Christian classical education

Christian Classical education is
the cultivation of wisdom and virtue
by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty,
so that in Christ the student is better able to know, glorify, and enjoy God.

Two principles spoken by the fathers of the church express the philosophy of Christian classical education:

The glory of God is the man fully alive
St. Irenaeus


Grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it
Quoted by Thomas Aquinas

Materials, methods, and governing structures are developed to realize this ideal in the practice of the school or home.

Materials must be characterized by truthfulness, moral integrity, quality labor, and beauty of expression. They must guide the particular student on the path to wisdom, inculcating virtue in his habits and tastes. Philippians 4:8 is the finest expression of these standards.

Methods must be consistently respectful of the nature and ends of the child, nourishing the child’s soul on a foundation of living ideas, building scientific and analytical knowledge on that foundation, and permeating all instruction with wonder, discipline, and reverence.

The “trivium” of grammar, logic, and rhetoric has been applied by way of analogy to the developmental stages of a child, providing a convenient outline for curriculum development and instruction.

Governing structures must embody the principles of Christian classical education and students must see in school leadership the wisdom and virtue that is demanded of them as students.

Five ideas that distingiuish Classical education from conventional:

  1. A unifying principle that orders all learning, thus an integrated, proportioned course of learning. In Christian classical education this unifying principle or “logos” is Christ
  2. Recognition of the transforming power of ideas, thus an emphasis on training students to contemplate ideas rather than merely retain content or master processes
  3. Virtue as the end of education, rather than mere application, thus a concerted and rigorous effort to cultivate every human faculty in every student. In particular, the faculties of sensory perception, attentiveness, intellectual apprehension, and concrete re-presentation are cultivated in all the arts and sciences.
  4. Humans learn by imitation, thus classical educators have always recognized the need for mentors, models, examples, etc. who are masters of their area of knowledge and who are the kinds of people we hope the students will grow up to become. In a word: honor and recognition to genuine authority. Imitate proceeds through the stages outlined above: perception, attention, absorption, apprehension, re-presentation. This is the essence of all learning and therefore must be applied in every learning context.
  5. Endless emphasis on reality over mere appearance, thus the recognition that perception is powerful, but it is not necessarily reality. When one is taught that perception is reality, accountability and the need to grow are either relativized, trivialized, or removed altogether.

If we can help you realize this dream in your setting, please contact us at

14 Responses

  1. I’ve been poking around your blog, and am finding the answers you leave on comments every bit as provoking and insightful as your posts. My husband and I attended the SCL conference this year. (He’s the one that sits in the front row of your every session and asked if you would come speak to our teachers in Abq., NM. I’m the Chinese gal that sits next to him in the front row, and actually teared up listening to your talk on the “The Three Philosophies of Education and American History.” Thank you for your godly wisdom. I do, actually have two questions for you:
    1) I cannot find it now, but on one comment on this blog, you said in response to SAT scores: “So we quit promoting and living the vision and promote and live our accomplishments instead.” I have been chewing on this since I read it, and would like to share some thoughts about it on my blog and with my fellow Board of Directors. I’d like permission to quote you from that conversation I eavesdropped on, and would be interested in you adding to that thought.
    2) Unrelated to the first question, would you consider listing our school, on your links to schools on this site? We would be so honored.

    Thank you for your time….and look forward to having you at our school hopefully in the next year.

    • Ruth,

      You would honor me if you quoted me from the conversation you mentioned. To be honest, i don’t remember where I wrote that either. Did you try the categories on the blog? Maybe it would come up under assessment or testing or something.

      As for listing your school, it would be our pleasure. I’ll get David on that!

      I would love to come visit your school some time in the next year too. The year is filling up pretty quickly, so if you have dates in mind, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Right now I have room in September, November, December, early January, April, and May plus bits and pieces in the summer (early June, late August).

      Thanks for coming to my workshops and listening so closely. May God bless your school with Heaven’s wisdom and fruitfulness.

