The Classical Mandate for the Church

Why should Christians around the world take interest in classical education? Simply answered, they should because classical education is the heritage of the Christian Church. Dr. Brian Williams explores how this is so and how classical Christian education supports the mission of the Church—the flourishing of individuals and their cultures.

Brian Williams

Dr. Brian A. Williams is Dean of the Templeton Honors College and Assistant Professor of Ethics & Liberal Studies at Eastern University in Pennsylvania. Previously, he was Lecturer in Theology and Christian Ethics at the University of Oxford and Director of Oxford Conversations, a collection of interviews with influential Christian academics and scholars. He holds an MPhil and DPhil in Christian Ethics from the University of Oxford, an MA and ThM in Systematic and Historical Theology, and a BA in Biblical Studies. Currently, he is an Alcuin Fellow and a Research Fellow with the Institute of Classical Education. Dr. Williams is the author of The Potter’s Rib: The History, Theology, and Practice of Mentoring for Pastoral Formation.

Story-Based Learning in Early Classical Education

“Once upon a time…” Fewer phrases can spark such instant interest as this familiar story opening. Story-telling is a primary mode of input for our littlest learners. But how do you decide which stories are worth being told? How do you present a story so that children learn to comprehend the elements without dissecting the story into lifeless bits? How do you choose books that tell the Truth in a world full of mediocre children’s literature?

This workshop is an interactive, hands-on session. You will see demonstrations of read-aloud techniques, and come away with a grid for selecting and reading Life-giving stories with your youngest learners. “The most important part of education is right training in the early years. The soul of the child in his play should be guided to the love of…excellence.” (Plato, Laws, as quoted in Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child

 

Kristina Pierce

Kristina Pierce joined Providence Classical School’s faculty in 2011 and has taught in both the three-day and five-day kindergarten programs. She has degrees from Louisiana State University and Dallas Theological Seminary. She is certified in early childhood, special education (birth to 21) and grammar K-5. Kristina has taught the early years and primary grades in many parts of the world including Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas, Singapore, Ireland, Scotland and England. She is passionate about the younger years and the opportunities that are available both classically and spiritually for this age group. Whether she is teaching her fifth grade Sunday school class or serving as a children’s supervisor in Bible Study Fellowship, she encourages the current generation of millennial's to rethink their parenting techniques and philosophies, as they consider what it means to love truth, beauty, and goodness.

Gretchen Geverdt

Gretchen Geverdt loves stories, science, children, and teaching. She began teaching elementary students in 1989 and has taught in co-op, private, and public schools. She currently teaches kindergarten enrichment and Latin at Rockbridge Academy in Maryland. Gretchen is married to an English major who now does statistics for a living. They have two high school sons, both at Rockbridge. Gretchen's hobbies include meeting strangers, walking her family's Portuguese Waterdog-Jack, teaching foundational truths, and baking almond flour cookies.

Patio Q&A with Angel Adams Parham and Anika Prather

Anika Prather

Dr. Anika Prather has earned her B.A. from Howard University in elementary education and graduate degrees in education from New York University and Howard University. She has a Masters in liberal arts from St. John’s College and in 2017 completed her PhD in curriculum and instruction from the University of Maryland, College Park with a focus on literacy education. She has served as a teacher, director of education and the Head of School for public and Christian schools. Currently she is the founder of The Living Water School (www.thelwschool.org). The inspiration for starting this school comes from her three creative and curious kids. Anika lives in Maryland with her husband Damon (an engineer and business manager for the school), 2 sons (Dillon-10/Destin-9), 1 daughter (Day-6) and way too many pets. Anika also enjoys urban farming and raises angora rabbits and spins yarn from their wool for her hobby of crocheting and knitting and a few herbs and veggies. Her inspirations in life are her grandmother (who taught her to crochet and garden), her mom (who led her to faith in Jesus Christ and introduced her to classical education), and Marva Collins and Anna Julia Cooper (whose lives and work serve as North Stars for her work in education).

