The next step for Getting Started with Christian Classical Homeschooling is to take a look at what to teach and how to teach it. David Hicks mentions this in his definition of Classical education as the “forms of instruction.” Today we are going to survey the subjects of the Christian classical curriculum and tomorrow we will survey how these subjects can be taught in a Christian Classical way. Granted these topics could be discussed for the rest of our lives so today’s post will include a brief history and overview of the curriculum. I will include a list at the end for further reading along with the sources used for reference in writing this article.
Last week many of you read the ‘Start with Why’ post. In that post, we all challenged ourselves to write down our why for homeschooling and to list out what kind people we wanted our children to be when they left our homeschools. When I completed my list, I realized the majority of the things on my list had to do with morals and virtues along with things like “know how to think,” “be a free person who rules himself”, and “become more like Christ.” I also had some things on the list like be healthy, have studied (insert subject here), and have the necessary passports to our world. If I am like most moms, I think, we may all have experienced similar results. As I reflected on my list, I noticed two things. First, the proportions of how many virtues and abilities were there versus the number of physical and “passport” goals. (‘Passports to our world’ is a phrase Charlotte Mason used and has to do with the skills or things we have to possess to function in our world and are not necessarily serving the main goal of becoming more like Christ. These are different for everyone depending on your life and goals and could be things like money, SAT scores, and possibly a college degree if your field requires it) Second, I noticed there was a well roundedness to the list. Even though, there were not as many physical, academic, and passport goals they were still there, and for good reason. The proportions and the well roundedness should tell me something about the kind of education I ought to embark on if I want to reach the end goals, especially if I sought God about my goals.
The second thing to remember as we look at the Christian classical curriculum is that the unique nature of the seven liberal arts and the four sciences, classically taught, cultivate the intellectual virtues and enable those arts and sciences to become tools for freedom, not just sterile subjects to teach. These arts and sciences are like living organs that give the person who studies them new eyes to see reality –and therefore truth –with greater clarity. If a person can see the truth more clearly, then he can align his life with that truth and the Truth is what sets a man free. This man can rule himself. In other words, the virtues and abilities we so desperately want to see cultivated in our kids do not have to be left to chance. We can intentionally cultivate those things through the Christian classical curriculum.
Seven Liberal Arts
Grammar is the foundation and is concerned with knowledge. Grammar is part of the trivium, which means three roads and which is most likely the most popular term associated with classical education. It is also used to describe a developmental stage. All of these uses of the word grammar are good and important. For our purposes, we are concentrating on grammar as a subject. I like the way Ravi and Clark say it in ‘The Liberal Arts Tradition.’ “…the study of grammar consisted of everything necessary for interpreting a text –geography, history, even what we might call hermeneutics.” So in addition to the traditional study of English and Latin grammar, students also studied many other things like history, the natural world, etc. Grammar is taught through the mimetic and Socratic modes of teaching as are all seven liberal arts.
Rhetoric is tightly tied to action, persuasion toward truth, and eloquence; rhetoric the last of the three roads of the trivium and of Sayers’ developmental stages. The study of rhetoric trains the mind to discover the truth, arrange truth appropriately, write about it convincingly and eloquently, know it by heart, and communicate it to others through speech, in a way, that is fitting and appropriate. Rhetoric is an extension of logic and finishes it. The student of rhetoric is well equipped to stand firm in truth and articulate it to others. Inside the rhetorical classroom, there will be a lot of reading, writing, discussion, speeches, and debates.
Arithmetic is the first of the mathematical arts and the first road of the quadrivium. All of the mathematical arts are extensions of logic. The powers of all the mathematical arts to form logical habits of the mind oriented towards reality cannot be overstated. Have you ever heard the question “when am I going to use algebra?” Well, that is the neat thing, algebra, geometry, arithmetic, etc. are all transcendently powerful and cause the one who studies them classically to become reasonable, logical, and on the way to wisdom. It is a faculty of freedom and gives the mind a lens to view the world. Arithmetic more specifically is concerned with the nature of numbers and their eternal relationships. It studies the kinds, forms, and representations of numbers. Arithmetic studies the relationships of these numbers through the various operations. So arithmetic in essence is the study of numbers and operations and displays the harmony of discrete quantities. The classical study of arithmetic should be a playful and wonder inspiring study.
Geometry is concerned with numbers in space and displays the harmony of continuous quantities. Historically, Euclid’s Geometry was the standard for the study of geometry for over 1000 years. Geometry in the classical tradition –aka Euclid’s Geometry –cultivates wisdom and virtue in the student by giving the student a geometric way of the seeing the world. This happens through a focus on proofs, first principles, and the ability to illustrate a mathematical concept artistically. In many ways geometry is the foundation for philosophy and theology.
Harmonics has to do with harmony in its purest sense. It is, in its simplest form, the study of numbers in time and displays the harmony of ratios and proportions. Harmonics can be closely related to the modern study of music theory. However, there are differences. The student who studies harmonics classically learns to see how all reality sings, in a sense. The interconnectedness of the physical and the unseen parts of creation are erringly apparent in the study of harmonics. The study of harmonics along with the study of the rest of the mathematical arts literally educates a student in the structures of reality.
Astronomy is the study of numbers in time and space. It is concerned with the harmony of shapes in motion. Jain and Clark tell us “The ancient Greeks attempted to understand the actual mathematical relationships among the heavenly bodies in terms of size, distance, and geometry.” Through the classical study of astronomy, every major scientific came to pass. This is not surprising since God made the skies rule over the earth. Untold and marvelous mysteries can be made known by looking at and studying the sky. Both in Romans 1 and Psalm 19, the scripture, tells us about how creation tells us mysterious about our God. The classical study of astronomy opens this up for a student who studies it and give the student an astronomical view of the world.
The Four Sciences
Concerned with the bodily realm, asks questions about the cause of physical change and physical being, is taught through examples and includes biology, chemistry, and physics. The foundation of this is nature study where the student gets to know his kingdom with humility, leisure, and joy.
Concerned with the soulish realm –meaning the intellect and the affections, asks questions about the causes of moral change and moral being, is taught through analogies and fable, and includes the history, ethics, and politics. The foundation of this is art, music, stories, and facts that enchant the mind of the younger child. In other words, a playful and leisurely exposure to all the things that make up a culture and society.
Concerned with the spiritual realm, asks questions about the causes of change and causes of being, is taught through analogies from the trivium, quadrivium, moral and natural sciences, and includes topics like philosophy, metaphysics, ontology, and epistemology. The foundation that allows a student to appropriately study these subjects is a solid foundation in the trivium, the quadrivium, and the moral and natural sciences.
Also concerned with the spiritual realm, theology is the queen of the sciences and asks questions about first causes and being, in and of itself. The Theological sciences are taught by analogy and negation and require the student to have mastered all other sciences to study it rightly. Several of the topics included in the philosophical sciences are also found in the theological sciences.
The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education by Clark & Jain
Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on Education by David Hicks