Russell and Duenes

What is Classical Education?

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As I continue to think about education, particularly the education of my sons, I’m increasingly drawn to what is now termed Classical Education. This is just a useful term for what used to be called an education. But the days when this kind of education was the norm passed long ago from the public school realm, and the classical model is not easily found among private schools either. But just what is “classical education?” Well, there are lots of ways to describe it, but I liked the way that Jessie Bauer describes it in her wonderful book, The Well-Trained Mind. She writes,

What is classical education? It is language-intensive – not image focused. It demands that students use and understand words, not video images. It is clear to me in my own teaching which medium my students prefer. Writing and speaking are two skills that are in constant need of remediation among today’s students.

It is history-intensive, providing students with a comprehensive view of human endeavor from the beginning until now. I once asked my Bible students to write down who they thought were the three most influential Christians from the end of the New Testament era to the year 1000. Once again, the results will not surprise you. Virtually none of them could even name a Christian in that time period, much less name the influential ones. But in truth, it’s not their fault. We’re now several generations into an educational system that has no interest in helping students acquire “a comprehensive view of human endeavor from the beginning until now.” So of course, parents aren’t motivated to impart it. I received nothing like the classical model in my own education, and I went to one of the best public high schools in California. Seriously, my high school U.S. History teacher “taught” us about the Civil War by putting on a video of North and South, starring Patrick Swayze and Kirsty Alley. I was taught government by a guy who was more interested in seeing if he could fling his classroom door open at just the right speed to catch the latch than he was in helping us master the notion of the separation of powers. The assumption is that learning history in the classical kind of way is not practicable and if one is interested, then they can learn such things in college. But this is just the problem, if the young mind is not trained to know and love history in this way, how will the lost years be made up? In my case, they never will be, no matter how hard I try. And what is lost in our Christian young people when they are truly devoid of any kind of knowledge and understanding of 2000 years of church history and historical theology? But no one cares if they know anything about the Trinitarian Controversies. The church certainly doesn’t.

It trains the mind to analyze and draw conclusions. It is difficult just getting students to tell teachers what sentences and paragraphs mean, much less analyze them and draw proper conclusions based on them.

It demands self-discipline. Enough said.

It produces literate, curious, intelligent students who have a wide range of interests and the ability to follow up on them. In other words: dorks, right? The key is creating these kinds of students when they’re young, when their minds are equipped to take in and memorize great gobs of information, so that when they are in their teens and twenties, their now fertile minds have good soil in which to grow luscious intellectual and spiritual fruit.



Written by Michael Duenes

July 15, 2010 at 8:27 pm

Posted in Duenes, Education

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