Angel Parham

Dr. Angel Adams Parham is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Nyansa Classical Community. Nyansa provides after-school programming and curricula designed to connect with and draw students of color into the beauty of classical literature and the great conversation. She is also Associate Professor of Sociology at Loyola University-New Orleans. Dr. Parham's sociological training provides an in-depth understanding of the social and economic challenges facing many low-income communities of color, while her Christian faith emphasizes the importance of combining this sociological knowledge with a commitment to students’ spiritual formation and the cultivation of their moral imagination. She is also a wife and mother of two beautiful girls who are homeschooled according to classical Christian principles and pedagogies.

Classical Education and Christian Discipleship: Reforming Men (Part II)

In part two, we will consider the remarkable similarities and the complementary functions of classical education and Christian discipleship, even as we draw distinctions between them – the most important of which is that as disciple-makers, we are not seeking to sculpt better versions of Adam, but rather we are God’s instruments in His molding of young men and women into the brilliant image of Jesus.

Brandon Shuman

Brandon serves as the Dean of Arts and Humanities at Midland Classical Academy deep in the heart of West Texas. Over the course of his ministry at MCA, he has Socratically taught over 28 different junior high, high school and parent courses from a wide range of academic disciplines, including Great Books, Greek, apologetics, history and movie production. Brandon writes education articles for Midland's local newspaper and co-hosts the Good Knight Dad podcast, which encourages and empowers parents to better leverage their experience at MCA. Brandon enjoys coffee, fly fishing, playing baseball in the backyard with his two sons, singing to his newborn daughter and adventuring through life alongside his beautiful wife, Laura.

Classical Education and Christian Discipleship: Cultivating Virtue (Part I)

Aristotle wrote that man, “when perfected, is the noblest of all animals, but when separated from justice, he is the worst of all.” In the first part of this two-part session, we will contemplate the enterprise of classical education. We will consider how its foundational assumptions about nature and man; its methodology of the Trivium; its guiding principles of truth, goodness and beauty; and its telos for the good life all intersect in the cultivation of virtuous men and society.

Brandon Shuman

Brandon serves as the Dean of Arts and Humanities at Midland Classical Academy deep in the heart of West Texas. Over the course of his ministry at MCA, he has Socratically taught over 28 different junior high, high school and parent courses from a wide range of academic disciplines, including Great Books, Greek, apologetics, history and movie production. Brandon writes education articles for Midland's local newspaper and co-hosts the Good Knight Dad podcast, which encourages and empowers parents to better leverage their experience at MCA. Brandon enjoys coffee, fly fishing, playing baseball in the backyard with his two sons, singing to his newborn daughter and adventuring through life alongside his beautiful wife, Laura.

Education as the Cultivation of Love

What is education? Fundamentally it is not the transference of knowledge, the development of skill sets or preparation for the next stage of schooling. Education is the formation of loves. Its primary task is to cultivate an ordo amoris, an ordering of love, that corresponds to reality and enables students to live lives of virtue. Drawing on thinkers from Plato and Augustine to Josef Pieper and C. S. Lewis, this seminar examines the cultivation of well-ordered loves as the central goal of education and questions how this conception of education should affect what we do in the classroom and how we measure “success.”

David Diener

Dr. David Diener holds a BA in Philosophy and Ancient Languages from Wheaton College as well as an MA in Philosophy, an MS in History and Philosophy of Education, and a dual PhD in Philosophy and Philosophy of Education from Indiana University. In addition to working as a high-end custom trim carpenter for an Amish company and living as a missionary for three years in Bogotá, Colombia, he has taught at The Stony Brook School and Taylor University and has served as Head of Upper Schools at Covenant Classical School in Fort Worth, TX, and Head of School at Grace Academy in Georgetown, TX. He currently works at Hillsdale College where he is the Headmaster of Hillsdale Academy and a Lecturing Professor of Education. He also is an Alcuin Fellow, serves on the Board of Directors for the Society for Classical Learning and the Board of Academic Advisors for the Classic Learning Test, and offers consulting services through Classical Academic Press. He is the author of Plato: The Great Philosopher-Educator and serves as the series editor for Classical Academic Press’ series Giants in the History of Education. The Dieners have four wonderful children and are passionate about classical Christian education and the impact it can have on the church, our society, and the world.

