Classical Education for a Home-Schooled Church

My son is home-schooled. We didn’t really have a plan for doing this until it was time for him to enter kindergarten. We visited a couple of public schools and then a friend told us about “Classical Conversations,” a home schooling program that orients parents and their children towards learning with the classical education model. I did not know what classical education meant at the time (I’ll explain it in a minute). But we visited the class he would be in during school one day. They met once a week for a regular school day, following a Biblically based curriculum. But the parents are also present in the classroom because the whole idea is that the parents are learning the methods for teaching while the bulk of the teaching is done at home. The children get a regular social time and make friends and the parent remains in control of what is being taught. The school does have a curriculum, but it is up to the family to decide how closely it is followed.

The curriculum has two main benefits over other public or home schooling curricula. First, they put God at the center of everything. Every subject is shown not only to be interrelated, but to be emanating from God. Second, the classical education model is used and parents are given every opportunity to learn how it works. In short, classical education prepares children to be seekers of truth. In the younger ages they are taught “memory pegs” – memorizing by rote (and song) the “grammar” of every subject. Grammar is used in its original meaning here of a foundational understanding of the elementary principles of a subject and its associated vocabulary. As children age, meaning is attached to the Grammar, creating an understanding of how things work and interrelate. This is the “Logic” phase. They would then progress in the later grades to the “rhetoric” stage, where they apply the concepts learned and use them in real applications. The student would be able to understand a subject, come up with a theses and defend it using reason, logic and the tools of truth-seeking. It is a very powerful method of learning and was once used extensively in our country and the western world until the middle of the twentieth century, when it started to become unfashionable to admit that truth can be known or taught, and was gradually replaced with the idea that truth is relative and changing, which made it harder to teach anything solidly.

There is much more to be said about this education model, but my point is not to write about its merits. Rather I wanted to teach just enough about it to get across the idea that “truth-seeking” can be taught, even at very young ages, and that there is one application of this truth-seeking that has been regretfully skipped over by the classical education model.

Home-school parents, and especially classical education model home-school parents, really understand the dangers that public education poses today. They know that relying on someone else to teach their children, then expecting their children to have the same moral compass as them is an impossibility. They know that public education equals acceptance of someone else’s agenda, with the only benefit being having a built-in baby sitter, allowing both parents to work outside the home. To them, that trade-off just isn’t worth it.

When it comes to a different matter of education, most become suddenly willing to sit back and allow themselves and their children to be spoon fed whatever is being taught. That other form of education usually takes place on sunday mornings (for some on Saturday), in the form of church. When it come to daily education, truth seeking and active learning are critical, but with religion there is a sudden sense that seeking truth has been done for them already. The pastor/minister/ priest is the one who has been trained in truth, so we must listen to them. If we have a question, they must be the ones to answer because we have not been trained in that capacity. Somehow, God can only put His spirit of understanding in those who have gone to seminary.

But I can’t find anywhere in my Bible that says nobody can teach unless they have gone to special religious training academies. All I can find is a warning that those who wish to teach will be held to a higher standard for the life they live. We should all be aiming for the highest standard we can anyways! He doesn’t ask for perfection, just to live our lives as an example of what we are teaching. I don’t know of any perfect ministers or pastors, or Popes for that matter. And teaching yourself and your family is hardly the same thing as setting yourself up as an authority who is out there teaching the world. As for teaching ourselves and our families, the Bible does not actually give us an option – it is an obligation.

This is not to say that attending a worship service is wrong, but it does have inherent dangers. A sermon will seldom answer our most burning questions. The chances are just about the same as turning on the TV and it happening to be tuned to your favorite movie of all time. The sermon might have good information or an inspiring story, and the TV will likely have something we find entertaining. But neither is what we really seek deep inside of us. None of us will claim to have a perfect understanding of all scripture, but what will help us out most in our growth is a very individual thing. We can’t expect a worship service, or even a church sponsored Bible study to answer what we really need next in our growth. What we need is the capacity to seek those answers ourselves, or rather to seek those answers directly from God. When we are told to “seek first the Kingdom of God,” that seeking is active, not passive. It requires a relationship with Him who created us. We are told in the Bible that He is “the way the truth and the light.” If He is the truth and we are seeking truth, then we are also seeking Him. To know the truth, we must then be actively seeking God and His ways. This means that studying the word He gave us is of utmost importance. We can’t rely on anyone else to do it for us.

