Philosophy of Education
Classical education cultivates wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty. The substance of classical education is the liberal arts curriculum. The word “liberal” derives from the Latin libera, meaning freedom. For the ancient Greeks and Romans, a liberal education was necessary for a man to be free. Slaves would receive vocational training, but free citizens required an education that enlarged the mind and cultivated the soul.
The “arts” in a liberal arts education were seven in number, and they comprised a comprehensive curriculum of study that enlarged all of the human faculties. The seven liberal arts consisted of two parts: the Trivium of grammar, logic, and rhetoric; and the Quadrivium of mathematics, music, astronomy, and geometry. Once these “arts” of learning were mastered, the student was equipped for the study of the sciences: natural science, moral science (history, politics, law), and theological science.
The Trivium employs the terminology of language and is comprised of grammar (a subject’s basic facts), logic (the ability to reason with the facts), and rhetoric (the ability to synthesize ideas and communicate them effectively). The Trivium applies in almost every educational sphere because it accounts for the entire range of what education is supposed to do: The learner must acquire information, grasp it intellectually, and use it purposefully. To master any subject is to learn its language. The Trivium integrates the theoretical and the practical, tying together facts, arguments, and real-world applications.
An authentic liberal arts education relies on a vast educational civilization that has contended for the minds of students and society for 2,500 years. One goal of this education is to shape students into the right sort of people, equipped with the appropriate knowledge and the right skills for the needs of those around them. A Christian education in the liberal arts should produce citizens who are capable of discerning the common good, knowing what is merciful and just, and leading others toward it.
It is hoped that the benefits of the classical liberal arts as an approach to learning speak for themselves. They do not work because they represent a longstanding tradition. Rather, the tradition is longstanding because, as a system of education, it works. Since liberal arts thinking is currently the minority position in our society, it is easy to think of ourselves as cultural insurrectionists. It is important to remember, however, that modernism overthrew a 2,500 year tradition. Modernism, and not the culture we are recovering for our classrooms, is the insurgent. The benefits of such an education are certainly worthy of consideration.