Ancient Hinges: How the Classical Virtues Inform Transformational Leadership

The cardinal virtues of temperance, fortitude, prudence and justice were espoused by Plato, Cicero and Marcus Aurelius long before Christianity formally adopted them. Through the classical influence on the scholastics, Christian scholars like Thomas Aquinas and poets like Dante Alighieri came to understand the immense value of these virtues. If 2,000 years of scholarship has defended these virtues, we would be wise to take note. Drawing from his own research, D. Michael Lindsay argues for a renewed understanding of everything the cardinal virtues have to offer us in fulfilling our own callings and in shaping the lives of the next generation of leaders.

D. Michael LIndsay

Award-winning sociologist and educator D. Michael Lindsay is the eighth president of Gordon College, and an expert on religion, culture and leadership. In his book, View from the Top, Dr. Lindsay reports the findings of his 10-year Platinum Study, the largest-ever, interview-based study of organizational leaders – including former presidents and CEOs. Since his appointment to President of Gordon College in 2011, the school has experienced banner years in terms of enrollment, fundraising, financial strength, campus diversity, sponsored research, athletic success and faith expression. He regards these gains as evidence of a winning team. He also serves on the boards of Christianity Today and the Veritas Forum.

Racial Diversity and Classical Christian Education

In the Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, Rod Dreher briefly comments about the relationship between classical Christian schools and the legacy of racism in the South. Classical Christian schools “would be wise to make special efforts toward racial reconciliation by recruiting black families, especially given that public schools are effectively resegregating.” His thought raises a question:
To what extent are we “making any effort” towards racial reconciliation? With rising racial tensions and schools resegregating, we should explore ways to understand racial misunderstandings and methods to diversify and retain our curriculum, student body, faculty and board of trustees.

Miranda Webster

Miranda and her husband live in Orillia, Ontario in Canada. She has been involved in classical Christian education since 2008. She previously worked at Covenant Classical School in Fort Worth, Texas, and currently teaches seven sections with Veritas Scholars Academy, a classical Christian school partnering with homeschool parents to provide CCE to their students. In 2017, Miranda started a doctoral program in education at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Her dissertation is focused on racial diversity and classical Christian education.

In Defense of the Humanities

In the past few years I have noticed three troubling trends with regard to the humanities. I have been an English professor at Houston Baptist University for nearly three decades. During that time, I have seen the number of humanities majors – literature, history, philosophy, Spanish, Latin, classics, etc. – rise and fall, but never in all those years have I witnessed the kind of precipitous decline I have seen recently.

Secondly, in addition to teaching literature I have devoted the last nine years to lecturing for our Honors College, a program that allows students to obtain a full classical Christian Great Books education while also majoring in a field of their choice. In the beginning, a significant number of Honors College students chose a major in the humanities; today, more and more are majoring in the sciences, in business or in the social sciences.

Finally, I have spent the last 12 years speaking for classical Christian schools and conferences across the country. Though the movement as a whole is healthy and growing, I have noticed as of late a slow, but increasing danger. Parents who have been supportive of classical education and pleased by the intellectual and moral progress of their children are feeling the temptation to jump ship mid-stream and move their classically-trained middle school students to a non-classical high school.

What do these three troubling trends have in common? A growing perception on the part of students and their parents that an education grounded in the humanities/liberal arts is somehow impractical and will leave graduates without the resources to find a good college or a good job. “A passion for literature, Latin, history or philosophy is all well and good,” so the current wisdom goes, “but those pursuits will not provide the kind of training that students need to survive and thrive in the modern age.”

