What is classical education? Who has the authority to define it and categorize it? What is its purpose and what should its outcomes look like?
The author of Hebrews writes, “the Lord disciplines the one He loves” (12:6). The word “discipline” in the Greek is paideuō, a verb whose primary meaning is to train up, or educate, a child. Its secondary meaning is to chastise or correct. Like a parent or a teacher, the Lord instructs and corrects the ones He loves.
Our world is caught in a surreal stasis. A pandemic flows over us, and while its consequences ripple around us daily, many of us are existing in suspended animation.
We’re living in a time when we’re asked to deny ourselves agency – to refrain from exercising control and influence.
We’ve stepped back from daily life as we’ve come to know it. Many of us have pulled our strength, our activities, our productivity, our ability, and in short, our power, inward; we’ve retreated into the interiors of our homes, our immediate families, and ourselves.
Our society puts a heavy emphasis on individuality (“no one should dictate who you are”) and independence (“no one should tell you how to be who you are”). It’s difficult to live like that, though. Even those who shout it from the rooftops either are subjected to constraints or put them on others. We nevertheless strive to define, understand, and live out our identities this way.
Advent is a time of awe, awaiting the celebration of Christ’s birth. Madeleine L’Engle, famous for her book A Wrinkle in Time, wrote in her poem “The Birth of Wonder”:
When I remember
An infant’s power
On a cold December.
What is this infant’s wondrous power? Nothing less than to reveal God and redeem the world.
St. Athanasius articulated it in On the Incarnation, composed in the fourth century:
Nautae caelum et terram vident is a humble Latin sentence. It means, “The sailors see the sky and the land.”
It’s simple, yet it involves interconnecting thoughts and the ability to organize them in a systematic, coherent manner.
This sentence is relatively complex in the knowledge and skills it requires. To translate it, you must identify the syntactical attributes of each word, define each accordingly, and assemble them in English.
Summer fades into autumn; one season wanes, another flourishes. This is the undulating pattern of life, as well as that of our home-centered liturgy of education since my husband and I married and began a family.
This liturgy is like a familiar hymn, one that began with the births of our children and has been accompanied by ever-more-familiar grace notes—from the ABCs, fairy tales, and chants of the multiplication tables and Latin declensions, to high school speeches, thesis papers, and graduations.
A common theme I encounter in conversations with other home educators each spring, and often into the summer months, concerns preparation for the upcoming year. I’ve been classically homeschooling for over twenty-five years, and the liturgy of this assessing and planning season is an integral part of my own life, too—as fundamental to it as preparing for both daily needs and important yearly celebrations like Christmas and Easter.
Our era is dismantling millennia of incarnated memories with increasing fervor and speed—“old” books are considered irrelevant, so much so that it can be difficult to find classics in local libraries or school curricula; monuments and artistic creations, some of which have withstood the ravages of decades, if not centuries, are toppled in the name of social progress; beautifully crafted belongings, once meaningful heirlooms, are jettisoned in favor of the newest machine-made decorating fads and end up in dusty thrift shops.
Most teachers would probably agree with this truth: “Interest and attention characterize the mental state of a true learner and constitute the essential basis on which the process of learning rests” (John Milton Gregory, The Seven Laws of Teaching). We want the attention of our students—their eyes focused, their ears tuned in, their minds alert. Of course, the student must be attentive. But what must the teacher be?