      • Thank you so much, Andrew, for your response and for listing our school. I located the conversation from which I took the quote. It was taken from one of your responses to “Ben” on the “Resources and Schools” tabs. He was interested in your findings on stats…and I loved your answers. Can I ask one related question? If mastery of a subject is one’s freedom within it (as you’ve put it), how do we measure that mastery as a grammar school in an age where “testing out of” a subject level, and/or acquisition of material in measurable ways is a perceived right in private schools? (We are also a UMS school.)

  2. I would love to become a classical teacher. How do you recommend I prepare and find a job?

    • How old are you and what is your background?

      • I am 24-years-old with a B.A. in Religion. I did not receive a formal classical education nor did I learn latin. My knowledge of classical education comes from the books and other literature, all along the lines of the Lost Tools of Learning. I’m currently substitute teaching in the public schools. I feel like I don’t have enough training or support to use classical methods in the public school classroom (of course I can’t do this as a substitute, but from my observations of the curriculum and school system, I can imagine the difficulties).

    • Luke,

      I suppose the easiest way to prepare is to keep on teaching. You will want to study Latin in some setting and you should try to master the seven liberal arts to the extent possible.

      Maybe the best thing would be to find a school that would hire you and support your studies. Does that interest you?

  3. Hello Andrew,

    I understand how classical education is unique, but
    I am wondering exactly what makes a classical teacher different from a non classical teacher.


    • The classical teacher
      1. Is a master of the seven liberal arts while the non-classical teacher is a specialist in either psychology or a given subject area
      2. Is a master thinker while the non classical teacher is a technician and administrator
      3. Is free as a teacher because she has mastered the tools of thinking and isn’t controlled by the methods and technologies that control the non-classical teacher
      4. Is open to all truth while the non-classical teacher is primarily concerned with her position or with the kind of learner she is or teaches
      5. Believes in truth while the non-classical teacher finds it either philosophically restrictive or untenable
      6. Teaches according to the nature of the art or science, which she has mastered, while the non-classical teacher uses techniques
      7. Teaches according to the nature of the student, which she loves, while the non-classical teacher either doesn’t believe in nature or doesn’t have time to think about it because of the administrative demands placed on her
      8. Doesn’t exist while the nonclassical teacher won’t become classical just because the classical teacher doesn’t exist

      Your trick question gets a tricky answer!

  4. Thanks, Andrew, good response. At TAA, we are “in the trenches” constantly striving to apply this idea. I would like to see some discussion on strategies and methods, if that’s possible.

  5. Barry,

    Thanks for visiting! It’s great to hear from you.

    I agreee with your emphasis on the classics, which I consider the sine qua non of education, particularly a classical education. My defense for not stating them in particular is that I was trying to express the eternal essence of classical education.

    It is conceivable (though not likely) that all learning could be wiped out and something as glorious as classical education could be rediscovered in a new set of languages. It would take an incredible devotion to the cultivation of wisdom and virtue for their own sake and I’m not sure that is common.

    If anybody had the courage to follow that inspiration they would develop the same arts as the classical educators developed: the arts of language and reason (the 7 liberal arts) and they would lay those arts as the foundation of all learning.

    Then they would go on and apply those arts to the sciences.

    However, my argument might underestimate the inestimable achievement of the ancient Greeks, which to lose is to lose our most precious “earthly” possession. From Homer to Aristotle, it really is unbelievable what they achieved.

    The Bible teaches us to give honor to whom it is due. That is why we are Biblically bound to continually sing the praises of the Greek poets, artists, philosophers, and educators.

    Great to hear from you!


  6. I agree, very good summary of what Christian classical education is all about. However, it would be nice to see some sort of statement about the Classics in such a summary. “Start them young in Latin, early in Greek, and spare not the math and science.”

    N.E. Barry Hofstetter
    Classics Instructor, The American Academy

  7. Such an inspiring ideal.


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