Occasionally I will take time in this blog to reply to some common objections to classical Christian education (CCE). In this brief essay, I address one of the most common objections to CCE…. I would love to hear of ways you think is CCE may in fact be out of touch and how you would respond to the objection. Here is the essay:
This objection claims that CCE is retrogressive, backwards-looking, with little appreciation for modern thinking, ideas and techniques. Being anti-modern, CCE is also anachronistic and thus risks being irrelevant to modern concerns and needs.
Of course it would be foolish to try and “go back in time” in the sense of seeking to replicate the setting, materials, customs and certain methods of ancient, medieval, renaissance, reformation or colonial education. Shall we use wax tablets and scrolls? Shall we teach in Latin? Shall we teach boys and girls separately? Contemporary classical educators are not seeking to reinstate the specific expressions of education as it existed, say in 12th century England. Classical education is a history of theme and variation or substance and accidents. Contemporary classical educators are seeking to recover the essential themes of education that have persisted through the centuries including the concepts of the seven liberal arts. For example, the trivium arts of grammar, logic and rhetoric are designed to impart mastery of language. Whether we make use of wax tablets, parchments, printed books, chalkboards, whiteboards, smart boards or laptops is incidental to the idea of verbal mastery by means of these arts. The arts remain, the tools employed to master them may change.
So we go back primarily to recover ideas and arts that transcend time and circumstance. If we find some methods and tools in the past that can be adapted and used well today, then we may consider doing so insofar as they support the essential themes of CCE that we have traced.
Because CCE has always sought to wisely adapt to changing needs and circumstances, we are being “classical” when we seek to wisely innovate and adapt the central themes of CCE to the 21st century. Just as classical education looked different in 12 century England than it did in 8th century France (say in Charlemagne’s court under Alcuin) so will it look different in 21st century America. We don’t teach in Latin, we teach in English (though we teach Latin as a foreign language). We still use printed books, but also use ebooks.
Just as we are glad to employ the fruit of modern technology, so are we willing to consider the resources of modern research. Some educational research is quite valuable. For example, the research that gave birth to standardized tests is very helpful for creating certain benchmarks (as in reading and math) for students throughout the nation. Such tests are one important way that schools can assess their success in teaching some important skills and concepts. Studies in developmental psychology have been very helpful in showing us how students learn as they grow and mature, with important implications for teaching methods. We also recognize, however, that scientific research (usually psychological and statistical research) does not necessarily lead to clear conclusions about what should change in curriculum or pedagogy. There has been a dizzying amount of educational paradigm shifts all based on studies and research, shifts that have not delivered the promised results. The implications of various studies should be carefully assessed against the evidence of a tradition with many centuries of success. We are not likely to throw out the study of literature based on one new university study. This doesn’t make us anti-modern; it makes us resistance to adopt major changes without convincing proof.