It's easy to assume that because classical Christian schools like Trinitas are not publicly-funded, government schools, they must be substantially the same as other private Christian schools of which there are many in our area. This understanding, however, is fundamentally flawed. Since its inception in 1999, Trinitas has maintained a commitment to a classical approach to Christian education which has resulted in the school being accredited by the Association of Classical Christian Schools (ACCS). To aid in understanding the differences between traditional Christian schools and classical Christ-centered schools like Trinitas, consider the following indicators of a classical approach to education.
The pursuit of wisdom consists of basic things: reading boni libris, competing with a charitable heart on the field, turning in commonplace books, parsing Latin and Greek, working out complex Calculus problems, reciting poetry, memorizing Scripture, crafting essays, exercising your vocal cords in choir, and submitting your best art (even if you don’t think you’re much of an artist). Well, maybe it is better to say that these are the concrete ways you will pursue those lofty aims advocated by Aristotle, namely phronesis and techne. Both of them are arts aimed at the cultivation of the soul, phronesis meaning moral virtue, and techne meaning skilled virtue. Morals and skills. Or to use Paul’s language, “by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).
Two things are happening in this post. First, we are finishing up our series about the education journey by addressing the question, Is there a better path toward helping our children become virtuous human beings whose lives are surrendered to Christ? Second, and as a way of answering that question, we are kicking off a series about “The Good Soil” report that we endeavored to write a year ago but which was rudely interrupted by COVID-19.
Periodically on a journey it is good to pause and ask oneself a few questions, even if only briefly and in one’s own mind, to make sure of being on the right track: Where are we going? Why are we going there? How do we plan to get there? Is this the only route or is there a better path? Parents should ask those questions frequently regarding their vision for their children, and most especially regarding the role education plays in the fulfillment of that vision. We've prepared a video that speaks to the heart of this goal.
In my years associated with classical Christian education—as a parent, donor, school board member, teacher, and headmaster—I have had my share of conversations with folks who want to know why the standards for Christian character and academic diligence are so high, why our students read theology and philosophy and history and literature authored by people who have been dead for 1,000 years or more, and why we focus so intently on writing and speaking and debating. One good answer to such questions is that we do these things in classical Christian education in order to prepare students for just such a time as this.
With increasing frequency I find myself consoling acquaintances whom I find shaking their heads and muttering about the world “going to hell in a handbasket.” In many ways I sympathize with these frustrated folk—look at politics, the media, the government, our Darwinian capitalist machine. One can hardly help wringing one’s hands over the state of the country, even the state of the world. But Christians have been given some instructions about the world, instructions along the lines of taking dominion and baptizing the nations and teaching them to obey Jesus. So let’s dispense with the handwringing, shall we, and get on with the business at hand.
I am often asked to describe the difference between classical education and what we might call a progressive or modern education. Elements of classical education can come across as impractical while modern education sometimes seems more, well, practical. Perhaps a story best explains the importance of the impractical. This story is based on one told at this year’s Trinitas Convocation ceremony.
This is the story of a fantastical social experiment. It all began with two young men, Johann and Ned. Johann was brought up in a royal palace and Ned in a lawless slum. Johann was cared for from his birth by a loving family. He was taught from an early age that he would someday rule the kingdom. In preparation for his rule, Johann was given an education that went beyond training for an occupation. He learned to paint, to sing, to play the violin. He read the Greek philosophers and studied geometry and calculus. He learned to speak and write well and to debate important issues. Johann learned etiquette, that is, he learned how to treat other people in a way that dignified their humanity and made them feel loved and respected. He was held to a high standard of character and integrity. His conduct was expected to be honorable, a model for others to aspire to, and it was.
The Apostle Peter probably shocked his contemporary audience when he declared them “a royal priesthood” in 1 Peter 2:9. Can you imagine his converted Gentile audience, who had known only the rule of kings for their entire lives, now hearing themselves described as royalty for the first time? They must have thought, Huh? You talking to me? But then, maybe we react the same way to Peter’s message today. Just like those Gentile converts, we too are royalty. We are kings and queens in the kingdom of God, serving under the True King, Jesus.