What is Classical Education?

February 1, 2010

In a broad sense, “classical education”  refers to a particular pedagogical approach together with an emphasis on passing on the heritage of the West. But not all classical schools begin with the same presuppositions. For instance, in his book The Case for Classical Education, Douglas Wilson refers to four approaches to classical education:

The “moral classicism” approach of Mortimer Adler: This approach is geared toward the reform of public schools. In Democratic Classicism religion is important, but its approach is more secular, and its foundational value is democracy (82).

The “elite classicism”  of wealthy prep schools: In this model students study the ancient as well as the modern, or the trendiest. For instance, in English class a student may study Maya Angelou alongside Shakespeare. (82).

The “moral classicism”  of David Hicks: Hicks finds his inspiration in Plato. He builds his educational theory around a search for a ideal and a conviction that education should be a path to virtue (82-83).

The “Christian Classicist”  approach of Douglas Wilson: This system teaches that which can be known with systematic rigor, but it does so with an awareness of human sin and the necessity of God’s grace and sovereignty over all of life (83).

The Christian Classicist approach defended by the guests in this podcast subscribe to the latter. They all believe that education must be specifically and distinctly Christian. Hence, it is more dogmatic and settled than the other approaches to classical education. As Douglas Wilson observes, “…for classical Christian educators ‘classical’ is not enough (82).”

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