I’ve always known in my gut that this knee-jerk, utilitarian response to the humanities is false, but I never dreamed that its falsehood would be exposed by the very business world that the utilitarians invariably point to as their greatest ally and their key source of proof.

Now, before I proceed, I must confess that as a lifelong humanities person I feel an aversion to quoting statistics and current events. I have always preferred, and continue to prefer, time-tested wisdom to the latest trends, the testimonies and experiences of individual human beings to reductive and often anti-humanistic statistics. Still, I will here break my rule (temporarily) since the news and the numbers are punching holes in the current wisdom and letting the true light shine through.

Try typing this phrase into your favorite search engine: “Employers want liberal arts majors.” You will be greeted,  if not deluged, with articles, reports, book reviews and studies asserting that the naysayers are wrong and that companies do very much want employees who have cut their teeth in a good humanities program. You might be skeptical at first, figuring these articles must have been posted by humanities departments or classical schools. If so, you quickly will realize that you are wrong. Here is a brief sampling of what you will find:

  1. From the Bureau of Labor Statistics: “According to studies from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), employers often rank skills such as critical thinking and communication – hallmarks of liberal arts training – above technical aptitude as essential for career readiness.”
  2. From the New York Times’ review of George Anders’s You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a “Useless” Liberal Arts Education and Randall Stross’ A Practical Education: Why Liberal Arts Majors Make Great Employees: “According to both Anders and Stross, the ever-expanding tech sector is now producing career opportunities in fields – project management, recruitment, human relations, branding, data analysis, market research, design, fundraising, and sourcing, to name some – that specifically require the skills taught in the humanities. To thrive in these areas, one must be able to communicate effectively, read subtle social and emotional cues, make persuasive arguments, adapt quickly to fluid environments, interpret new forms of information while translating them into a compelling narrative and anticipate obstacles and opportunities before they arise. Programs like English or history represent better preparation, the two authors argue, for the demands of the newly emerging ‘rapport sector’ than vocationally oriented disciplines like engineering or finance.”
  3. From the Harvard Business Review: “From Silicon Valley to the Pentagon, people are beginning to realize that to effectively tackle today’s biggest social and technological challenges, we need to think critically about their human context – something humanities graduates happen to be well trained to do. Call it the revenge of the film, history and philosophy nerds.”
  4. And, an Investopedia survey of executives – including CEOs, presidents, vice presidents and C-level executives – by the Association of American Colleges and Universities revealed:
  • 93% of executives say “demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems is more important than a particular degree.”
  • 80% of executives say that regardless of a student’s major, they should have “a broad knowledge” of the liberal arts and sciences.
  • 80% of executives say schools should place more emphasis on oral and written communication skills.
  • 71% of executives say schools should place more emphasis on the ability to innovate and be creative.
  • 74% of executives would “recommend a liberal education to their own child or a young child they know.”

I easily could quote another dozen passages, but I hope these will suffice to show that the humanities/liberal arts are not as divorced from the needs of real-life employers as has been supposed. In taking a non-utilitarian approach, one in which the discipline is studied as an end-in-itself, the humanities end up producing graduates who excel in just the skills that modern companies are demanding from their employees. Furthermore, because the graduates acquired those skills not through direct vocational training, but as a natural consequence of dialoging with the great works of literature, history and philosophy, they internalize them in a way that better enables growth, flexibility and innovation over time.

Quote two above does a fine job listing some of the skills that develop organically from the humanistic disciplines, but I, as a humanities professor, prefer to flesh out the exact nature of those critical thinking skills by looking to the past for guidance, clarity and illumination. When I do so, I discover, to my delight, that all that needs to be said on the subject was said a century-and-a-half ago by a British Victorian sage who lived and wrote in the heyday of the industrial revolution: Cardinal Newman.

