I, along with the majority of classically educating homeschool parents, received a modern education in public K-12 schools. Most of us are making the choice to provide our children with an unknown yet compelling classical Christian education. We are together in a crucible of modern culture using classical tools. What has surprised me as a child of God, husband, and father is how classical education has overtaken my own spirit, mind, and emotions. I am discovering that this education is not just for my children.
Classical education has deepened and expanded my spiritual life. It began during a call with a Classical Conversations team leader over a year ago. She shared this: “My husband and I are starting a Bible study on Sundays using the classical tools of grammar, dialectic and rhetoric.” My mind raced: “What? You can do that? You can use these tools for Bible study?” During church now I regularly use a digital Bible app so that alongside the English scripture I see the original Hebrew (Old Testament passages) or Greek (New Testament passages) so that I can catch alternate meanings of words. Using this tool alongside classical tools like the five common topics, I have begun to make connections between original texts and started to have a richer experience of reading the Bible. Now I regularly discover insights based on even a limited understanding of Hebrew and Greek, and am able to contribute these during our Bible study discussions. Grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric are developing in my spirit in this way.
Classical education continues to open my mind. It was during a company meeting that I learned that science used to be different. Science as it is presented today is so exclusively quantifiable and measurable, that hard for those of us without a classical background to imagine that classical science, as was practiced in Thomas Jefferson’s day and earlier, was based on inquiry from a young age through to elder years. Available tools such as the series of questions in the five common topics are meant for me to use on any scientific topic, for my own enrichment—not for some test or a career objective, but rather to experience God and know His creation. I heard about a “commonplace book,” a type of “always carried about” item in which I am to make observations about everything just like Jefferson did. When I lived in Chicago, I loved looking at the tallest four skyscrapers—never did I think to sketch them in a book, take my own measurements, investigate what else was happening in history and politics at the time of their construction, or take note of them on a map. Never did I hear the phrase penned by Democritus: “[I would] rather discover one cause [i.e. an irrefutable truth] than gain the kingdom of Persia.” Honestly, I thought I was supposed to choose Persia. Where can I buy one of those commonplace books? Rats, am I supposed to make one myself?
Classical education is challenging my heart. At first, I might actually say that classical education clobbered my heart as it turned on one of my ingrained idols—college. I loved college, and I still love college. College changed me for the better in ways I cannot measure. Later in life, I spent ten years as a university educator on a beautiful campus. My family loves great colleges—ones with justifiably strong liberal arts curriculum and courses with seminars in which students can debate with full professors. Yet, was college a place for me to pursue virtue? Not really. I did not know that virtue was the purpose of education. Apparently, it is, or, at least the classical tradition and several wise people said so in the past and still say so today.
Classical education has as its telios, or final purpose, to develop a whole, virtuous human being. Briefly stated, a virtuous human being reflects the image of God by discerning truth, goodness and beauty. Did college aim to do that for me? Perhaps, but I do not remember being virtuous in college, or since. Does a typical college experience offer that today? In some wonderfully rare locations, yes; however, in most local, state-operated institutions, that’s unlikely.
In my role with Classical Conversations at Homeschool Counselor, fellow dads most often ask me, “Will Classical Conversations get my kid into college?” While I often sincerely answer “yes” to that question, as we grow in the experience of a classical life, of examining truth, goodness and beauty, that question starts to lose its meaning. A different question might better be stated as, “Will God form my child into a virtuous human being for His glory?” A good answer to that is “yes,” but not because some college, company, or its representatives will do that; God will, utilizing my amazing wife, a reliable curriculum, and a dedicated, supportive community. Moreover, what I am realizing now is how God is forming virtue in me. The classical tools of learning are working on me, hopefully for His glory.