Social / Emotional Elements of the Rhetoric Stage

Much of the rhetoric stage of the trivium centers around awareness, independence, and identity. In the high school years, students are essentially adults -- adults by other cultural or historical standards at the very least. Differences of specific maturity levels aside, the rhetoric stage is populated by students who are no longer children; and it is crucial that they are not treated as children.

A great teacher recognizes who each student is, not just what that student must learn. This is the gateway to engagement and learning, and it is a key goal for high school teachers. If a late teenager is treated the same way as a middle schooler, achieving learning objects will be like jamming a square peg into a round hole: it may produce results sometimes, but not smoothly or effectively.

ACA's upper school teachers and parents can partner effectively together by remembering the frame of our rhetoric stage students in these key ways:

  1. Engage with high school students in many of the same ways that we engage with other adults. While students are not our friends or peers, they still become respectable when we show them they are worthy of respect -- even if they are not immediately demonstrating respectable habits.

  2. Standards and conformity are still key, but we should win their hearts before we win the argument. High school students have thin skin, high levels of pride, and low levels of confidence. They need support and kindness through the difficult tasks they face.

  3. Tough love is still love. Students may be frustrated by a difficult standard or consequence, but they can still ultimately see that they are being loved through a consequence -- as long as that love and respect has been authentically built with them over time. 

  4. Teaching or parenting high schoolers should prepare them for independence. If they do not feel empowered toward independence from teachers or parents, they will always find that empowerment elsewhere.

  5. Grades and college admissions are important, but a student's faith during college is essential. As teachers and parents, are we more focused on our kids' robust report cards, or on their robust understanding of, and submission to, the whole counsels of God for life?

Above all, let's pray for ACA's older students, pray for our own kids, and thank God for his saving grace and plans for our good. 

College Readiness at ACA

In upper school grades (7-12), college preparedness becomes a front-and-center goal. For most students, the question is, "Are my class grades high enough to get me into my goal college?" For many parents, the question might be, "Is my school providing appropriate and competitive curricula to allow my student to compete for a good college?" In some cases, a bright student may unfortunately be attending a school with subpar class choices, crippling his or her college prospects.

Fortunately, this is not the case for most standard classical Christian (ACCS) schools. In fact, it's the opposite.

ACA has an upper and high school curriculum that aligns itself in many ways with nationwide ACCS schools. On most standard assessment benchmarks over the past several years, such as SAT, ACT, and College Readiness, ACCS schools consistently outperform the nation. The ACCS recently released its 2017 Standardized Testing & College Admission survey, with K-12 elementary-level standardized test results, as well as college admissions tests. In ACTSAT, and PSAT scores, 72 participating ACCS schools outperformed nationwide schools generally (source graphs attached in links). Additionally, ACCS schools outperformed the nation for college readiness:

Scores - College Readiness 2017.png

ACCS schools often have limited resources and funding, similar to ACA, and yet their college admissions and readiness scores consistently show high achievement relative to national norms. In other words, ACCS schools continue to demonstrate a strategic use of limited funding and a keen understanding of the essential elements of a primary education in its preparation for college and careers. 

For more information on similar college readiness benchmarks, you can explore related SAT and ACT rubrics here. For the full 2017 ACCS Standardized Testing & College Admission survey, which ACA has submitted scores to for 2018, click here.

Navigating High School Homework Loads

In most schools, a key challenge for high school students is an increased amount of homework, often to the near-exclusion of meaningful free time. ACA, as a rigorous 4-day school, shares this challenge within its upper school. So an important question is: How can students learn to manage a high workload without detrimental effects?

In 2007, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that, on average, US high school students spend 6.8 hours per week on homework, or about 82 minutes per night. For a 4-day school like ACA, not accounting for its accelerated academic standards, that equates to about 1 hour and 42 minutes per night. In ACA's Parent Handbook, our homework policy suggests (pp. 27-29) that 7th-8th grades should target 75 minutes of homework per night, and that 9th-12th graders should target 1.5 - 2.5 hours homework per night, goals that appropriately balance national 5-day averages with ACA's advanced 4-day program.

