As a parent, you want to know what you are buying, right? What is the end product? What is the final result? What does it look like when the kids have finally “got an education”? Often, the answer to these questions, for Christian and non-Christian alike, is measured by “job” or “career” preparation. A child may be in 1st grade, 5th grade, or high school, and somehow, future career choices always seem to weigh heavy on parents and students alike. Does “What do you want to be when you grow up?” ring a bell?
One of the criticisms of classical education so often raised is that it doesn’t focus enough on career preparation. The critique becomes even sharper when the topic turns to skills and knowledge in the so-called “STEM” disciplines. How does reading Shakespeare or learning about the Napoleonic Wars help prepare my son or daughter for life in the 21 st century where cars will likely drive themselves and if you can’t do your own computer programming you may not have a job? How does studying art and poetry help get your child into medical school? Sure, the classical method may be great for producing English teachers and history scholars, but perhaps your son or daughter wants to be an engineer.
If these thoughts have plagued your mind while considering classical and Christian education, perhaps some perspective from a kid who went down this “classical” road can help ease your mind. Homeschooled for 8 years, with a high school diploma from a small classical, Christian school, many of the above questions bothered me as well. So, I naturally decided to attend yet another classically minded school for my undergraduate studies… By this point I couldn’t help wonder if I was deliberately setting myself up for failure in the medical field. Would 16 years of education that seemed bent towards the humanities and arts really set me up for success in studying anatomy, pathophysiology, and learning cutting edge technology in the medical field?
The real problem here is that all these questions are the wrong questions, except for the very first one. What is the true value of an education? It is without a doubt, NOT measured by career success. The true value of a real education is virtue and awareness. Virtuous men and women who understand the world God has created are the goal of a real education. Men and woman who are selfless in the midst of a fallen world are the aim of a true education. Find me a school that strives for virtue and self-sacrifice, and you likely will have found a classical Christian school.
But what does that have to do with science, or math, or engineering? We want our doctors to be skilled and knowledgeable, right? We want our engineers to build bridges that don’t fall down, right? Let me propose to you, that not only is classical, Christian education adequate for preparing your son or daughter for success in whatever field they end up pursuing, but it may be far superior to any other educational road you may consider traveling. As a freshman biology major Hillsdale College, I could look at fellow classmates who already had 30 AP biology and anatomy credits from their local high school and feel assured that I was way behind the curve. After all, what’s not to love about being a sophomore by credit hours before you spend one day on campus? Worse than that, I felt immensely behind in terms of simple knowledge. While I struggled and studied, other classmates seemed to breeze through material that they were seeing for the 2nd or 3rd time. In the moment, my lofty minded “classical” education seemed to be failing me, especially in the sciences. However, hindsight gives an immense amount of clarity.
Currently I work as a Physician Assistant in Cardio-Thoracic Surgery at a major urban hospital in Ohio, caring for very sick patient with complex cardiac and lung issues. While it may seem a long way from humble classical beginnings, it is not. Several things that were gifted to me by parents and teachers alike in my classical education equipped me.
- Work ethic – anyone can work hard. Anyone can be forced to put hours in. Successful individuals transcend the mere grind and grit or work and actually find joy in their work. You want an excellent doctor? Engineer? Astrophysicist? Find one that loves what they do. No other education nutures in a child an absolute wonder and joy at the world God has made.
- Excellence – I will be very bold and simple here. No other educational philosophy will teach your child to value excellence more than one where God’s handiwork is the standard and the great achievements of history are the every day case studies.
- Holistic view of the world – A classical and Christian education will teach your children to see and understand the immense diversity of subjects and opportunities before them. How does literature relate to medicine? How does Economics relate to language? Or, dare I ask, how does religion relate to science? Furthermore, a virtuous child will learn how to live well in the tension of these various subjects and thrive in the multitude of real world ethical decisions that will surely turn up on their desk, under their microscope, or in their clinic someday.
- But how do these qualities help my child understand arithmetic or memorize kingdom, phylum, class, etc.? Quite simply, they don’t. But they create the type of person that will have no problem doing those things. More than that, they create the type of person that will never quit until they have mastered with excellence whatever they put their hand to – yes, even the non-humanities subjects. It works this way because God designed us to learn and think this way. Virtue is not just an abstract moral characteristic. It actually teaches you how to study and why to study biology, math, physics, and chemistry. It may be difficult to see at first, but if you trust the process, you will see that classical education will actually and truly prepare your son or daughter to program computers, build rockets, do cancer research, or maybe like me cut open a chest for heart surgery!