Archive for the ‘Classical Christian Education’ Category

Classical education emphasizes using the grammar years to build the memory as one would build a muscle. Frankly, as a long-time secondary teacher, I wondered about the value of rote memory. Was it just something for the children to do until their minds developed to be able to discuss? As I have taught this year in the grammar years, I have seen vividly the great educational value of developing one’s memory.

Tim Challies posted an excellent article – “Empty Mind, Empty Hearts, Empty Lives” – explaining what we lose when we rely on computers as our memory devices.

Those who celebrate the ‘outsourcing’ of memory to the web have been misled by a metaphor. They overlook the fundamentally organic nature of biological memory. What gives real memory its richness and its character, not to mention its mystery and fragility, is its contingency. It exists in time, changing as the body changes.” Where a computer takes in information and immediately stores it as data, the human brain continues to process that information and turn it into a form of knowledge. Biological memory is a living memory; computer memory is not.

(emphasis mine)

In other words, building one’s memory is not just adding information into a data bank and learning to retrieve it on command. Memory always involves some degree of meditation. We chew on the information till we achieve some level of understanding. We link it with other information which creates an exponential degree of understanding for each connection.

Memorizing changes who you are.


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Should these be JECA bumper stickers?

Why do we memorize so much stuff? What’s the point of it all?

I have been impressed recently thinking about the incredible value that memorization has in education. For the past century modern instructors have stressed understanding for young children and downplayed rote memorization. However, their emphasis has proven to be inadequate to the task of proper education. By contrast, classical educations emphasizes rote memorization, especially in the grammar years.

Memorization is valuable because is develops a ‘muscle’ that otherwise would  remain quite flabby. Have you noticed how few phone numbers you can now remember, in contrast to how many you knew before you had a cell phone? Just as a highly accomplished athlete still benefits from basic drills, so our brains benefit from regular memorization.

Memorization is also valuable because it provides the foundation for understanding. A simple example will suffice for now: As the students work on their recitations, they do not, indeed they cannot begin to properly express the thoughts of the work until they have it fully in their minds. Discussions in other classes bear this out as well. The better students know the information, the better they are able to develop an understanding of the topic.

Interestingly, the Bible indicates that knowledge and understanding work hand-in-hand and bolster one another. “Knowledge is easy for a man of understanding.” (Pr 14:6b) The better one knows something, the easier it is to understand it. Understanding also contributes to knowledge, for the better one understands a verse, for instance, the easier it is to memorize.

Whether memorizing facts-names, dates, and events-or literature for recitation, our students benefit tremendously from this basic, yet critical skill.

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Carl Trueman made several excellent points in a post about “Teaching the Trinity to Kids.” His comments about teaching theology to children also apply in a broader sense to teaching children the truths of God’s general revelation.

I have simply observed that words put to music stick in young minds more easily than words on their own.

This is why we, at JECA, intentionally use chants, and rhymes, and songs. They help our children absorb information, facts, and details. And as we all know, songs and rhymes stick in our memory. We don’t want our students to train their short-term memories, but to cultivate learning for the long-term.

Young children do not generally think in abstractions; thus a lot of theological content simply passes them by; but the teacher can instill in them knowledge of a form of sound words which subsequent intellectual growth under the preaching of the word will flesh out.

What is true of our children’s growth in understanding theology holds true as well in other spheres of knowledge. Why should our children not learn big words or old languages or new skills, like Logic? Initially, they may only learn them to wow their parents. Eventually, they learn the meaning, and they acquire understanding, and they develop wisdom.

And here is the glory of the vision of the parents and teachers at JECA and other classical Christian schools: we understand that this learning and acquiring and developing is life-long. We want to launch our children into a life of exploring truth and taking dominion over understanding. Our job is not to churn out diploma-receivers. Our role is to train these young minds to live live all of life with curiosity and wonder and worship.

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Kevin Bauder is one of the more trenchant thinkers that fundamentalism has produced in recent years. Okay, I realize that it’s a pretty small pool and he has few companions, but the statement is still true. Let’s face it, anyone who headlines his blog in Greek and employs Rembrandt is either really pretentious or worth a second look.

This week he posted an excellent analysis of the problems and possibilities of Christian education. Here is an outline of his article and my favorite paragraphs.

Christian schools have declined in the past decade for 3 reasons:

  1. Christian schools have not typically produced a better academic product than public education.
  2. [T]hey do not generally produce a better quality of Christian.
  3. They consume a “massive amount of resources”.

So do Christian schools still have a place, and what should they be expected to contribute? The nature of the Christian faith helps here:

  1. Christianity is a text-based religion.
  2. Christians are responsible directly to God for, among other things, what they know of the Scriptures.

Therefore, Christianity “can thrive only where believers are skilled readers.”

Biblical Christianity survives only where people read skillfully. Necessarily, then, every Christian church has an interest in ensuring that its members are skilled readers. Unskilled adults, however, usually resist efforts to foster new intellectual skills. This leaves children and teens as the target constituency for fostering the proficiencies that are necessary in order to prepare skillful readers.

What are those skills? The ordinary reading and understanding of serious literature requires, at minimum, a mastery of the disciplines known as the Trivium. Grammar deals with the way that words are connected so as to constitute communicative units. Logic examines the relationship between ideas to determine whether one idea necessarily arises from or gives rise to others. Rhetoric structures communicative units so that the connections between them are readily followed and grasped. The Trivium ought to be the core of a Christian school curriculum.

Over the past hundred years public schools have de-emphasized literacy and skill in handling various literary genre. Unfortunately, Christian schools haven’t done much better, choosing instead to emphasize their own particular belief systems “rather than fostering excellence in those skills without which Christianity cannot survive.”

Christian schools do have a future and they ought to be perpetuated. They have no reason for existence, however, if they merely offer “less of the same” thing that students can get in public institutions. Christian education ought to be different. The difference should not lie in making every course a stale tract for Christianity. The difference ought to lie in the gravity with which Christian educators take their task and in the thoughtfulness that they foster in their students.

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