But not all students have the same abilities, and not all assignments are created equal. This means that struggles with homework loads in upper school are still common. Given that reality, there are a few important ways to approach homework in advanced grades.

Challenging homework prepares students for college-level work, and for the real world. Times of transition are difficult, and upper school begins preparations for adulthood. Students learn to manage decreased levels of rest and free time, as well as increased levels of work and responsibility. This is a challenge, but it is also a gift. Students are trained for independence and self-sufficiency.

Homework should still never be more than is necessary. At ACA, we're keenly aware of the strategic strain our curriculum places on upper school students. Our design is to challenge them, but not to smother them. In assessing our degree of rigor, we look for general, long-term trends in student performance and well-being, and we are committed to limiting assignments to those that are essential for growth.

Upper School students learn flexibility in habits. Ideal workloads never fall into the lap of every student generally. Rather, students must learn to strategize about ways to make their work more efficient. They consider questions such as, How can I make the most of every minute of the day? Are all my materials organized? Do I follow a consistent, inviolable homework routine every day of the year? Am I constantly challenging myself to greater speed and focus? Academic success is in large part a function of productivity, a non-academic metric. Investments into habits and structure pay dividends in terms of accuracy, speed, and retention. 

Upper school students balance long-term excellence with short-term growth adjustments. Sometimes, a short-term loss is a long-term win. If students are struggling with big reading loads or with getting math problem sets done, excellence is not always to dig in, go slower, and spend six hours per night working instead of two. Rather, students learn the appropriateness of setting occasional time limits on assignments. They might aim for total accuracy and speed, but they also bind themselves by the clock. This often results in lower short-term scores while efficiency is built, but over time, greater speed, efficiency, and accuracy are developed. Far from de-prioritizing ACA's standard of academic excellence, these strategies help students appropriately evolve their habits to the changing expectations they are given each year.

Excellence, growth, flexibility, and preparation for independence -- these are a few of the wonderful features of ACA's unique upper school program. Our students work hard, but they are met with treasures at every turn (Ps. 16:11), gifts from a loving Father about his world that will prepare them for a life of service for his kingdom.

Knowledge that Comes Out the Fingertips

Last week, we began a look at ACA's upper school program in grades 7-12, specifically focusing on themes and features via its curriculum. In future weeks, we'll take a look at college preparedness, emotional and developmental features of upper school students, homework loads, and sports and extracurriculars.

Today, I'd like to focus on what the rhetoric stage is within upper school, and what it is not. Most uses of the word "rhetoric" today mean the opposite of what we're after -- today, rhetoric means verbal fluff, smoke, deception. But classical use revives the full historical meaning of the word: honest persuasion in the pursuit of truth.

In this stage of upper school, students learn how to make what they say appealing. This aligns with their maturing developmental phase, which desires respect, recognition, and a clear identity as budding adults. Students are interested in making people believe them -- their friends, mentors, parents, or college admissions officers. This is a phase, but we want them to carry its outlook permanently, like God.  "The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times" (Ps. 12:6).

The rhetoric stage is the capstone of the trivium.  It is the telos of all prior years of study since preschool, the goal, the crown and glory of classical education.  Until this stage is reached, the grammar and logic stages are incomplete preparation -- valuable in their own right, but weakened and compromised without unification.  As a goal, rhetoric is a queen with her crown, the picture of unity, strength, and power.

But this is not just an impractical philosophical beauty. Upper school students still need to get into good colleges for God's glory. So the rhetoric stage is knowledge "coming out the fingertips" in terms of real hard work in math and science, Latin and public speaking, history and theology, art and music, writing and rhetoric. The beauty of the rhetoric stage is a practical beauty.

Further, rhetoric fixes all knowledge to the standard of God's beauty, and it speaks like he speaks.  It writes like he writes, creates like he creates, and loves like he loves. Unless that universal model of beauty is learned, what might happen to knowledge?

Many things, from the silly to the tragic. Without beauty, brilliantly-educated minds give soporific speeches via monotone PowerPoint.  Those that conceived the great cathedrals are gone, and "the architecture of servitude and boredom" (as Russell Kirk once said) produce industrial slums.  The "suicide art" of Jackson Pollock and the "Piss Christ" of Andres Serrano are hailed as masterpieces.  The ruling elite see the stunning magic of the infant human form as inventory to be chopped up and sold to the highest bidder.  And if there is no beauty, no standard for loveliness, who are we to object?  Let our children use their classically-educated minds to find their own truth.

But the earth is full of God's glory, and it is crying unending praise to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  What is all our knowledge and logic without the living Word?  What is beauty without the glory of Christ?  What is love without incarnate Love?  We lay all our learning at his feet -- from grammar to logic to rhetoric and beyond -- in recognition that he is the author and finisher of all.

Features of ACA's Upper School

We've recently been taking a look at some key elements of a classical Christian education. Today, I'd like to begin a brief look at ACA's upper school. Over the next few weeks, we'll consider 1) our upper school curriculum, 2) the rhetoric stage of the trivium and college preparedness, 3) key emotional / developmental characteristics of upper school students, 4) homework loads, 4-day weeks, and sanity, and 5) sports and extracurricular opportunities. 

Upper School at ACA is grades 7-12, and it straddles the logic and rhetoric stages of the trivium. In 7th-8th grades, late logic-stage students learn and refine the tools of argumentation, of study strategies, and of overviews. In 9th-12th grades, students begin thinking independently, critically, and persuasively. Consequently, ACA's upper school curriculum is designed around these final developmental stages of a classical Christian education.

You can view ACA's upper school curriculum scope here. You'll notice a theme in each grade, which unifies each subject's aim, focus, or relationship. The theme for 7th Grade is The World in Overview, where students unite much of previous grammar school (K-6) knowledge toward world themes and surveys, particularly in humanities classes. In 8th Grade, the theme is The Ancient World, where students launch a deep-dive on primary texts and mature synthesis of ideas via the Omnibus humanities curriculum, which continues through their high school years. In 9th Grade, the theme is The Medieval World; in 10th, The Modern World; in 11th, Ancient & Medieval Influences on Western Civilization; in 12th, Modern Influences, & How Should We Then Live?

Are these themes relevant to ACA's STEM courses? Yes, but of course not directly. Though Christ is the Author of all knowledge, it would be problematic to unnecessarily "humanitize" or "theologize" math and science day-to-day, so ACA's commitment remains to providing competitive STEM courses that foster excellence and college preparedness for the sake of Christ's kingdom. Students who love Jesus but are lazy about their math and science homework aren't glorifying God, even if they know that God is the Author of STEM. ACA's upper school STEM curriculum is therefore designed to primarily encourage accuracy, speed, and excellence as God-glorifying works -- though, when relevant, it also applies upper school's grade-level themes: for instance, the great math and science discoveries that occurred in the ancient world (Archimedes, Ptolemy, Democritus), the medieval/Renaissance world (Kepler, Galileo, Newton), and the modern world (Planck, Einstein, Curie, Bohr).

Overall, ACA's upper school curriculum is a culmination of the great classical work begun in early childhood, established in the primary grades, solidified in the grammar stage, and sharpened in the logic stage. It is rigorous, but it is also intended to give life, preparing students for independence so that they can go into the world as men and women of action for God's glory.

Classical Christian vs. Charter Classical

As a final installment on our quick survey of some of the distinctives of a classical Christian education, I'd like to end with an article highlighting the differences between classical charter schools on the one hand (such as Golden View, Addenbrooke, and Vanguard), and classical Christian schools on the other (such as ACA and Arma Dei). I encourage you to enjoy it carefully and thoughtfully, and then to use it as a means to continue the discussion with other parents, teachers, and friends. What are the questions you should ask yourself about a school? What are your core non-negotiables? What does God's word say? 

This article, subtitled "What happens when Christianity is silenced?", appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of The Classical Difference.

That airliner you flew on last month had 5000 gallons of explosive jet fuel in the wings. Before you got on it, you must have trusted that the aircraft was working as designed. In the same way, with the exceptional power of classicaleducation comes exceptional danger. The DNA of classical education—what makes it tick, what makes it work—is the cultivation of a paideia in pursuit of the Logos. This is a much bigger and more dangerous goal than preparing students for college. Why?

 “What will justify your life?” is engraved over the entrance of Ridgeview Classical School, one of the most successful charter schools in Colorado. The mission of Great Hearts Classical Charter School in Arizona is to graduate “young men and women who possess a sense of destiny and purpose that is directed to the service of the greater good.” These, and countless other secular and public schools across the country, have discovered the strength of classicaleducation to cultivate virtue. But how far can classical education be removed from God before it becomes something else?

In his new book Making Sense of God, Timothy Keller, New York Times best-selling author and pastor, recounts the story of a public school teacher who was frustrated with the various “character education” curricula that strictly forbade her to bring religious justifications for any of the values being taught.

For classical educators, this teacher expresses only the beginning of a much bigger problem. The assumption is that “character education” is a subject of its own that you teach, like math or literature. In fact, the root of ALL education is virtue.

Tale of Two Schools
In February of 2013, in a high school class at one of the nation’s largest secular classical school chains, a discussion was held. It was very impressive, but an unusual turn of events shed light on a problem.

Earlier that week, in a class at a classical Christian school, juniors were discussing a passage midway through Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. The Christian discussion was rich with the teacher guiding students through some deep stuff: the burden free will creates, the purpose of suffering in God’s creation, and a beautiful depiction of love as the ultimate conqueror. She framed the work in the theological system of the author, a deep and reflective Christianity.

The Destination & The Path
The students engaged in a spirited discussion, seeking the truth—free to express their thoughts and opinions, but not limited by them. In this classroom, the Logos was the living person of Jesus Christ.

Back at the secular classical school, students gathered around a table to discuss, by some turn of fate, the same book, near the same passage! What followed said volumes. The teacher began the discussion and then stepped back. Mormon and Roman Catholic views, along with a variety of indiscernible positions, were suggested by students.

There the discussion remained—an exploration rather than a destination. The teacher could not step in and guide spiritually because he was forbidden to advocate for “religious” ideas. The discussion could only change topics, not delve deeper. Christian theology was out. And, without theology, philosophy is neutered. All that was left for the students in the class was to pool their youthful “wisdom” and wander through questions about ultimate meaning with their 17- and 18-year-old peers.

It seems that non-Christian classical schools know they’re about something big—something eternal. Many teachers and administrators at these schools would prefer to openly discuss God as the source of morality and truth, but the length of their chain keeps them from the true power of classical education. The danger of these schools, cut off from the truth system of Christ, is that they will create a destination (called paideia) with no path to it. They cannot view the world rightly because the path (the Logos) is unknowable. This can cause a devastating wobble in the lives of kids. To understand why, we must first understand the centerpiece of classical education: the Logos.

The Importance of Two Words
Paideia is like a worldview, but more than a worldview. Paideia is an ordered set of desires, a base of knowledge and beliefs, a collection of virtues, and a way of seeing the world that is cultivated into children. We absorb it more than we learn it. Ultimately, paideia translates into the way you live as an adult and is the destination of all classical education.

The original Greek purpose of intentionally shaping the paideia through formal classical education required the pursuit of something called the Logos. The Logos is the transcendent, divine ideal—like the ideas of justice, love, or reason—all of which are imperfectly reflected in our world. Our path to paideia is through a divine, perfect version of the Logos.

Since we can’t fully experience divine justice or infinity or reason directly, we use words to describe them. This is why Logos is often translated “word” in English (as in John 1). The closer we can get to understanding the Logos, the better we can understand classical education.

The Classical World
The Apostle John lived and ministered in Greek education centers. In John 1, this shows as he writes, “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God … And the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory … grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John is speaking into a classical world that had a strong idea of the importance of the Logos, but was lost in the futility of truth without Christ.

You may not be aware that in Ephesians 6, Paul tells fathers to raise their children in “the paideia of the Lord.” Our instructions for education are pretty clear—cultivate in children the paideia of the Lord by pursuing the truth that is Jesus Christ (the Logos).

Christian parents who fail to realize this foundational issue often see non-Christian classical schools as “the next best thing.” So, they choose a classicalprivate prep school, a magnet school, or a charter classical school. They reason that any classical school is better than the alternative. True, classicalschools have proven to be more effective at many things than their conventional counterparts—but there’s a reason for this, and a danger in it.

Breaching the Core
Without Christ, classical education’s core questions—“what is truth?” and “why am I here?” and “how shall I live?”—cannot be answered truthfully. Jesus Christ is not a part that can be safely extracted from classical education and taught at home. He’s integral to the nature of the thing. If He is removed, we run the risk of creating the ugliness of a person without a face, a soul without love, a truth without the author of truth.

In this context, non-Christian classical schools, like old-line private schools or newer charter schools, have an even bigger problem. They buy wholesale into education as the “cultivation of virtue.” But, now they’ve created a taller ladder and they have no wall to place it against—a destination without a path.

They might argue this is the goal, and that parents can fill this hole at home and at church. But can they? Again, this assumes faith is separate from the real world—faith is a personal thing to be done at home while math, science, literature, history, philosophy, theology, logic, rhetoric (and even daily life) are subjects we can “do” without reference to the author of Truth.

As the humanist Charles Potter said, “What can theistic Sunday-schools, meeting for an hour once a week and teaching only a fraction of the children, do to stem the tide of a five-day program of humanistic teaching?”

For that matter, if classical Christian schools forget the true purpose of edu cation and become college preparatory schools or simply “safe-havens,” we will join other schools in their dilemma.

Jonathan Edwards observed, “Truth is the agreement of our ideas with the ideas of God.” G.K. Chesterton said that “Education is not a subject, and does not deal in subjects. It is instead a transfer of a way of life.” What way of life do you want to transfer to your children? What Truth do you want them to know?


Charter Schools in the News
Recently, a Minnesota classical charter school made headlines with the transgender issue. Though Classical charter schools have been viewed as a conservative alternative to public schools that are more affordable than classical Christian schools . . . a kindergartener who claimed to be transgender has now forced, through a complaint with a regulatory agency, a classicalcharter school to add curriculum on gender identity . . . 1

In another headliner, an Idaho classical charter school lost their battle with the state over the use of the Bible as a historical text.

A defunct Idaho charter school exhausted its appeals Monday in a legal battle with state officials who barred the use of the Bible and other religious texts as a historical teaching tool in the classroom . . . The founders of Nampa Classical Academy tangled with state officials over the use of the Bible and other religious texts shortly after opening in August 2009 with more than 500 students . . . . 2

The U.S. Supreme Court banned ceremonial school Bible readings in 1963 but said “the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities” so long as material is “presented objectively as part of a secular program of education.” However, at least 37 states have state constitutional prohibitions (called Blaine Amendments) that go even further in forbidding religious teaching of any kind in both public and charter schools. One of these amendments was used to close the charter school in Idaho.

Charter Schools at a Glance
On June 4, 1991, the first charter school law in the country was signed into law in Minnesota. The first charter school, City Academy in St. Paul serving many homeless and low-income students, opened in 1992.

Over the following 25 years, the charter movement has expanded to include 43 states plus the District of Columbia, 6,700 schools, and over 2.5 million students—about 5 percent of the total K–12 public student population.

Because they are public schools, charter schools:

  • Are open to all children.

  • Are funded by local, state, and federal tax dollars based on student enrollment.

  • Are typically required to meet all state and federal education standards.

  • Cannot teach religious content.

According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, “Charter schools are unique public schools that are allowed the freedom to be more innovative while being held accountable for advancing student achievement.”

Join an 18th century American family in their education decision for their child. First, they would ask “What can we do ourselves?” (homeschool). This typically meant that their children would be educated by dad or mom, or at a local equivalent of a co-op until about the age of 8. Then, at about 9 years old, “Who can we afford to hire to educate beyond our ability at home?” Sometimes, this was a tutor. Sometimes a nearby classical Christian school. Sometimes, it meant a classical Christian boarding school. Notably absent was any discussion of a non-Christian school. Why? Because all education was for living the good (virtuous) life, not for earning a living. Earning a living was just as important in 1750 in America as now. Maybe more so. But parents realized that a good education led to many other opportunities. It didn’t need to expressly pursue a job.

Memory, Argument, & Persuasion

We've recently been taking quick looks at a few principles that distinguish classical Christian education from other methodologies -- its hows and whysits respect for the past, and its balance between nature and technology.

Classical Christian education champions the use of memory, argument, and persuasion to undergird all subjects. Comprising the Trivium, you may know them as grammar, logic, and rhetoric.

Yet memory, argument, and persuasion have fallen by the wayside in the 21st century. Other educational methodologies, not to mention real-world practice, replace them with Google, popular opinion, and various self-identities. Where once ideas and cultural practice were moored by a large body of personal knowledge, a moral paradigm for interpreting that knowledge, and a standards-based worldview for making that interpretation pleasing, now reality is defined only by the preferences of the individual, verified only by his feelings.

Memory (Grammar)
The book of Deuteronomy might carry a single theme: remember. Do not forget. Moses wrote the entire book, just before his death, as a means of reminding the Israelites of the knowledge of God, and of his gifts: "Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes" (Deut. 8:11). Classical Christian education encourages students in a similar way: learn the ways of God, of the way he made the world, and of the things he has given you. Remember, and do not forget. In a real way, this is why classical education emphasizes memorization, not simply as a utilitarian means of calling up facts when we don't have a smartphone, but as a way of writing the knowledge of God and his world on students' hearts. This kind of memorization creates thankfulness.

Argument (Logic)
"'Come, let us reason together,' says the Lord" (Is. 1:18), the Word from the beginning, the "Logic" made flesh (John 1:1) The nature of God is rational, his creation is orderly, and therefore classical Christian education seeks to mold students' minds to the mind of God. What are the rules of the world that we have been given? What are the rules of thought? What is God like? The answers becomes the standard for all truth, and for all discourse. Without it, the only coherent question becomes, "Who's to say?" Reality is ultimately rendered meaningless.

Persuasion (Rhetoric)
At the end of creation, "God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (Gen. 1:31). Within the first week of the created order, God made things, communicated them into existence, and persuaded himself that they were "very good." He did not simply form beings with mere functional capacity; he gave them beauty. In turn as created beings, we have a longing for everything lovely, and for the ultimate Loveliness of Christ. Therefore, classical Christian education trains students to take joy in their creations, to imbue their projects, essays, labs, and speeches with loveliness, reflecting the beauty of their creator.

Exploring Nature and Technology

One of the beautiful aspects of classical Christian education is that it teaches students perspective and priority. Specifically, it teaches them to look to God first, then to man; to the universal, then to the particular; to nature, then to technology. Each element has value, so the distinctions are in terms of order and hierarchy, not of better and worse. I'd like to take a brief look at the last pair, the relationship between nature and technology in classical Christian education.

