Delight, Discern, Display
Introduction to Classical Education
Classical education is, in a nutshell, biblical education par excellence. Classical education began with the Greeks and the Romans before the “Christian era” under the common grace of God, but its roots are found in the Scriptures. It developed throughout the centuries under the leadership of Christian theologians and educators such as Augustine, Diodorus, Alcuin, Erasmus, Milton, Hugh of St. Victor, Melanchthon, Luther, and many others. In America, it was the education of the Founding Fathers. It died out and is now making a comeback more vigorously than ever before.
One way to describe classical education is by the concept of trivium: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. These three terms describe both the three stages and the three aspects of a classical education. At the grammar stage, students learn the fundamental rules of each subject. At the logic stage, students order the relationship of particulars in each subject. Finally, at the rhetoric stage, students learn how the grammar and logic of each subject may be clearly expressed.
For each of the three stages and aspects of education, there is a corresponding goal of discipleship: delight, discern, and display the glory of God in Jesus Christ.
During the grammar school years, the goal is to disciple a student to delight in the Lord. This is the starting point of education. A child should be motivated to learn, and that motivation comes chiefly from enjoying God’s truth, goodness, and beauty in everything. It is at this early stage of learning that the capacity of a child’s learning is created for the rest of his or her life. And this capacity is created not by mere knowledge or skill, but by enjoying the very source of our life: God. This is in line with the biblical principle that understanding and wisdom comes from enjoying God: “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge.” A child may not fully understand all that he or she is singing, memorizing or drawing, but those things will follow as long as they are enjoying God through what they are singing, memorizing, or drawing. Beginning a Christian education with an older student should also begin with a focus on training their affections, which necessarily will be more challenging since the child’s affections need to be rewired to love God more than other things.
During the logic school years, the goal is to disciple a student to discern in the Lord. This is the stage in which understanding grows by means of discernment. There are two kinds of discernments: logical and moral. By learning the rules of logic and applying them to the study of nature, history, language, and math, students learn to see God’s truth, goodness, and beauty with greater clarity and depth. Students are also trained to discern good and evil, right and wrong, so that they understand that knowledge is not neutral and that with knowledge comes moral responsibility. They are called to defend the truth, and to submit to the truth, by which they become more free.
Finally, in the rhetoric school years, the goal is to disciple a student to display the glory of God in Jesus Christ. The assumption here is that after a student learns to love God with their heart and mind, he or she should be able to love God with their will. They should reflect God’s truth, goodness, and beauty through writing, speaking, and the way they work with others. They should represent God persuasively and winsomely to others, with integrity (ethos), clarity in their presentation (logos), and with respect and gentleness toward their hearers (pathos). When they see a problem in the society, they should respond with moral courage and compassion.