Dear Parent Considering Classical Ed

January 17, 2018


Mars Hill Academy mother, Teressa Mahl, received a message from a friend inquiring about classical Christian education. Here is an excerpt from her heartfelt reply. 

I'm a newbie to the classical scene, but I will share what I have learned (am learning!) so far. There are many things that appeal to my husband and me about classical education. I will just touch on a couple.

Philosophically, the why of education differs between classical and "progressive" (i.e. conventional) education. The underlying purpose of classical education is development of the whole person. In contrast, progressive education springs from the industrial revolution, where the purpose of education shifted from producing well-rounded citizens to producing workers for an industrial society. This is important, because the "why" significantly shapes the focus of classical education and has major trickle-down effects.

From a pedagogy perspective, classical education tailors teaching methods and learning objectives around the child's natural developmental stages. Grammar emphasizes memory combined with movement and music. During the Logic years when students are naturally questioning and thinking more abstractly, the emphasis is on putting reason behind the information they encountered in Grammar school. The Rhetoric stage focuses on the synthesis of information and the ability to reason and communicate persuasively and winsomely. 

For me this model of education makes sense practically. In the present, I observe how quickly my kids absorb and memorize information — this approach to teaching makes learning natural for them. For their future, I see the value in reasoning and thinking critically, and speaking and writing clearly. The classical method zeros in on developing these skills in a way that progressive education at the K-12 level does not.

The more we understood classical education, the more we saw how it matched the vision we have for our kids. As we read the desired outcomes of the classical model, it actually put into words what our goals were before we could articulate them ourselves.

Our kids are thriving at Mars Hill. The environment is very structured with high standards for behavior and order, which creates a great learning environment. Their teachers are loving and  kind. It is encouraging to know they are purposefully partnering with us in our efforts to raise our children to love and follow Jesus.

I think a lot of people who choose a Christian education do so because of what they want to avoid: bad influences, common core, political agenda, or (fill in the blank). For us, choosing a Christian school, and specifically classical, for our kids is about what we are running towards, not so much what we are running away from. We are pursuing an education that puts God at the center, because He is the Creator of all knowledge, and we want the pursuit of truth and knowledge to lead them to worship God. We are pursuing an education that holds up beauty and goodness as ideals, because these reflect the character of God, and because we become what we behold. We are pursuing an education that values the development of the whole person, because as image-bearers we have a responsibility to steward the mind, body, and spirit that we have been given.