When I am asked to describe our school, the part I am most often asked to explain further is the term “classical.” What does it mean to be classical? Does it mean old? Does it mean we listen to a certain type of music? Is it snobby, elitist, or pompous? Is that the Latin thing?
In truth, classical education is none of those things. Rather, it is a rich and robust form of education that has distinctive traits. When I am called on to explain classical education, I usually point to three main facets of a classical education.
First, classical education is a strengths-based education. That is, we cut with the grain by teaching students the way they are wired during each stage of development. Thus, when their minds are sponges, we give them information. When they are beginning to ask higher level questions, we teach them to synthesize, reason, and evaluate in order to come to solid conclusions. When they begin to desire to express themselves, we teach them how to do so winsomely, powerfully, and persuasively.
So much of modern education focuses on helping weaknesses, which is why there is such a high investment in test scores. The test is meant to find a weakness and strengthen it. Surely that is part of education, just like playing defense is part of baseball.
But there is another part of the game; namely, offense, and let’s admit offense is much more fun. I always prefer hitting the ball instead of being hit at with the ball. I believe it is much more exciting to put your best players in the right spot in the line up to be most effective in the game.
Classical education is like playing offense. We attach subjects in order to subdue them. Math doesn’t happen to our students; our students happen to math. We take the number and wrestle them until we understand them and use them. And we do this by teaching them according to their stage of development so that they can get the most out of what God has put in them.
Yet, classical education is more than just being strengths-based - it is also time-tested. This strategy of education has stood the test of time and has consistently proven to be effective in the lives of students all over the world. It means we read the great books—not paragraph excerpts—so that we can join the great conversations across the ages.
In this way, classical education is timeless and not trendy.
A few days ago, I was at the gym peddling an exercise bike and generally minding my own business when something caught my eye. Someone had left the T.V. on the T.V. Land station. An old television show was coming on—The Facts of Life. The episode was one of the last ones where the characters were now grown and living as young adults.
When I saw the opening scene, I laughed—almost uncontrollably. I laughed because I had forgotten one thing about the eighties. In the eighties, we used a lot of hair spray, and people’s hair was really (and I mean really) big. During this time, big hair was the trend. And I am so glad it is not the trend now. To be sure, there are trends, and we will look back in twenty years and laugh at these trends. Trends, after all, are trendy.
That is, after all, the nature of trends. They come and go and come back again. But there are some things that endure, that last across decades, that are, in fact, timeless.
Classical education is designed to draw from the wisdom of the ages and to major on that which is timeless. By anchoring students in timeless truth, we prepare them to be effective in any place, at any time, with all types of people.
And that leads me to a third trait of classical education. It is leader-focused. We aim to train leaders. Classical education is not for everyone, for everyone is not called to be a leader. But if they are leaders in the making, classical education equips them to lead.
Effective leaders have a broad vision. They can look across many disciplines and see how they relate. Classical education gives students a broad vision where they can see connections for the express purpose of leading effectively.
Strength-based, time-tested, and leader-focused. That is classical education, and that is just the kind of training we need to impact our world for Christ.