At other times I have written here about the importance of the home, church, and school being in agreement, and it is a message that bears repeating. Those three entities have the most influence over a child’s formation. If the home, church, and school have different messages about who God is or who His people are or how they are called to live, a child’s mind will be divided on issues that are foundational to her existence. For a child to flourish spiritually and emotionally, hearing a consistent message from home, church, and school is necessary. By that same standard, a classical education cannot take root and flourish in the life of a child if it isn’t being supported at home.
Often parents enroll their students in classical schools, not for the classical education, but because they are attracted to the culture of the school when they visit: children seem happy, polite, articulate, and mature; teachers don’t seem frazzled; the décor looks less like a school and more like an art gallery or cathedral; and the list goes on. Ironically, (or maybe not) these are sometimes the same parents who, two years into their classical experience, get frustrated with the study of Latin and Greek or the reading of so many old books or the absence of STEM.
Is there a bait and switch going on in classical education, these parents may wonder? No. What they do not realize is that it was the classical education that created the culture they were attracted to at the beginning. Someone will say, No, it is the Christian aspect of the school that creates the culture. Well, of course, that is part of it. A Christian classical school will turn out committed Christians while the non-Christian classical school will turn out what C.S. Lewis calls “clever devils.” But they will be clever devils who are polite, mature, articulate, winsome, and all the other characteristics that attracted the parents in my example to the classical Christian school in the beginning.
David Hicks in Norms and Nobility, his treatise on education, asserted that the end of a good education should not only be right thinking but even righteous acting. And that is what classical Christian education done well at school and at home is able to produce. Prospective parents who are attracted to the culture of classical Christian schools are being attracted by the fruit of classical Christian education. But fruit does not come easily, friends. Trees that are not nourished produce no fruit—perhaps even worse, trees that are nourished only part-time produce little or no fruit, or perhaps even bitter fruit.
Parents who lose patience with the curricula of classical schools, who grow to despise the time spent on art and music and Latin and theology, are despising the very nurture that produced the fruit that attracted them to classical Christian education in the first place. To get the fruit of classical Christian education, the home and school must work together. This idea may seem foreign to parents who themselves have had no classical education, but take heart, many have done it before you. It is possible.
I want to suggest a few do’s and don’ts for parents who are attracted to the beautiful culture classical education can produce but who may not understand how to support it at home:
- Do read books. Put down those self-improvement books and let your children see you reading real literature. Depending on the age of your children, you might start with Lewis or Tolkien, but the options are nearly endless. Homer’s Odyssey can open up whole worlds, and fairy tales aren’t a bad place to start either. The bottom line: turn off the imagination-killing TV and be bookish.
- Do trust the curriculum. Classical Christian schools are teaching your children using method and content that has produced great minds and righteous acting people for centuries. STEM, on the other hand, is a fad—the latest stopgap measure to rescue math and science test scores for U.S. public schools. Trust the curriculum. Sure, Latin isn’t being spoken on Wall Street, but there is something else going on when a student learns Latin. Be patient. Give it time. Openly support it so your child will not resist it.
- Do try something different. Cancel the family video game-a-thon for next Saturday and go to the art museum or the opera or a play or the symphony. Study it before you go so you know what you’re getting into. Talk about it afterward. What did you like? What did you not like? What parts did you not understand?
- Eat dinner together every night and listen to your child tell you the story of her history lesson from the week. Ask her questions. Make her think. Learn something about what she is learning. Be interested.
- Don’t spend the afternoon and evening undoing what teachers have spent all day building up in your child. In an article over at the Circe Institute, Josh Gibbs said it this way, “The young man who attends a classical school— but spends his free time playing Fortnite, listening to Top 40, watching banal television, and gossiping on social media— is never going to receive a classical education. He will merely come near it and occasionally sense its presence, perhaps in the same way a superstitious man sometimes claims there is a ghost in the room.”
The culture that attracts so many parents to classical Christian schools is not a warm and fuzzy fluke, nor is it an accident of a bunch of nearly perfect people coming to the same school by chance. It is the result of classical Christian education. It is not only right thinking but also righteous acting. And it can be yours, but it is going to take a little work. I hope you will join us.
Mr. Ron Gilley