In 1852, Newman delivered a series of nine discourses – later published as The Idea of a University – in which he laid down foundational principles for a proposed classical Christian liberal arts Catholic university in Dublin, Ireland. In discourse VII, chapter X, Newman describes, in terms prophetic of the passages I quoted above, the fruits of a liberal arts education grounded in the humanities:

A University training is the great ordinary means to a great, but ordinary end; it aims at raising the intellectual tone of society, at cultivating the public mind, at purifying the national taste, at supplying true principles to popular enthusiasm and fixed aims to popular aspiration, at giving enlargement and sobriety to the ideas of the age, at facilitating the exercise of political power and refining the intercourse of private life. It is the education which gives a man a clear conscious view of his own opinions and judgments, a truth in developing them, an eloquence in expressing them and a force in urging them. It teaches him to see things as they are, to go right to the point, to disentangle a skein of thought, to detect what is sophistical and to discard what is irrelevant. It prepares him to fill any post with credit, and to master any subject with facility. It shows him how to accommodate himself to others, how to throw himself into their state of mind, how to bring before them his own, how to influence them, how to come to an understanding with them, how to bear with them. He is at home in any society, he has common ground with every class; he knows when to speak and when to be silent; he is able to converse, he is able to listen; he can ask a question pertinently, and gain a lesson seasonably, when he has nothing to impart himself.

Were my concern here the ability of the humanities to shape virtuous, morally self-regulating citizens who can redeem public discourse and uphold and preserve a deliberative representational democracy, I would zero in on the first sentence. Heaven knows, our modern, fractured society is in desperate need of such college graduates! Since, however, my focus is the link between the liberal arts and the workplace, I will turn instead to the remainder of the paragraph – not to enshrine it, but to explicate, parse and interpret it as though it were a poem or a historical event or a Latin verb. For that is the way humanities majors interact with the world around them; it is as familiar to them as breathing or walking or falling in love.

It is this education which gives a man a clear conscious view of his own opinions and judgments, a truth in developing them, an eloquence in expressing them and a force in urging them.

In the language of classical Christian education, such a student has successfully worked his way through the trivium (“three ways”) of grammar, logic and rhetoric. He, like the college humanities major, has learned to “think for himself,” not by parroting the words of others or rejecting all that came before him, but by measuring his ideas against standards of goodness, truth and beauty, synthesizing them into a coherent thesis or worldview, and then sharing that schema with his peers in a persuasive, but irenic manner. A humanities student learns to do this without knowing he is doing it – by wrestling with the timeless issues raised by Sophocles or Plutarch or Aquinas – and he will carry it with him into committee board rooms where such integrative, high-level thinking is required and valued.

It teaches him to see things as they are, to go right to the point, to disentangle a skein of thought, to detect what is sophistical and to discard what is irrelevant.

The humanities excel at training students to read a text –any kind of text – and go for the jugular. That is to say, students who spend their college years intensively studying literature or history or philosophy become adept at cutting through what is peripheral to get to the core, to what is most essential, most lasting and most human. The business world very much needs employees who can analyze a situation and identify, quickly and with precision, the root causes of that situation and the consequences it is likely to produce. True, some of that can be gained by studying business case studies, but what those studies lack are the simultaneously particular and universal issues that confront humanities majors in every class.

It prepares him to fill any post with credit, and to master any subject with facility.

It may sound like a cliché to refer to the humanities major as a Renaissance man, but it should not. The liberal arts strive to produce graduates who can speak intelligently and with passion on a wide range of topics, not because they have memorized a packet of trivial pursuit cards, but because they have spent four years actively participating in the Great Conversation that has been going on since Homer and the books of Moses. Though they are sometimes ridiculed for being jacks of all trades, but masters of none, they are in truth generalists who see and appreciate the connections between all areas of thought. Such employees will be able to connect with clients in a way that goes beyond small talk at the bar or restaurant. Their training will allow them to see the client, not to mention their officemates, as fellow travelers on a  journey of self-discovery.

It shows him how to accommodate himself to others, how to throw himself into their state of mind, how to bring before them his own, how to influence them, how to come to an understanding with them, how to bear with them.

