Trivium Pursuit

The Transformation of Classical Education

And be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 122)

What is Classical Education?

Is Classical Education reading Homer and Plato, or Caesar and Cicero? Many classical educators would say yes – reading such literature is an essential part of a classical education. But, does an unbridled focus upon classical – Greek and Roman – literature lead us toward Christ?

We define a Classical Education differently. We pursue a classical model and a classical method for education – namely, the Trivium – but we have only an incidental interest in the classical humanist literature. We do not want to pursue these three tools of learning – classical languages, skill in thinking, and skill in communication – so that we can really read Homer and really think like Aristotle and really speak like Demosthenes. As Christians, we want to learn languages, logic, and rhetoric so that we can really read, and think, and speak – period! We want to master these useful tools, but we do not want to use these tools as the ancient Greeks and Romans used them. They used these tools to serve everything except the true and living God. We want to use them to serve nothing but the true and living God. The Greeks and Romans took these tools and used them to pursue their own purposes. We are only reclaiming what is rightfully the inheritance of the godly, cleaning them up, and turning them back to serve our Lord. The Scriptures contain everything we need to test every word of man, and to convert what is redeemable to godly use. Before we can use anything – including classical literature – we must sift it through the critical screen of the Scriptures.

What Do We Mean by "Classical?"

We choose to limit our meaning of "classical" to include only what is of good form and lasting value (= classical), and which conforms to a Biblical standard within a Biblical worldview (= Christian). We must carefully sift everything which is classical in the humanist sense through the critical screen of the Scriptures, and we must give whatever passes that screening a new meaning within the Biblical worldview. So, by "classical," we do not mean all culture and literature of ancient times, or of mediaeval times, or of renaissance times, or even of colonial American times. We do not want to revive some previous period of supposed glory. We are not bound to the classical humanist literature or tradition. We focus instead upon what – out of all of these cultures and times – is redeemable for Christ. We want to sort through the rubble and redeem only what we can bring into conformity to Christian order and under the rule of God’s law.

A Biblical Model for Education

If we are to transform classical education in order to make it serve Christ, then we need to follow the principles of a Biblical model for education, which include

1. All true education must begin with the Word of God.

And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, . . . All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable . . . That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. (Second Timothy 315-17)

God’s Word is a sufficient guide for all things necessary in life. God’s word opens our eyes to the correct way to view the world, and teaches us principles which direct how we should live in the real world. It tells us the proper order of things and the proper relationship between things. It gives us truths to establish our knowledge, values to guide our understanding, and goals to direct our wisdom. Therefore, knowledge of the Scriptures is of first importance. An education which does not give first place to the Word of God, does not measure up to the standard of God’s Word.

2. God has given the family sole jurisdiction over the education of children at home.

Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul . . . . And ye shall teach them [to] your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. (Deuteronomy 1118,19; compare 49,10; 64-9)

And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath; but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. (Ephesians 64)

The father is ultimately responsible for his children’s education. Working with his wife, and with whomever else he may choose to employ in his service, he directs their education toward godly goals. The primary role in determining a child’s educational success is not played by the curriculum, nor by the school, nor by the teacher, nor even by the mother, but by the father. Our modern culture is under an educational curse.

And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse. (Malachi 46)

3. The goal of education is to fully prepare a child for adult life.

Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 226)

According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness . . . . (Second Peter 13)

There is more to education than academics. A complete education should prepare a child for mature adult life. All elements of education should work toward preparing sons to make a livelihood and to be husbands and fathers, and toward preparing daughters to be wives and mothers and to manage their households. True education will build a genuine family-oriented culture upon the foundation of God’s word.

4. The ultimate goal of education is holiness – to teach separation to God in order to serve Him.

And ye shall be holy unto me; for I the Lord am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine. (Leviticus 2026)

For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. (First Thessalonians 47)

All education is essentially religious. When state educators leave God out of every subject, and they teach the social perfectibility of man, they thereby inculcate the religion of atheistic humanism, and they separate children for the service of society through the state. When Christian educators relate every subject to God, and they teach the redemption of the world in Christ alone, they thereby inculcate the religion of Biblical reality, and they separate children for the service of God through Christ. Any education which is truly Biblical will teach children how to distinguish good from evil, truth from falsehood, right from wrong, and holy from unholy.

And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean; (Leviticus 1010)

But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Hebrews 514)

Why Do Christian Parents Want to Follow a Classical Style for Education?

1. Academics. Certainly some parents are attracted to a classical style of education because of the academic achievement it promises. They want their children to have all of the advantages which come from knowing the classical languages (Latin and Greek), from knowing how to think (Logic), and from knowing how to communicate (Rhetoric). They have high standards for their children’s education. Much of this flows from a sincere desire to give their children the tools to excel for the glory of God.

2. Results. Children who have the basic tools of learning – the Trivium – are able to move forward and master any area of learning on their own. Whatever our goals may be, the classical style of education lays the broadest and most solid foundation for achieving them. Parents recognize how teaching their children to teach themselves will free their children to better serve God in the world.

3. Methodology. The best reason for choosing a classical style of schooling is simply because this is the natural model and method for education – which God wrote into reality. So what if the Greeks and Romans used it to serve their ungodly purposes? We simply take it back, clean it up, and use it to serve God in the way which He originally designed. The classical style of education has been successful for thousands of years because it conforms to the created order of things. It works well because it matches reality. If we ever learned anything, then we learned it by the Trivium method – whether we knew it or not. But it is always better to know what we are doing, and that’s what Teaching the Trivium is all about.

Don’t Try This at Home

If we try to follow a classroom model in our homeschool – dragging in the desks and chalkboard, conforming to a one-size-fits-all scope-and-sequence method, following a rigid bell-ringer schedule, and the like – we may buckle under the burden. That kind of schooling does not fit well in a homeschool environment. Rare is the pair of parents who have the time and the talents to bear such burdens. It will truly test our determination to homeschool. The great strength and advantage of homeschooling is that it releases us from the burdens of the classroom and invites us into the natural schooling environment of one-on-one tutoring in our own home.

Homeschoolers are raising a generation of custom-built children – no factory models here. We want to keep it that way. The classical model and method for education leaves plenty of room for the several different approaches to homeschooling – from Charlotte Mason to Konos. The goal of a classical style of Homeschooling is to tutor children in those skills which will make them able to teach themselves whatever they need to learn throughout their life. Our purpose is to show you that you can homeschool in a classical style with a Christian vision, and without buckling under the burden.

This article is based upon Chapter One of the new book, Teaching the Trivium: Christian Homeschooling in a Classical Style, by Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn.