Great Books on Classical Education

Though classical education's modern-day resurgence is still relatively new, its overall history is long, rich, and varied.  Standing on the shoulders of this tradition, the last two generations have given us a wealth of ideas for thinking about classical education, and for improving our own lives and minds alongside those of our children. Below are a list of wonderful and engaging books that ACA recommends as essential reading for parents pursuing classical Christian education over the long term. In the spirit of staying ever-engaged for our kids, join me in tasting and re-tasting these delicious feasts. (Publishing blurbs included.)

The Case for Classical Christian Education by Douglas Wilson.  In this greatly expanded treatment of a topic he first dealt with in Rediscovering the Lost Tools of Learning, Wilson proposes an alternative to government-operated schools by advocating a return to classical Christian education with its discipline, hard work, and learning geared to a child's developmental stages.

Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton is one of the most brilliant books of apologetics in the English language. Chesterton wrote Orthodoxy in 1908 in response to a challenge from one of his readers to state his creed. Rarely has any challenge been more gloriously and chivalrously met. This is early Chesterton at his best: sparkling paradoxes, breathtaking wordplay, trenchant argument and blinding logic. The reader is treated to a witty and insightful work, that illustrates how reasonable orthodoxy really is, despite the attacks of its critics. The book also provides a spiritual autobiography, as Chesterton employs his own discovery of orthodox Christianity in order to defend its beauty and its sanity against modern secular schools of philosophy. The book manages to intellectually challenge the reader, while still appealing to a child-like sense of awe at the world around us.

The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer. Have you lost the art of reading for pleasure? Are there books you know you should read but haven’t because they seem too daunting? In The Well-Educated Mind, Bauer provides a welcome and encouraging antidote to the distractions of our age, electronic and otherwise . . . The Well-Educated Mind reassures those readers who worry that they read too slowly or with below-average comprehension. If you can understand a daily newspaper, there’s no reason you can’t read and enjoy Shakespeare’s sonnets or Jane Eyre. But no one should attempt to read the “Great Books” without a guide and a plan . . .

Norms and Nobility is a provocative reappraisal of classical education that offers a workable program for contemporary school reform. David Hicks contends that the classical tradition promotes a spirit of inquiry that is concerned with the development of style and conscience, which makes it an effective and meaningful form of education. Dismissing notions that classical education is elitist and irrelevant, Hicks argues that the classical tradition can meet the needs of our increasingly technological society as well as serve as a feasible model for mass education.

For over thirty years The God Who Is There by Francis Schaeffer has been the landmark book that changed the way the church sees the world. In Schaeffer's remarkable analysis, we learn where the clashing ideas about God, science, history and art came from and where they are going . . . The God Who Is There demonstrates how historic Christianity can fearlessly confront the competing philosophies of the world. The God who has always been there continues to provide the anchor of truth and the power of love to meet the world's deepest problems.

In Climbing Parnassus, winner of the 2005 Paideia Prize, Tracy Lee Simmons presents a defense and vindication of the formative power of Greek and Latin. His persuasive witness to the unique, now all-but-forgotten advantages of study in and of the classical languages constitutes a bracing reminder of the genuine aims of a truly liberal education.

In the classic The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis sets out to persuade his audience of the importance and relevance of universal values such as courage and honor in contemporary society. Both astonishing and prophetic, The Abolition of Man is one of the most debated of Lewis’s extraordinary works.

Wisdom and Eloquence: A Christian Paradigm for Classical Learning by Robert Littlejohn and Charles T. Evans. To succeed in the world today, students need an education that equips them to recognize current trends, to be creative and flexible to respond to changing circumstances, to demonstrate sound judgment to work for society's good, and to gain the ability to communicate persuasively.

The Paideia of God by Douglas Wilson. And, you fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). In this passage, Paul requires Christian fathers to provide their children with a "paideia of the Lord." To the ancient world, the boundaries of paideia were much wider than the boundaries of what we understand as education. Far more is involved in paideia than taking the kids to church, having an occasional time of devotions in the home, or even providing the kids with a Christian curriculum. In the ancient world, the paideia was all-encompassing and involved nothing less than the enculturation of the future citizen. He was enculturated when he was instructed in the classroom, but the process was also occurring when he walked along the streets of his city to and from school. The idea of paideia was central to the ancient classical mind, and Paul's instruction here consequently had profound ramifications.