So if we are not looking to a church organization for our answers, how do we find what we need without special training in Biblical scholarship? And doesn’t the Bible state that we should be meeting with others for worship and edification? I’ll answer the second question first. Yes, it does, but it doesn’t meant that a formal organizational body must dictate that meeting. The “churches” in Christ’s time were groups of believers who met at somebody’s home and discussed and studied God’s word. They supported each other and fought hard to keep His commandments and ways of life in the midst of a society that didn’t understand or support those ways. That is all we are asked to do today. Not all of the believers in Christ’s time could even read, and those that could did not always read in the original Hebrew. It would have been a rare thing for an individual to even own a private copy of any of the scriptures. But they had God’s spirit and they had a relationship built with Him through prayer and adherence to His ways. Adhering to those ways and commands and statutes is the main way we are to learn. We are told in Ecclesiastes 12:12-13, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh. Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all.” Yes, we can read what other people have studied about all day long and not get what we really need if we are not keeping the things that we learn. But if we take to heart what we read and do our best to keep it, we will learn and grow more than we can ever expect. We don’t have to understand it all at first, even why we are keeping what we are keeping. We start out as children in Christ, just as our children do to us. My son doesn’t understand why he has to go to bed at a decent hour. I can explain to him but he still can’t foresee how much misery it will make for all of us the next day if he doesn’t get enough sleep. When I was his age, I didn’t get it either. But now I really see how critical it is for him as well as myself. I know I will be cranky to be around if I am sleep deprived, just as he is. I know that because I lived and learned and had parents that made sure I went to bed when I was a kid. As we keep Gods commands and ways as best we can, we will soon happen upon a much greater understanding. And that is not dependent upon listening to a sermon on Sunday mornings.

But there does come a time when we need more answers, too. The more we know, the more we want to know. And sometimes, outside help does help us. The churches of Christ’s time wouldn’t have gotten started without regular visits from the early disciples who traveled and taught. There will always be others who understand certain topics better than ourselves, and it is OK to learn from them. The key is that you are actively seeking out what it is you need and asking the proper questions instead of lying back and hoping to hear something from wherever you happen to be. You can seek from trusted friends, books, the internet, or wherever you are led to look. But after you have gotten some answers, you then have an obligation to make sure that what you heard was true to the scripture. Any help you get is useless to you if you cannot verify its accuracy with the word of God. If somebody gives you an answer to your question without that answer having a firm basis in scripture, then look out! Even if they are quoting scripture to make their point, it doesn’t prove them right. Many errors have crept in to sound doctrine by taking scriptures out of context. A solid and reliable answer to any question should take you to numerous places in the Bible that show a visible pattern of how God does things, not an isolated incident. Every important concept in the Bible is repeated over many times and in many ways. Ultimately, any answer you get from any source is only to be used as a guide to your own research. They may have gone down the path you are looking before you, so their guidance can save a lot of time and grief for you, but you still have to go down that path, and do so with a watchful eye for error.

If you can get a handle on that sort of research, continuing to keep His ways as best you know, you really can find truth. And that truth will be the same for everyone! There are different paths to get there, as we all occupy a different space in the body of Christ, but truth is truth, and it IS knowable. We won’t all find all truth, but where our bit of knowledge overlaps another who is truly seeking, that knowledge will be the same. If it is not, and both parties truly have the spirit dwelling in them, then they will be able to sit down reasonably together and find where they went off track, and be willing to change appropriately. That truth is consistent and knowable is the same concept that the home-schoolers are learning with their regular education, in learning about the way the universe works. It is time now to apply that concept to understanding the creator of that universe.