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.
The Board of Governors at Trinitas Christian School asks itself those kinds of questions as well. The sort of introspection I am referring to here is an exercise that helps the board laser-focus on mission and vision so it can reaffirm the goals of the school. It also reminds us why we are doing what we do and helps us assess whether the strategies we are using are the best ones to help us achieve those goals.
It is in this spirit of self-examination that I want to remind our readers over the next few weeks what classical Christian education is and how it fleshes out at Trinitas. If parents are going to ask themselves the questions mentioned above, it will be helpful to have a reminder of the what, where, why, and how of classical Christian education. We should start with the where question.
Where are we going, anyway?
The end goal of a classical Christian education, the destination if you will, is a virtuous human being whose entire life is surrendered to the lordship of Jesus Christ. That’s our destination. And as great as that sounds at the outset of our education journey, once we get deeply involved in that pursuit, it often jars against our expectations about the purpose of education. That jarring happens because we have come to think of education solely as preparation for a lucrative career.
There was a shift of direction in education in the late 19th and early 20th centuries towards preparing workers for the industrial machine that was driving the American economy. This shift took time to unfold; it was less like flipping a switch and more like turning a rubber aircraft carrier using spoons for paddles. Not only did it not happen all at once, but also it did not happen in a uniform way all over the country. Nevertheless, it happened.
What we are left with—the education most of us parents grew up with—is very utilitarian: short on beauty and virtue and long on pigeon-holing students into the careers that pay the most money for whatever skills they are gifted and determined enough to acquire. Such a system necessarily turns out not only cogs for the economic machine, but worse, cogs that have been directly and indirectly trained to think that the goal of life is to make the most money one can make.
Before you accuse me of being against money, let me assure you that I like the stuff. I also know that we must all have a little of it in order to live in this world; furthermore, I am keenly aware that most of us will have to work a job for most of our lives in order to have enough of it to get by on. We do not, however, have to idolize it or otherwise make it the main focus of our lives; and that is exactly what education by-and-large is doing and has been doing to Americans for decades.
Back to the goal of a classical Christian education. A virtuous human being whose entire life is surrendered to Christ is a person who is flourishing in the truest sense of the word. The life of such a person will be marked first and foremost by charity, not only because he was endowed with the ability to be charitable by the Holy Spirit, but also because he was educated in an environment where charity was valued, practiced, and required. He will be charitable because he will have studied charity, what forms it takes in various circumstances, what characters in history and literature have exuded it or been devoid of it, and what it will cost him to be charitable.
Evident in such a person will also be faith. Faith in the sovereign God of the universe who created all things and is control of them all even now, faith that causes her to rejoice even in the midst of trials, faith that does not waiver in the face of the unthinkable, and faith that fuels her daily prayers. Faith is a gift of God, but it can be matured in an environment that encourages and thrives on such faith, in an environment full of other faithful people, where a student is called upon daily to exercise her faith, to live by faith.
Man will not live a good life without hope. A hopeless man will distract himself from his hopelessness with work or pleasure so he can survive it, or he will destroy himself because of his hopelessness. Classical Christian students who have studied the hopelessness of Nietzsche contrasted with the hopefulness of Paul; or the hopelessness of Ivan Ilyich contrasted with the hopefulness of Samwise Gamgee, will know what hopelessness does to the human soul and will know the True Source of hope. A life full of hope is a life that is empowered to give its all without fear of the unknown.
To tie this up in a bow, choosing the path of classical Christian education for your child is to choose a path that primarily concerns itself with the formation of his or her soul. Cultivating virtue will be the focus of the guides on this path. Faith, hope, and love will be practiced in and out of the classroom. Courage, justice, prudence, and temperance will be the aim of our lessons. Mathematics, history, science, and literature all play a huge role in this formation, but they are stepping stones on the path—the pressure applied to coal that produces diamonds—not ends in and of themselves as if getting an A in geometry draws one closer to God.
A high GPA and a college scholarship are likely outcomes for the student who diligently and faithfully travels this path, but they are not the destination. A financially lucrative career could be the calling for some graduates of classical Christian schools, but that career is a byproduct of travelling the path well, not the end destination. Our destination is a life well-lived by a virtuous human being whose entire life is joyfully surrendered to Jesus Christ, a well-formed human soul who spends eternity in Glory.
So much for where we are going. Next time we will discuss why we are going there instead of somewhere else.