In our modern world, classical education is unique. But it hasn’t always been this way. Ever since Plato founded his Academy, the principles of classical education have guided the way that societies passed information from one generation to another. Classical education was so widespread, in fact, that despite many years of separation Church fathers like Augustine, reformers like John Calvin and Martin Luther, and founding fathers like Thomas Jefferson all received what we would now call a ‘classical education.’ But then in the 20th century, the principles of classical education were replaced in order to meet the demands of a rapidly changing and industrializing society. In place of the goals of classical education, modern education aimed for vocational training and education was supposedly set to be morally neutral or value-free. In the past few decades, a movement of school around the world has attempted to retrieve and bring forward the principles of classical education. Covenant is one of these schools, and though this list is not exhaustive, here are some of the principles of classical Christian education that guide our approach to instruction and formation.
THE LIBERAL ARTS
Classical education is an education in the liberal arts. The phrase “liberal arts” is common, but few know exactly what the liberal arts are and why they are so important.
When we use the term, “liberal” means something like “free.” And the “arts” refer to skills combined with reason. As such, an “art” is not something merely produced without reason or understanding, like a robot through a programed code producing a beautiful painting. Nor is an art merely understanding, like someone who has an exhaustive knowledge of carpentry but has never actually built anything. Instead, an “art” is an act of reason combined with skill. The “liberal arts” are called “liberal” because these are the arts that set the human soul free. Specifically, these arts are the skills that allow one to learn anything else and to think for themselves.
Traditionally there are seven liberal arts. The first three are the linguistic arts, and together they are called the Trivium: Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. The last four are the mathematical arts, and they are called the Quadrivium.
The Trivium or the linguistic arts are the three skills that one needs to be free to learn the language arts and to think for themselves. Grammar is the skill of reading. Logic is the skill of thinking well and synthesizing knowledge. And Rhetoric is the skill of leading of persuading and leading other toward truth.
The Quadrivium includes subjects like arithmetic and geometry, and these make up the mathematical arts. Arithmetic enables the mind to think and combine particular numbers into synthetic wholes, and geometry enables the mind to analyze mathematical shapes and objects.
We believe that all acquired knowledge and intellectual skill traces back to these seven liberal arts. A student is best equipped for life and for any vocation, then, if they know well these seven liberal arts. And so our unique curriculum prioritizes these traditional seven skills, knowing that with these seven skills our students are prepared to take on the challenges of any vocation. Regardless of the future job market, we know that people educated in the seven liberal arts will always be employable, innovative, and extremely valuable. After all, one who is educated is the liberal arts possesses the linguistic and mathematical skills to think for themselves.
At Covenant, our education is not only classical but also Christ-Centered. And so our education is a Christian Classical Education. From Kindergarten to 12th grade, our teaching reflects the belief that Christ is “before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). We say that our education is Christ-centered because we view very subject from within a Christian worldview. We train our students then not merely in how to think but in how to think from a Christian point of view. It is not enough, then, to take a bible or theology class alongside an otherwise secular curriculum. Instead, we study subject like Math as a sign of God’s order, and we study art and literature as a sign of God’s beauty. We consider all subjects under the belief that in Christ “all things hold together.”
In addition, our students do take a rigorous sequence of courses in bible, theology, and Christian worldview. In our lower school (K-6), we use a primarily story-based approach to teaching the bible. In our upper school (7-12), we introduce a formal study of Christian beliefs through classes on Old Testament, New Testament, and theology.
GREAT BOOKS, GREAT IDEAS, & GREAT CONVERSATIONS
The Great Books are works that have proven their worth through the test of time. Reading the great books can be challenging, but we believe it is worth creating the space in our curriculum for this work. In our math courses, we may read sections of Euclid’s Elements, and in theology and history we will read directly the writings of the greatest thinkers. Such an approach brings our students into direct contact with the greatest ideas ever thought and the most beautiful works ever written, and it invites our students into the great conversation.
Classical School throughout the country are rediscovering once again the value of learning Latin. An education in Latin offers unique insight into the structure of language itself, and it provides a foundation for learning all of the romance languages. Latin also increases vocabulary and the ability to understand technical scientific, legal, and mathematical phrases. Much like the seven liberal arts, Latin is an important skill for training the mind and offers a solid foundation for further learning.
Classical Christian education is an integrated curriculum. Our students take distinct classes, but we stress the interconnectedness between them. We encourage our students to make connections between subjects. Math, for instance, the beatify that we encounter in music and art. It is difficult to understand fully a piece of literature apart from its historical context, and history itself is at times shaped and directed by the prevailing ideas. And so our courses and teachers look often to make connections between subjects and seize opportunities to observe the inter-relationship of all knowledge.