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Classical Christian Education

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 divid­ed into two parts: method and con­tent.

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).

Grammar Stage

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.

Logic Stage

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.

Rhetoric Stage

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.

Classical Christian Curriculum

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.

Click chart to open as pdf:

classical method by stages 11x17

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