To know God and to make Him known.

Celebrating Classical Education

As my children have left childhood and home and are entering into post-high school education and the world of work, I often reflect on our journey as a family and my growing understanding of Christian, classical education. This summer, the whole family spent a few evenings together watching movies. One insightful dystopian movie portrayed a government that raised children with the goal of preparing them for their future job in the society. At their graduation ceremonies, held when the children reach eighteen years of age, the community leader announces their job in the society and says, “Thank you for your childhood.”[i]

While this chilling phrase leads my mind to some sober considerations, I agree with it in the sense that childhood is a precious and formative season of life. Too often, however, it becomes a single-vision season for homeschooling parents filled with concerns about their child’s place in society—in particular, grades and job placement. While these questions certainly merit consideration, as a Christian, classical home educator, I believe we ought to prioritize other considerations during these childhood years.

Filled with concerns about how to best spend the early years with my children, I joined a Classical Conversations community through a friend’s invitation. Yes, I had questions about SAT, transcripts, subjects, and job placement, but other questions—larger questions—confronted me. I had no idea what classical education was but cared greatly what Christian education might really look like. I wondered, what does a good life look like? What does true community look like?

If we are called to love God and our neighbors, what does that mean? Does being prepared for “real life” mean only the life we live for seventy years or so, or the life we live in eternity? How are these lives related? How do I cultivate virtue, truth, goodness, beauty, wisdom, knowledge, and understanding? What is my role, responsibility, and authority as a parent in nurturing this child for “real life”? Questions like these became my greater questions and also proved to be the more difficult questions to answer. Somehow, questions like these seemed to be more of the “real life” questions that true education should be concerned with. I found that Christian, classical education asked and cared about many of these kinds of questions, too.

Over time I sensed that “getting a job” would work itself out, but a human soul that was ignored or constantly overrun with weeds like pridefulness, faithlessness, hopelessness, lovelessness, and blindness seemed a much more insidious and hideous concern. Therefore, pursuing an education that addressed more than the physical needs of food and clothing became my heart’s prayer. I first looked to Christ’s words and challenge to seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness,[ii] rather than prioritizing food, drink, clothing, and a career. But what kind of education was I seeking? What did such an education look like? Was such an education even possible? I did not know the answer to any of these questions, but my quest for answers compelled me to seek. As my children leave home and I reflect on our journey, I would like to recommend three significant opportunities or events that fostered our family’s growth in classical education and helped us address some of these surprisingly perennial questions of human concern.

Early in my quest, I entered into the Classical Conversations community where a dear friend introduced me to Dorothy Sayers and her essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning.”[iii] While Sayers is in no way the final voice on education, I found her to offer unique and timely insights about education. Sayers challenges us to reconsider the end of education, to pay attention to child development, and to acquire tools for lifelong learning. Still speaking to education but in another work, Sayers also reminds us that “it is the business of education to wait upon Pentecost.”[iv] Therefore, as teachers and educators we should cultivate conditions and habits that prepare our students to receive the fire of learning and the fire of truth that seek to enter their minds, hearts, and souls. As parents are considering how to orient and direct their education at home, I often recommend beginning with Sayers, since her ideas provided a welcome mat into the spacious home of classical education for our family.

For a growing classical home educator considering how to best orient the years of childhood, my second recommendation is to attend Parent Practicum[v] each year as part of a personal, intentional continuing education plan. The local Parent Practicum is like a foyer in the classical education home, a place for meeting and greeting other parent educators. These three-day parent events are a hybrid between an educational conference and a workshop where parents practice the tools of learning together. One of the best things about these events is that you meet other families and leaders who live near you. This allows for new friendships to form and for follow-up gatherings, for meeting together over coffee, and for living life together and praying together. This local support and community is invaluable as you deliberate and decide the best way for your family to direct these childhood years and seek to grow as classical home educators.

My third recommendation to parents is to read together, read with others, and make time for conversation. Through the middle school and high school years, my husband and I have made an intentional effort to invite friends and their families over to read together and eat together. As my husband’s grilling provides a savory feast for the body, so the reading provides savory food through conversation that nourishes the mind and soul. These gatherings provide some of the greatest opportunities for my own children to listen, ask questions, and consider ideas that they care about. Conversations about virtue, rhetoric, courage, fidelity, friendship, love, beauty, goodness, hospitality, and truth commonly surface at these gatherings. As parents consider how to best shape these later childhood years, I cannot recommend this investment in close reading and conversation with other families highly enough. This practice models for our children our own need for learning, which speaks louder than any lecture on learning we might rather dispense. This gathering is at the heart of our Christian, classical education homelife in the later years of childhood. These gatherings are like the living room in the classical education home.

If we hope to prepare our children for living well, loving well, and passing well from this life to the next, we should be thoughtful, prayerful, and intentional about these childhood years and how best to spend them. Reading what others say about education, participating in local learning events and meeting new friends, and opening our homes to great conversation around great books, we just might discover the childhood years well spent. Listening to those who have gone before us while learning with those around us provides a rich community for Christian, classical education to take root and bear fruit. Perhaps one day your children may thank you for the childhood you were able to provide for them as a preparation for this life and the next.

 

[i] The Giver. Directed by Phillip Noyce. Performed by Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep. The Weinstein Company, 2014. DVD.

[ii] Matthew 6:25–34, though I recommend meditating on the whole chapter often.

[iii] Classical Christian Education Made Approachable (Classical Conversations MultiMedia, 2014) See Classical Conversations catalog page 65.

[iv] Dorothy L. Sayers, The Mind of the Maker (Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004), 89.

[v] See page 88 in the Classical Conversations catalog for more details about this year’s Parent Practicum or visit our Practicum webpage.

 

CATEGORIES: Articles, Big Ideas: Truth, Beauty, Goodness and more!, Classical Christian Education, College and Post Graduation, Dialectic Stage (ages 12 to 14), Grammar Stage (ages 4 to 11), Homeschooling Life, Rhetoric Stage (ages 14 to 18)

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