Every parent wants their child to become educated. Every school, whether public or private, secular or Christian, also aims to educate. Homeschoolers, for various reasons, choose to educate in the home and its environs. Christian schools and Christian homeschoolers aim to provide a Christ-centered education. Regardless, can we not say that all of us (Christian, secular, school, homeschool) are aiming at the same essential goal, but by different means? I say, “No.” The Christian, classical homeschooler seeks a different (perhaps radically so) end state than is commonly pursued in most schools, and even by many Christian schools and homeschoolers. In short, Christian, classical homeschooling is not merely an alternate route to a common goal; it is a different journey altogether, with a different path and a different destination.
How should we define Christian, classical homeschooling? This is not a new task, and others better than I have given it a try. If you have ever heard Leigh Bortins speak on Christian, classical homeschooling you have heard her say that the ultimate goal is to know God and to make Him known. Following are some additional insights from Bortin’s book The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education:
The purpose of a classical education is to strengthen one’s mind, body, and character in order to develop the ability to learn anything. (p. 15)
Thinking critically is not inherent in humans. It needs to be practiced repeatedly by comparing memorized ideas with new ideas in a logical manner. Internalizing a critical mass of words and ideas is the first step to thinking well. (p. 24)
Since the time of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, teachers believed the purpose of education was to pursue truth, goodness, and beauty and to develop wisdom and virtue. (p. 35)
Classical education encourages us that we are capable of becoming an Oxford don who builds bicycles, or a plumber who reads Milton, or a business owner who spouts theology. The classically educated are not defined by their occupation so much as by their breadth of knowledge and understanding. (p. 40)
Not only does a classical education instill in us the tools of learning, it also allows us to evaluate both the follies and the wisdom of the past in comparison to the predicaments and the challenges of the present so that we will be less likely to make costly mistakes in the future. […] Rather than abandoning us to the moment, the classical model immerses us in the great classical conversations of mankind so that we can hear the voice of experience, discuss our present options within our community, and make choices with confidence that we have really done our best. The classical tools allow us to include classical content in our decisions. (pp. 214-215)
I will also hazard something angling towards a definition of Christian, classical homeschooling by way of a list of foundational ideas:
● God, not the child, is at the center. Thus education should not be “child centered” but “God centered.”
● A student is a human being who has a human nature and a soul. Human beings are not merely complex machines that need training, but creatures imbued with the breath of God and who need truth, goodness, and beauty.
● Human minds do not function like computers but grow like gardens. Thus teaching is a matter of cultivating in light of God’s design.
● Learning is primarily a matter of attentiveness and contemplation.
● The contemplation of truth, goodness, and beauty is fundamental to becoming truly and fully human.
● Knowledge rests upon the idea that all areas of study are, in fact, interrelated and expand in richness, grow in meaning, and increasingly fascinate as one explores that interrelatedness.
● All truth is God’s truth.
● Parents are ultimately responsible to teach their own children. This does not preclude the use of tutors, but it does contrast with public education which places the responsibility on the state.
● The student is responsible to learn. Thus, educating one’s children is more about giving them the tools with which to educate themselves and fostering their characters such that they become excellent learners rather than it is to impart facts or ideas.
● For the young, the intimacy of the home is the best place for education. We are designed to learn in an environment that is both loving and connected to real life.
● Next to a loving home environment, being in nature is the second best place for education. Nature is not the same thing as a playground.
● Education is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue.
● Loving God is the goal. This includes knowing God and making Him known. We love God with our minds as well as our hearts.
● The Trivium (grammar, dialectic, rhetoric) and the Quadrivium provide the methodological structure that has guided classical studies for centuries. I put this last because it is common for proponents of classical education to put these first, but method is first a servant of the principles and goals of education. The Trivium and Quadrivium flow from (or are implied in) the list above.
At this point I want to use an analogy: Educating one’s children is like climbing a mountain. It is arduous and, at times, dangerous. Climbing a mountain can be a difficult and beautiful journey at the same time, and so can Christian, classical homeschooling.
I have always loved the mountains. God seems very present in the high peaks. And I love climbing mountains, though I am better at reading about mountaineers than being one. One thing I have learned from climbing mountains is that the route is critical. The summit is a long way off when one is at the bottom of a mountain, and the journey will, no doubt, be difficult and tiring. It is best to have a clear idea of how one is to proceed, what path one will follow, and to be prepared for the dangers that will inevitably appear. For many, Christian, classical homeschooling is a radical and difficult shift from familiar ground to new and perplexing terrain. In fact, it can be nearly impossible for us to change course, especially if we feel that we are experimenting on our children. What I want to propose is that Christian, classical homeschooling is not merely a different path up the same mountain that everyone else is climbing. It is, in fact, the climbing of a different mountain altogether.