A knowledge of the natural, physical world is key to a primary education. Students learn about the nature of reality, its potential and its limitations. The human mind, a physical organ with intangible thoughts, links the natural world with the supernatural. This creates a greater sense of wonder, and a paradoxical union of opposites: students are aware of the ingredients of the world in all their near-infinite variety and order; they learn of the world's preposterous smallness and stupendous magnitude; they see their bodies, that they can be used in wonderful ways, but that reality is not defined by our senses, or by the physical world; that there is the heavenly and immortal realm of the Creator, which is our ultimate home. They learn to ask the question the psalmist asked: "When I look at the heavens . . . what is man that You are mindful of him?" (Ps. 8:3-4)

In a small way, these are some of the reasons why classical Christian education emphasizes simpler, purer uses of the human body and mind: nature walks to complement scientific studies; cursive, with its intimate and dance-like motions; the feel of paper between fingers and the tactile work of pencil annotation; the study of the stars, drawing our eyes physically upward, as when the psalmist lifted his eyes to the hills (Ps. 121:1); the study of traditional music on acoustic instruments, made and performed by human hands; the emphasis on the spoken word, conversation, and speech as ways of imitating the living Word, and of most perfectly developing loving relationships with each other.

Does this mean that technology is a detriment to education? Not at all. Even the word "technology" does not mean what we might think it means: it is any "science of craft," which therefore applies to book-binding, not just to smartphone manufacturing. The point of the emphasis of nature over technology is one of priority only. A study and love of nature leads to a study and love of technology. It is a natural, God-given progression to take the glorious fundamental elements of creation and to use them to create further gifts that glorify God and are a benefit to mankind. Problems only surface when that perspective, or progressional hierarchy, is ignored. Then, technology, in a limited and restricting sense, usurps the tools and the imaginations of students, stealing their work ethic, robbing them of their thoughts, conjuring false and impossibly romantic alternate realities, and deadening their senses to the beauty of creation. The gift of technology becomes a curse. In The Screwtape Letters, a similar scheme is used to drive humanity subtly from God: "The more often [a man] feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel."

Classical Christian education is at root about developing thankfulness, both of the natural elements of the world, and of its invented glories, like smartphones, Bugatti supercars, and treat-tossing dog cameras. But like every other good gift from God, timing is key. Imagine if Man had been created on the first day, not the sixth! (Just Adam floating in the void, like in Kubrick's "2001.") We are teaching students the same thing: First know who you are, who created you, and what the gifts are that you have been given. Then, get busy creating and enjoying gifts of your own.

Developing a Respect for the Past

Classical Christian education, if it's worth its salt, educates today's kids for today's culture. But unlike other educational forms, it looks to the Past regularly, often critically, but always reverently. In the Past, it sees its ancestors, and by extension, sees itself.

Today, as Enlightenment philosophy has reached full maturity, other educational forms see the past primarily as the source of racism, sex discrimination, and narrow-minded religiosity. At best, the past is an irrelevant non-entity, a great-grandfather in a rocker chewing his wet gums. The past cannot speak meaningfully into the present.

Classical Christian education aims to see the past as a hoard of treasure, full of events, characters, and experiences that reveal what is right and wrong, wise and unwise, tested and untested, beautiful and ugly. It is a gift that "there is nothing new under the sun" (Eccl. 1:9), since it means we can know the consequences of ideas and actions if we will only listen. The past is not so much a glorious golden age (at all) than it is a means for thankfulness and wisdom. Classical Christian education does not teach students to live in the past, but it teaches them to love its good parts, avoid its bad parts, thank God for all of it, and use its wisdom to live God-glorifying lives in today's world.

To that end, classical Christian education views the past in a few key ways.

The past involves real people. Poorly written textbooks that are strong on dates, controversies, and propaganda are good at making historical figures look like figures and not people, but a true history, in all its romping realism shows them as men. It shows them as women. They lived as we live. They thought the thoughts we think. They struggled with the same temptations. They ate, slept, went to the bathroom, and dressed. They had quirks and personalities. They were great, they were noble, they were evil. This is why they are in books. But we can forget that they were human as we are human, in every particular, and this should give us perspective, respect, wisdom, and inspiration. God died for them, too.

