“What is your favorite subject?”
I, for one, default to that question far too often in my conversations with grade school students. It generally results in a profound dialogue something like this:
“What are you learning in math?”
“So, do you like multiplying?”
“Um. I don’t know.”
Or imagine another scenario. A high school literature teacher begins class with, “Today we are going to practice writing verse in iambic pentameter.” Instantly a hand or two goes up and the students want to know, “When are we ever going to use this?”
Most of us adults have become accustomed to this apathetic attitude from kids about their school work. We likely remember saying the same things ourselves when we were in school. But in classical Christian education, the expectation is that students will see objective value and find true enjoyment in their studies. This is a lofty goal, but not an unreasonable one. When every branch of education is approached as a means of discovering truth, contemplating goodness, and savoring beauty, which lead us into the knowledge and worship of God, “school work” takes on a whole new meaning.
In a previous installment of our mission series, we examined Cedar Classical Academy’s aim to cultivate a “well-ordered understanding of God, human nature, and the world.” Here we will examine how classical education helps us to achieve this right understanding of all reality: by “teaching students to discover goodness, truth, and beauty in every discipline as a reflection of God.”
Theology—the knowledge of God—is the apex and goal of all our educational pursuits, and this common goal helps to bring varied subject matter together into a coherent whole. Classical educators of the Middle Ages considered theology to be “queen of the sciences,” and said that philosophy (a term which then encompassed all study of humanity and the natural world) was “the handmaiden of theology.” These phrases express that all matter and all knowledge flow from the mind and hand of God, therefore, every topic of study is able to impart to the Christian scholar a fuller understanding of the character and nature of God.
When we design and approach our K-12 curriculum from this viewpoint, school becomes no longer a series of disconnected activities and isolated subjects. In contrast with the chest-of-drawers approach of modern education—in which science has no contact with literature, and math cannot bleed into music—we prefer to think of education like a tree (a cedar tree, of course). The various disciplines are branches of knowledge which overlap and intertwine. They all stem from the same root (God; his natural and special revelation) and grow upward toward the same purpose (knowledge of God leading to worship of God).
Because every branch of knowledge has this glorious source and purpose, there are treasures waiting to be unearthed in every discipline. Young children seem to understand this better than most adults. Preschoolers manifest a completely appropriate amazement at the world around them and hunger for knowledge, both experiential and informational. But somewhere between age 3 and grade 3, many children lose their wonder at the world. Knowledge becomes work for them, and work is pain, and pain is to be avoided at all costs. To counteract this course of nature, students must be intentionally taught to seek and find the goodness, truth, and beauty that surround them. Only then can they enjoy it, and the God who gave it. This is, after all, man’s chief purpose.
Teachers must continually call students’ attention to the Good, True, and Beautiful, provide space for contemplation of these things, and demonstrate their own delight in the works of God. When children are led to discover wonderful things in the natural world, in the world of story and history, in the labyrinth of language and the perfection of number, the effect is exponential. Joy and wonder spring from each discovery, and fuel more discovery. Education is an adventure; life is a treasure hunt. So we must instruct, we must model—and we must also pray for our students continually, since only God can give them eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that love Christ as he is known through all creation.
Teaching students to discover the reflections of God in every discipline amounts to studying God through his natural revelation: creation and mankind. But we also, indispensably, study God through his special revelation: Scripture.
Education at Cedar Classical Academy is built upon the foundation of a robust theology curriculum that works through the Bible verse by verse, and includes Scripture memory and catechism. In the thirteen years from kindergarten to grade 12, a student will study through the whole Bible three times. She will become familiar with the story arc of Scripture and how particular events fit into the grand narrative. He will understand how to approach and interpret the Bible faithfully, and the core doctrines of the faith. In any given week, all the classes and staff at Cedar Classical Academy study the same passage of Scripture, at different depths according to students’ developmental levels. This will help to unify the grades and build a school culture around the Biblical stories and principles we study together. It will provide a common language to be organically applied to discipline issues and instruction in virtues.
An essential aspect of any theological instruction is the man or woman who is teaching it. “Do as I say, not as I do” is only instruction in hypocrisy. Cedar Classical Academy teachers will demonstrate faithfulness, character, repentance, and pursuit of God in their own lives. They will “put flesh on” the doctrines and virtues we espouse. The Christian faith will be made tangible and desirable as students see it lived out by real men and women who care for them.
Our theology class will take place during the first period of every school day. However, in every discipline we will let our learning inform our theology, and our theology direct our learning. Students will frequently discuss questions like: What implications does this knowledge have for our faith and life? What does Scripture have to say about this topic? In this way teachers will weave contemplation of God and his Word into many parts of the curriculum throughout the school day and week.
When you meet one of our K-6th students this year, try asking him or her:
Have you studied anything beautiful at school recently?
What is something that surprised you in the book your class is reading together?
What do you like most about your teacher?
How do you spend your free time after school?
We hope that their answers to these questions might reveal God’s work in opening their eyes and hearts to see and love the good, the true, and the beautiful.
Cedar Classical Academy has been given the honor of becoming the first U.S. school to employ the Rafiki Bible Study as a comprehensive theology curriculum. We encourage you to check out how the Rafiki Foundation is holistically implementing classical Christian education in Africa (BaseCamp Live podcast about Rafiki).