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What is Classical Christian Education? – Western Civilization

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This is the fourth and final installment of our series on What is Classical Christian Education and Why is it Good? In the first three newsletters, we discussed the purpose or telos of education, the structure of classical Christian education of Grammar-Logic-Rhetoric, and last week we discussed some of its particular methods and habits. Today we move on to the fourth key component of classical Christian education, which is its content: the books students read, the history they study, the discussions they entertain, the music they listen to, etc. This is probably the single aspect of classical Christian education most often associated with whole of the education itself, and for good reason.

The best parenting advice I’ve ever received is this: the task of parents is not to give kids what they want, but to give them what is good and pray they come to want that. The exact same thing can be said of classical Christian teachers: our goal is not to give students what they like, but to give them what is good and then pray they grow to like that. This idea is at the very heart of classical Christian education.

There are a thousand applications of this idea, but here is one. I grew up hating broccoli. I hated everything about it: the taste, the texture, the smell, the crunchy stalk and the crumbly top. Everything. As a kid, I just wanted to eat chicken nuggets and french fries for dinner every night. But my mom knew broccoli was good for me, so she kept putting it in front of me and requiring me to eat it, whether I enjoyed it or not. And guess who now likes broccoli? I eat steamed broccoli, fresh broccoli, broccoli soup, and roasted broccoli. It didn’t happen overnight, but day by day, meal by meal, over a long period of time my mom cultivated in me a taste for broccoli. As classical Christian parents and teachers, we strive to do the same thing for our students: day by day, class by class, book by book, we want to put True, Good, and Beautiful things in front of our students and we pray that over time God will cultivate in them a love for those things. 

We as parents know this instinctively: there are some things in life that are better – more true, more good, and more beautiful – than other things. A classic car is a classic car because it has stood the test of time and has been found to be better than other cars. The same can be said of almost anything: books, music, art, architecture, entertainment, ideas, etc. Something in the human soul gravitates towards those better and timeless things; you almost never see a vintage Ford Pinto on the road anymore, but classic Mustangs, Camaros, and Corvettes are a different story. GFA’s goal as a classical Christian school is to bring our students into contact with those timeless things so that their souls might be drawn to the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty found in them. 

Let’s look at one example. Soon I will be reading Paradise Lost by John Milton with my sophomore students. Paradise Lost is a tough read: it is 400 pages of dense poetry, big words, allusions to things no one knows anymore, etc. My students and I will spend the better part of an entire quarter reading and discussing it together, and they won’t always enjoy it. So it is reasonable to ask: wouldn’t we be better off having them read something they actually enjoy? My answer is that Paradise Lost is a lot like broccoli: it is good, regardless of how anyone might feel about it, and by putting Paradise Lost in front of students day by day, by loving the language and the ideas and the imagery in the presence of students, they can also come to love it. It isn’t easy, but it is worth it.