We are also the past's actors. The present is now the past. History is not just about those people over there: it is also about us. Just as the men and the women of the past shaped events to bring us to now, so we are shaping now to make the future. This is our sobering and fantastic responsibility. We are called. We have roles to fulfill. Our children are watching us.

The past creates thankfulness, because it gives us an ability to honor our forebears. We owe everything to those who went before us. Our primary attitude should be, “How is it possible that we have so much?” and never “Why do we have so little?” Why should any of life be remotely pleasant? Why are we free? Why can we choose our religion? Why can we have any beliefs we wish? Why financial well-being? Why are we educated? Unless we are content to forget origins and assume all these things are rights, history gives us reason to be thankful in everything. Those who went before us gave all of themselves to us.

The past creates thankfulness because it gives us an ability to condemn our forebears and avoid their paths. The past is full of not-so-good people, of vice personified, resulting in slavery, bloodshed, discrimination, and abuse. Knowing and respecting the past allows us to consider and condemn, which (done the right way) furthers the goal of the gospel for humanity.

The past is teleological, not cyclical. History has an end, a goal. It’s true that the past repeats itself today because of the changelessness of human nature, but this is not the overall character of history. History is driving toward something. It is intentional. From the dawn of time, through the rise and fall of many civilizations and religions, there has been progression. Knowledge has grown steadily. The stories of law, politics, philosophy, medicine, and religion have developed and matured. We're headed somewhere, and that somewhere is the real future date when "the earth will be full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." (Hab. 2:14)

Classical Christian education teaches students to love old books, old ideas, old characters, to consider and criticize them with respect, and then to act act. We are each in a Story. What's our line? Do we know our cues? Classical Christian education teaches students to love the Story they're in, and to be thankful for the characters that gave them their parts to play today.

The Hows & Whys of Classical Christian Education

Classical Christian education assumes that life has a purpose, and that there are such things as right and wrong. Man's life is ordered by God who has revealed what is true and what is false, what is wise and what is unwise, and what will bring joy and what will bring sorrow. It teaches that humanity has a narrative with a problem, a climax, and a redemptive resolution, and that we are each actors in that story. In other words, classical Christian education teaches the hows of the world -- the events, the formulas, the processes, the content -- but it also undergirds them with meaning, with the fundamental whys. It provides meaning for each subject, and for each of our lives. It connects the otherwise disconnected particulars with an ultimate Universal. 

Secular education, including classical charter schools, do not assume any of this, beyond adopting a series of moral guidelines unmoored from any objective standard. Students are taught how the world works, but they cannot give an ultimate accounting for why it should work that way, or why various historical and cultural trends are good or bad. Secular education, with many merits in terms of knowledge acquisition, ultimately trains students to think from a utilitarian and self-serving basis: What is right must be what works best for the most people, or what harms the least number of people, at any given time. Or, what is right must be what I personally feel to be best, or what I identify with most. 

Like many other methods, classical education is excellent at teaching how and what, but students crave more. Is the quadratic formula true because numbers, and a quantifiable natural world, happen to still behave in a consistent way through time and chance? Or is it a formula that reveals the mind, and therefore the deeper purposes, of a Designer? Did Rome fall because it was no longer a relevant player on the world stage of the early Common Era, or because its ideas, and therefore its actions, had moral consequences? Are the world's famous people, such as Queen Boudica, Jeffrey Dahmer, Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Harvey Weinstein, Bonnie & Clyde, King David, Eminem, or Donald Trump, models for how we should each live or not live -- or are they each equally good humans exercising their basic human right of self-identity? Students will ask these things, they will feel them, they will crave to know why. Classical Christian education gives them an ultimate reference-point for truth in Christ.

Humans need knowledge, but they yearn for purpose and meaning.  Classical Christian education says, "Look, here is a beautiful world. Learn about it!" Then, like many secular schools, it says, "Be a good citizen in this world, and love your neighbor." But finally, unlike those schools, it says, "Love your neighbor, and the world, because Christ is the incarnation of Truth who first loved you, and who will always love you."