Imagine I gently place a piece of colored glass in your hand. You could study its color, texture, size, and shape. Now, imagine I place more pieces in your hand until your hand is full. After studying each piece, you may decide you like some pieces better than others, but pretty soon, you will lose interest in them and let them drop from your hand.
Now consider it from a different perspective. What if I told you each piece of glass had a special place in the most beautiful stained glass window in the most beautiful cathedral ever built? What if I took you to see this work of art so you could see how the colored light fills the cathedral like sunlight that dapples the forest floor and how it creates an ethereal atmosphere in the whole space and becomes a part of the worship that takes place there? Those pieces of glass become meaningful if you know that they are part of something bigger…something awesome. You would be more likely to treasure each piece.
Modern education has become something like a handful of separate, fragmented pieces of glass. We hand our children one subject at a time, trying to collect all the pieces they will need to get a job, but we fail to show them the glorious work of art of which each piece is a part so that they are in awe of the Creator.
In classical, Christian education, we present each subject in its context: every subject was created by God and every subject is under the authority of God. For example, God created linear symmetry and tells the leaves on a branch to grow in that symmetry, some in alternating patterns, some in reflective symmetry, and some in radial symmetry. You can see how God uses geometry in seashells, fruit slices, the rings of tree stumps, and all creatures. It is math (symmetry, pattern, balance, and so on) that creates beauty in nature and reminds us that God is an amazing creator. We should be pointing out to our students how awesome God is. If we are teaching well, our students should be awestruck: totally in awe of God.
I am forming a framework to guide my thinking. Taking the story of both the Old and New Testaments, I see four governing principles: creation, the fall, redemption, and restoration. It helps me to categorize each subject we study into one of these areas.
Creation: God created everything. Therefore, when we study the things He created, we can learn more about God, and it can draw us closer to Him. This is easy to see in science. Biology is the study of the life He created: birds, fish, plants, and man and the study of their behavior, which He established and continues to direct. Astronomy is the study of the stars and planets He created and set into motion. Physics is the study of the laws He created to govern energy, mass, and gravity and the forces that keep us standing on earth, not floating off into space. Chemistry is the study of how His creation works on a molecular/chemical level. The study of science gives us the joy of discovering how God made things work and live. The study of math is the study of how we can measure, compare, and understand the hidden aspects of creation. Geometry is the study of the organizing principles in creation. Proverbs 25:2 (NIV) sums up the joy of discovery in the sciences: “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.”
So everything was good at first. Then there was The Fall that introduced death, work, and strife into creation (Romans 5:12). When we study history, we are studying how man has dealt with the fall. Some men and women have dealt with death and sin admirably, some have not. We need to examine those who did well and those who did not so that we can learn how we should deal with it ourselves. We need to point this out to our students. This also includes economics and government; now that we have to work and deal with sinful behavior, we need to study what works and what does not.
Then God sent Jesus in order to offer us a way to escape death, so we could have the opportunity of Redemption. I see literature as the study of how man has either accepted or rejected this opportunity and what effect that has. In the case of fictional literature, we can examine how man might have acted and what should or should not have been done. Reading and discussing Christian biographies is a great place to start, of course, but you can learn a lot from discussing non-Christian literature and drama with your students. Romeo and Juliet, for example, were not living for Christ but solely for romantic love, and it had tragic consequences. When you read The Old Man and the Sea, do you see a pointless struggle against nature, or do you see the story of Christ? Leigh Bortins has said there is only one story, the story of Christ, and every other story is a reinterpretation of it. (It may not be evident on the first reading.) Redemption also includes the study of language because Jesus is the Word made flesh (John 1:1). The more we study words, the more we know about our Lord.
Finally, the Bible calls us to Restoration: to align our thinking and behavior to God’s Word and the Holy Spirit, learning to take each thought captive (Corinthians 10:5) and hold it up to The Truth and become as Christ-like as possible in a fallen world. The study of logic helps us to develop habits of good, clear thinking. The study of theology, of course, falls into this category. I also believe the study of philosophy helps us here. If we examine the philosophies of others and the history of philosophy, it helps us to examine our own philosophy in order to form in our own minds the right way to look at the world.
Learning to write and speak eloquently enables your children to communicate to others all that they have learned about our Lord. Learning about other worldviews (through the study of history, philosophy, and literature) enables them to know their audience and to address their stumbling blocks. An education with a biblical foundation will enable you and your children to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) with great understanding and wisdom.
I have found that reading a little bit of Scripture with my students first thing every morning is a great way to stay centered. I also find it helpful to attend a Classical Conversations Parent Practicum every summer. At these conferences, I am always inspired to go even deeper by reading the recommended book. Some of my favorite books are: Norms & Nobility: A Treatise on Education by David V. Hicks, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity by Nancy Pearcey, and The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy by Nancy Pearcey and Charles Thaxton.