In the introduction to her book, The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education, Leigh Bortins makes a radical and disorienting statement that makes the book worth reading. She says, “This curriculum works for a student of any age, but that is a hard idea to digest because we think in terms of grade levels” (The Core, p. 4).
One of the many ways Darwin rules Christian schools through John Dewey is the application of the industrial concept of the assembly line to education. Prior to the 20th century, schools occasionally divided students into age groups, but I have not found any evidence of schools that separated students into grade levels and kept them together throughout the day. Educationally, separating students into age or grade levels is an amazingly harmful practice in that it undercuts any number of non-linear learning opportunities and it breaks down the society of the school.
Leigh’s point is also important as regards the content and manner of our teaching. The classical curriculum works for the student of any age. You do not have to be obsessed with “age-appropriate” material. You do need to be attentive to student-appropriate delivery. And you need to be attentive to the student’s capacity to absorb the material, which is affected, but not governed, by their age and maturity.
For example, when we developed The Lost Tools of Writing, the writing curriculum our organization publishes, we went to great lengths to ensure that students of any age can use it as long as the teacher is willing to adapt it to the readiness of the particular student. That is because we should, as classical educators, be focusing on contemplating ideas, not on reproducing behavioral outcomes.
Because classical education focuses on ideas, it teaches the skills and content necessary to grasp the ideas. Students of schools that focus on skills or content to the neglect of ideas lose the skills and content, too, because without the ideas the skills and content have no meaning. Put the idea back in the heart of learning and you will find that foolish practices like segregating students by age will either give way to wiser practices or will react against them.
The trouble is that we are so accustomed to this Darwinian, naturalistic, industrial, anti-human approach to education that we find it too inconvenient to restore the Christian, supernatural, agrarian, humane modes of education that gave us science and industry in the first place.