One thing that the humanities are particularly good at fostering and strengthening in their students is a sense of what I like to call, after Percy Shelley, the sympathetic imagination. To open oneself to the joys and sorrows, passions and fears, convictions and foibles of people from various ages and cultures – as humanities majors do every week in their classes – is to gain, by slow osmosis, the ability to see the world through different eyes. Although the characters that humanities majors meet in their studies share with them a common humanity, they all have unique struggles that draw students out of their comfort zones and cultural bubbles. Whether they be fictional (Achilles, Antigone, Aeneas, Elizabeth Bennet) or non-fictional (Alexander, Caesar Augustus, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I), poets (Dante, Shakespeare, Milton) or philosophers (Plato, Augustine, Kierkegaard), their intense reality forces those who encounter them to get inside their heads, to understand their actions and motivations, to sympathize with rather than stand in judgment over them. Needless to say, a company that employs workers who possess these skills will attract clients and customers who feel that their needs, desires and apprehensions have been understood and respected.

He is at home in any society, he has common ground with every class; he knows when to speak and when to be silent; he is able to converse, he is able to listen; he can ask a question pertinently and gain a lesson seasonably, when he has nothing to impart himself.

To immerse oneself in the literary, historical and philosophical records that have been passed down to us over the last three millennia is to be confronted at once with our great potential and our profound limits. The humanities present man at his best and his worst, as a noble and glorious creature created in the image of God who is yet broken, fallen and depraved. Not until a student comes to grips with the good he is capable of – and the bad he is equally capable of – will he gain both the confidence and the humility to serve his fellow man. Only then will he know when to speak and when to remain silent, when to voice his own opinion and when to listen to the opinions of others. Employees who are firm in what they believe, yet open to correction and new ideas, are a rare and precious commodity in the business world. Employers are eager to hire such people!

It thrills my heart that the business world has finally caught up with what Newman wrote 150 years ago. Now, if only students (and their parents) could read and interpret the signs of the times. There are now, and always will be, students who do not feel drawn to classical schools or humanities majors. That is fine and as it should be. But for those students who are passionate about an education that immerses them in the liberal arts, please rest assured that the skills such an education fosters in them will serve those students well in whatever career they choose to pursue.

“What’s a Trivium? And Who’s Plato?”- How to Speak “Classical” for Progressively Trained Educators

The way that classical educators think and talk about education is fundamentally different than the way most of us have been taught to think our entire lives. When training new teachers — who are rarely trained in classical education — we like to say it is like crawling out of the Atlantic Ocean, running across the continent and jumping into the Paci c. Teachers are changing educational oceans, and they have to come across a large, rocky continent of vocabulary, philosophy, psychology and experience to get there. Because so many teachers in classical schools come from progressive backgrounds, it is essential for them to understand three crucial differences: 1) who we teach; 2) how we teach; and 3) why we teach. New teachers — and those who train them — will leave this session with a rm grasp on some key vocabulary within classical education, as well as a clear picture of how it compares to the educational environment of the last century. We will also discuss a few practical pedagogical tools every classical educator needs in his or her repertoire. Lastly, we’ll discuss why what we’re doing matters, not only for the embodied souls of our students, but for the public good, as well.

Dusty Kinslow

Dusty Kinslow holds a master’s degree in educational leadership and has served as the Head of Austin Classical School since it opened in 2013. In the last five years, the school has grown from 13 to over 120 thriving students. ACS is a blended-schedule school that partners with families in the classical Christian education of their students, facilitating learning between days on campus and days at home. As such, Dusty also serves as homeschool mom to her three children within this unique model. She enjoys equipping teachers — both those in the classroom and those in their homes — with the tools to teach effectively, and she loves to come alongside educators to encourage them in the noble, difficult, creative and worthy endeavor of teaching. When she’s not teaching or leading, Dusty can be found sitting next to her husband while they cheer for their kids on the soccer field, watching reruns of The Offce or listening to any number of interesting podcasts while folding seemingly endless piles of laundry made possible by the aforementioned kids.