repeat as a way of taking in new information. For example, from a young age we work with our children on learning their colors.  We start with the basics: red, blue, yellow, orange, purple, green. As they grow through the grammar stage, they add to their database of colors new information (new grammar). They learn that there are different shades of red, pink for example.  The dialectic stage is when students begin to organize all the information they have taken in. You will notice with tweens and junior highers that they like to question a lot. This is because they are trying to make sense of all the information they are taking in. They want to compare what mom has said with what dad told them. This is a natural phase they go through in their cognitive development. The goal of the dialectic stage is to help students develop ways of organizing and classifying information.  Here they may take all the colors they have learned and place them on a color wheel or a light spectrum. It is also during the dialectic stage that students begin to make connections between the subjects.  As they study the physics of light in science class they will see that light is made of colors at different wave lengths. Ding! Connection between art and science, not to mention math (wavelength measurements).

The rhetoric stage is when students examine all the information and how it is organized from all sides so that they become able to persuade or teach others about it. The greatest test of a student’s mastery of a subject is their ability to effectively communicate it to others.  A student in the rhetoric stage needs to not only know about color but they need to be able to explain to others why there are different hues in the sunset.

I am sure that someone who has been teaching classical Christian education or was a product of it could provide a much better summary but here it is as I understand it.  We never leave the grammar stage. Currently the new grammar I am learning is about gardening and how to homeschool with a classical Christian approach. Below are a few of the resources I have used to better understand what classical Christian education is all about. Included is an excellent article by Dorothy Sayers – this would be a great next step if you would like to read more.

~JK

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Homeschool Curriculum Shopping!

This morning we hit up our second homeschool curriculum sale.  We went to this same one last year at Clearview Baptist Church in Franklin and were able to find most of our resources we needed for kindergarten.  This year we have a larger book list and I am hoping that if we get there early enough we will be able to find most of our curriculum. We have not settled in on a literature guide yet so I’m hoping I may find one at the sale I like. The list of supplements we have are books that are recommended for further reading that we can live without. If I find them on a good deal, I will snatch them up!

I created several wish lists on Amazon to help organize what I am looking for. I have printed these off and am bringing them to the sale as my shopping list.  This will not only help me to refrain from buying things I do not need but each list also contains Amazon’s price so I can compare!

I thought I would post links to the lists here.  I know homeschool families are always interested in what others are using.  I basically created the lists from the suggestions of two books that are forming the curriculum strategy of our homeschool. The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise-Bauer and The Core by Leigh Bortins. We are using a classical education model and the resources chosen for next year tie in with the content we will be learning with our Classical Conversations co-op.

So here are the lists! Wish us luck!

First Grade Core Curriculum Texts

First Grade History Supplements

First Grade Biography Supplements

First Grade Science Supplements

We chose to homeschool because…

A friend suggested I blog about homeschooling. This will be the first post I make about our decision to homeschool our children rather than send them to public or private school.  I don’t intend to highlight the pros and cons of each decision, rather to just share our personal reasons.  A children’s minister I follow on twitter has written several good posts that are objective and thorough if anyone is considering and would like some things to think about.  Check them out here, here, here, here, here and especially here.

So why did we choose to homeschool? The answer can be summarized in one word: discipleship. We believe that our primary role as parents is to disciple our children so that they will become life-long followers of Jesus Christ. If we have accomplished anything as our children transition into adulthood but we haven’t done that, I believe we have failed in the responsibility God gave us. Homeschooling was the best way for our family to accomplish those goals in a way that we felt was adequate.  We certainly do not believe that homeschooling is for everyone. We also believe that many children who are raised with a public education are incredibly devout people of God.  This was simply the best decision for our family. 

A couple of reasons why we felt we could disciple our children better with them learning at home than at a public school.

1. Character. I remember hearing that many schools are now required to have some sort of emphasis on character building.  I am extremely thankful for this. It cannot however be catered to the character building needs specific to my own children.  Each one of our two daughters has very unique gifts as well as unique flaws.  At home we are able to address the character traits that are most needed for each of them.  One way we have decided to do this is through our “Nifty Fifty” memory verses.  Each week we learn a new memory verse. Since I created the list myself, I could choose some verses that show what God’s word says about character. If our older daughter is having a hard time showing kindness… next week’s memory verse is on kindness!

2. Biblical integration. I don’t have a background in education but I have spent a lot of time in the Sunday school classroom.  I feel I have a thorough knowledge of the God’s story and the players he used throughout history to accomplish his purposes.  It’s a blessing to be able to refer to stories from the Bible to help illustrate a particular lesson. For example if our daughters are doing their phonics (learning to read) lesson I will try to use some word examples from our morning Bible lesson or the week’s memory verse.  The Bible is full of numbers and things that can be numbered so for early elementary math, I never have issues finding examples.

3. Peer network. One of the biggest objections to homeschooling is that children do not get socialized in the same way than if they were in a classroom of 20+ other children. This is true.  They don’t get the same kind of socialization.  We simply decided that wasn’t a bad thing.  Every Friday we join 20 or so other families for a co-op called “Classical Conversations.” I will go into more detail another time about the curriculum but as for socialization, the kids are divided into ages and meet in classrooms with their peers.  Our daughter has 8 other kids in her class.  They interact together as they learn and are encouraged to cooperate with one another.  She has a presentation each week in front of her class and after class is over all the children eat and have play time.  We have arranged another get together with homeschool families at our house where the children have a music and spanish lesson. Following lunch they are taught science and art through Skype with Krista’s mom.   We are happy to choose the children and families that our daughters interact with.  At some point in their lives I am sure they will begin choosing their own friends and our hope is that they will have a better framework for choosing their buddies.

4. Parental influence. Discipleship is not taught – it’s caught.  Krista and I believe we are the most influential people in our daughters lives. This is a blessing God has given to parents but there is also much demanded.  They are watching all the time to see if what we say and what we do matches up.  Having our daughters at home has a way of forcing mom and dad to be on their best behavior. I take great pride in knowing that our daughters get to watch my wife and learn from her.  I consider it an awesome privilege that I have extra time to show them how a man ought to treat a lady.  They are watching and catching. Krista and I set the standard for what healthy relationships look like for our daughters. If we pray that our daughters will grow up loving God and loving others more than we do it’s easier not to settle for selfishness in our own walk with Christ. We can show a relentless pursuit of God that happens all day, every day and it will be built into the rhythms of their life.

That’s probably enough for now.  Its been an exciting journey as we started homeschooling this year.  I will share how it got started in another post.

Blessings.

~JK

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