There are certain terms that can only be used in an absolute sense. Take, for instance, the word “pregnant.” A woman either is or is not pregnant. She cannot be really pregnant, very pregnant, or more pregnant than someone else. She is just pregnant or not pregnant. Another word is “unique.” Unique means one of a kind in an absolute sense. You cannot have a dog that is more unique or less unique than another dog. It is either unique or it is not unique. “Human,” I will argue, is not one of these terms.
Now, truth be told, “human” is one of these terms. If we understand “human” in a strictly biological sense, you are either human or not human. You cannot be more human than I. But, I do not intend to limit my use of the word “human” to its biological sense. The word “human” is, in fact, pregnant with meaning!
A human is a person created in the image of God. All humans are created in the image of God. I am a human. Therefore, I am created in the image of God. This syllogism is both true and valid. However, some humans display the image of God better than others. These humans are more human than those who do not display the image of God so well. When asked what my goal is for education, this is it—I want my students to be “more” human.
In order to be more human, to be a greater reflection of God in this world, my students need to have a better understanding of the God whose image they are reflecting. They also need to have a better understanding of His creation, the world they not only live in, but of which they are stewards and rulers. Having a greater understanding of God and His creation enables—no, empowers—image bearers to make better decisions and to understand norms. However, they not only will have a better understanding of them, but they will have a greater desire to actually do them. We are not only raising thinkers, but also, doers.
As they grow in their understanding and practicing of these norms, they will grow to love the norms. In loving the norms and the harmony that becomes part of their lives as a result of them, their love for them will manifest itself in a greater desire to know God even more, and also to proclaim Him to the culture around them. As their participation in culture increases, their ability to participate well and beautifully increases. As they model the Imago Dei through goodness, beauty, and truth in the culture, they will attract others to the source of this goodness, beauty, and truth—the God they are imaging. Just as Solomon’s wisdom attracted the surrounding nations (the Queen of Sheba, for one) to him and the Temple, our display of goodness, beauty, and truth will attract the nations around us to the Temple, the Body of Christ. And these are the kinds of students, fully human students, I want to see go out into the world around us.
How then do we make our students fully human?
Reject the Paradigms
We have grown up in a world full of false paradigms. I grew up being told and believing that I was a math person. I succeeded, easily I might add, in mathematics and struggled with language arts. Convinced I was a math person, I focused my attention there and began putting less effort into language arts. Why struggle with something at which I was inherently bad?
To further exacerbate this problem, I had teachers who were each “qualified” to teach only one subject, all telling me that I had to learn their respective subjects well. It created an internal and subconscious inconsistency in me. I had an English teacher telling me I had to learn English and a math teacher telling me I had to learn math, and yet neither of them was willing to teach the other’s subject or even continue in the study of it themselves! If my English teacher was only an English person and my math teacher was only a math person, why could I not be only a math person?
Of course, the other question is how well can I model the Imago Dei in the world around me when I am half a person; when I am only left-brained or only right-brained? Face it; we will be hard-pressed to argue that God is only left-brained. So how can we properly image a whole-brained God (speaking anthropomorphically, of course) when we are only a half-brained image?
To fix this, we first ban the use of such excuses coming from our own mouths or those of our students and children. Second, we model for them that we have learned or are learning all of the subjects we require of them. If we can do it, they can do it! Third, we have legitimate expectations for them to learn all they can. In this way, we start them on the path to being renaissance humans, just like the warrior, poet, songwriter, lover, leader, musician, and king that David was.
Discard the Checklist Mentality
Yet again, the false paradigms we have grown up with are haunting us in our educational decision making. Because we were educated by earning credits and checking off lists to accomplish our educational goals, we assume the same processes in educating our children, even as homeschoolers! We track credits and prescribe tests to our children because that was what we endured. And by doing so, we create a mentality in our children that prohibits them from becoming the full image bearers they can be.
Our children question the importance of studying Latin because they think of education as a checklist. The state only requires two years of foreign language, three years of math, three years of science, and four years of English. When we entertain their desires to walk away from Latin to study nothing or to study something more practical, we are giving in to the checklist mentality. Classical education has been designed with a purpose, and that purpose is to educate students into being more fully human. All that they study, Latin included, is moving them towards a greater understanding and appreciation of the norms that will make them more fully human. Our lack of understanding here and their failure to realize this, are not reasons to give up on it.
We do not raise more fully human children by pushing them through this educational checklist as quickly as possible so they can start college earlier. Nor do we do so by allowing them to cut and replace subjects because they want to study something else. This is not to say that learning Spanish or Chinese is not something they should not do someday, but it is to say that it is something they should not do today—if today means replacing what they are already learning—just because they want to change their checklist.
Increasing Depth through Breadth
Classical education challenges your child to become well versed in every area of God’s creation: mathematics, sciences, English, history, philosophy, literature, logic, and more. The curriculum is designed around western literature, arts, philosophies, and language—like Latin—because the history of the Church, of God’s people, is among western literature, arts, philosophies, and language. Learning Latin, for example, opens doors to other areas of learning (like English, history, and literature) that provide a depth unheard of in other educational programs.
In educational circles today, there is a cry to reclaim the three Rs: reading, writing, and arithmetic. The thought is that with a narrow focus on the three Rs, children will be able to grasp a deeper understanding of them. In classical education, you will find greater breadth of study: reading, writing, arithmetic, history, philosophy, theology, logic, Latin, music, and the arts. We find that the depth of understanding in all of these subjects is increased by the depth of understanding in any one of the subjects.
As I mentioned a moment ago, when one studies Latin, one will come across Cicero and Caesar. Encountering Cicero brings one into an encounter with logic and rhetoric. Encountering Caesar brings one into an encounter with history and, eventually, Christianity. The study of the fine arts brings one into an encounter with philosophy and history. All of the subjects will force encounters with each of the other subjects and this increases the child’s depth of understanding. All of this is true, of course, because all that we study and learn is ultimately interconnected through God Himself. This is also why giving up any one of these subjects to fulfill the whims of our checklists will so strongly impact our study of each of the other subjects. Maintaining your commitment to the curriculum of a classical education will maintain both the depth and breadth of your child’s studies and ensure his or her becoming a renaissance man or woman and more fully human.