Exploring education options (Part 3): Classical Christian educationJune 20, 2017
In a short series, we have been exploring different education options for parents to consider. First, we explored charter schools with the founder of a charter network in Arizona, then homeschooling with experts and researchers on home education, and now we turn to classical Christian education (CCE).
This term “classical” as an education option may be unfamiliar to many, but in the last 25 years, CCE has been growing steadily in the US. According to a Gospel Coalition article earlier this year, “In the fall of 1993, there were 10 such schools in the United States. By 2003, there were 153.” Today there are 251 schools that are members of Association of Classical Christian Schools. We spoke with two individuals in the field to answer some questions on CCE and why it is growing so quickly.
David Goodwin was the headmaster of The Ambrose School, a classical Christian school in Boise, ID from 2003 through 2014. He now serves as the President of the Association of Classical Christian Schools (ACCS).
Winston Brady is a Curriculum Adviser and Humanities instructor at Thales Academy in Apex, where he has taught for 6 years.
What is a classical Christian education?
David: Before schools were operated by state or local governments, the church operated schools for Christians, but these were not like most Christian schools today. For almost 2000 years, Christian schools were classical Christian schools. Classical Christian schools train students on a foundation of the Trivium— a system that combines language skill (grammar), advanced reasoning (Logic), and the integration of these to form persuasive written and oral arguments (Rhetoric). The form builds on this foundation by reading the great books of the West that contain the stories and ideas important to Western Christian Civilization. Latin or Greek are often studied to help understand these works in their original language. And, CCE schools study a wide range of history, literature, philosophy, and art. All of this is integrated into a systematic understanding of Biblical and theological truth. CCE schools also approach science and math differently through a system called the quadrivium.
In your experience, why do parents typically seek out a classical Christian education for their kids?
David: It usually begins when parents look for a conservative Christian worldview school with strong academics. Typically, parents first notice the uniforms and order, and the focus on academic excellence, traditional hymns, music, and art. Once parents have joined the school community, they start to see other things. At the secondary level, students engage the learning process more. They hold Socratic discussions around tables about books or ideas. They engage in reasoned debates and practice writing much more. Many parents seek out classical Christian schools after they hear about the academic performance in reading, writing, and math on the SAT or similar tests. This information is available on our website.
Winston: Parents gravitate towards a classical Christian education because it teaches students how to think, not what to think. Parents want the best education possible for their kids, and a curriculum that helped to mold the minds of the Founding Fathers indeed is the best education students could possibly have. At its best, a classical curriculum unites the arts and the sciences in such a way as to excite all the creative and academic gifts kids have, and whether they become software developers or history professors, they will have the tools needed to flourish in their lives.
The school system we have now has been in place for the last hundred years or so— a public school system funded by local property taxes. But a lot has changed in those 100 years. What challenges do you see to the current system?
David: The current public system has mixed objectives— and this always leads to confusion and paralysis in a system. In the mainstream educational world, some educators have social engineering objectives designed to turn out students who think a particular way, say about sexuality or history. Others want to turn out STEM students who are able to get jobs in science and technology. Still, others want to provide a one-size-fits-all approach so that every child is given access to the exact same education. All of these objectives compete. Some may have their place. But, there are key objectives missing. Christians should desire that their child grows to see the entirety of God’s creation as one system that makes sense— sense of everything from literature to history to science to art to math. Christians should realize that students need to be taught how to learn— it’s not a natural skill. And, they need to be taught how to think well, in a reasoned and disciplined way. And, they need to be cultivated to appreciate great art, music, architecture, and the list goes on. Note that very different objectives yield very different results.
Winston: The monolithic, one-size-fits-all approach of traditional public schools is neither efficient nor true to the democratic values of the United States. While the cost per student in a public school differs significantly across the country, in some areas this cost has ballooned to nearly $20,000 dollars per student without the high tests scores needed to justify the expense.
Since the United States is composed of members from almost every people-group in the world, it’s hard to imagine that one type of schooling could accommodate so many different groups of people, even with the money school districts spend. As demonstrated by the success of school vouchers and similar programs, one solution seems to be opening up the educational marketplace to competition and choice, rather than throwing more money at the problem.
What does the future of Christian education look like?
David: Many Christian schools today borrow much of their educational path from the conventional district schools. Christian teachers are trained in the same way. The curriculum may come from a Christian company, but it often meets state standards. The standardized tests come from the same place. The graduation requirements, common core standards, and accreditation for most Christian schools come from the same place public schools get theirs. This makes modern Christian education only marginally different than public schools. Often, there is a chapel, a Bible class, and student prayer. But there isn’t much fundamentally different. Thus, the future of Christian education in general looks like the future of public education— a continued identity and objective crisis leading to confusion. Classical Christian education continues to grow, but will always challenge the paradigms most parents have for education. This has kept us small, though we have been rapidly growing over the past 20 years.
Winston: As a teacher at a classical school for six years, I am amazed at the network of high-quality publishers and educators committed to the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual flourishing of students. These outlets include Classical Conversations, a homeschool network based in North Carolina and publishing firms like Classical Academic Press and Peace Hill Press.
I’ve been blessed to teach at Thales Academy, the largest private school network in North Carolina, where our founder Robert Luddy has united high-quality education with low tuition cost. We don’t have a cafeteria, which saves our parents massive tuition expenses each year, but we do have 1:1 iPad integration in our high school. These cost-saving measures are really common sense and if we continue teaching students to love the things they should (the goal of an education, to paraphrase Plato), then the options available to parents will continue to grow and bless untold numbers of students.
Many parents may feel like a Christian education is just out of reach for their family. What options are there for helping make this reality for more families? How do school choice policies influence a parent’s options?
David: Unfortunately, the cost is a burden. Before there were public schools in America, parents found a way to pay for school. Often, this was at great sacrifice. The average tuition for an ACCS school is around $7000 annually— not cheap, but also not the price of elite schools. Teachers and administrators sacrifice to keep classical Christian education affordable. Many offer some financial aid. In addition, more partial-week schools or homeschool coop schools are cropping up at about half of the price, with the difference made up at home. Many families choose to classically homeschool through organizations like Classical Conversations or online ACCS schools which can be cheaper. School choice programs that help parents choose private schools may help. Though, over time, we’re always concerned that the government will try to impose the very same regulations on private schools as they do in public schools. This might be a consideration for parents.
Winston: School choice policies differ state-by-state, and I would recommend looking at resources like the Heritage Foundation, EdChoice, or the National Conference of State Legislatures for more information on the options available to you.
School choice provides parents finance assistance to attend private schools instead of public schools, with programs ranging from tax-credit scholarships to vouchers, which give parents a portion of taxpayer funds that would have gone to the public school.
This is an incredible blessing for parents looking to get their children into schools otherwise beyond their reach. Not only better schools, but also schools that better conform to the values those parents want their children to grow up with.
Where can parents go to find out about the options in their state, specifically regarding a Classical Christian school?
David: At the ACCS, our “School Finder” at ClassicalChristian.org provides easy access for parents to an ACCS School in their area, with information presented in an easy-to-compare way. We represent the vast majority of classical Christian schools, so it’s likely they’ll find an option on our site. They can also Google classical Christian education and their city and state.
Winston: The Center for Independent Research on Classical Education, otherwise known as “CiRCE,” has a database of all the Classical schools organized by state registered on their website, available here.