DEFINING EDUCATION THAT IS CLASSICAL AND CHRISTIAN
Since its founding, Westminster Academy has sought to be an instrument that God may use to bring about educational and cultural restoration to society. With an emphasis on the Truth of God’s revelation and the tradition of Great Thoughts of civilization, we have set it as our goal to cultivate wisdom and virtue in the souls of our students in order that they may love that which is worth loving.
We live in a civilization that has lost much. In the last century particularly, we have seen a demoralization and dehumanization of the American community. Most diagnostic research on America exposes two major characteristics: apathy and cynicism.
In addition, we live in the age where concepts such as wisdom and virtue are generally viewed as obsolete or irrelevant. Even words such as “family values,” “goodness,” “freedom” have become subjective with little meaning or impact. In fact, many would sum up our present civilization with one word: “purposeless.” As a people of “progress” we have accumulated more amenities than ever; however, in this pursuit, we have absconded from the traditional ideas of God and man and lost the ability to make sense of the world around us. Never in history has a civilization had so much…never in history has so much meant so little.
With the rise of Dewey and the democratization of education through the public school system there has been a direct and obvious shift in the focus of the education of our society at large. School reform after school reform, both private and public, has been made; yet, each new theory has failed to produce the effect of recovering what has truly been lost in Western Civilization: (1) a full understanding of a living and personal God, (2) a recognition of the nobility and dignity of man, and (3) a society consisting of individuals within a community that love and pursue truth, beauty, and goodness.
What makes Westminster Academy so different? What pedagogy would we emphasize to offer solutions to these problems that haven’t already been offered in the last 50-100 years? Our answer is found in a Classical and Christian model for education.
Classical and Christian Education
In the middle of the Twentieth Century, Dorothy Sayers (a contemporary and friend of both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien) wrote an essay entitled “The Lost Tools of Learning.” In her writing, she identified what she saw was missing in education over the last century.
Sayers summarized the problem in education by proposing that students were now spoon-fed information and knowledge versus being trained to think. Because children were lacking in the necessary “tools of learning,” they could not go into the world as “lifetime learners.” They were unable to discern valid logic from propaganda, and unable to think through and communicate ideas.
As an institution, Westminster Academy has sought to recover, amplify and expand these ideas by researching and implementing the traditional model of education that had been used for over 1500 years. As a result of seeking to develop a Christian and Classical view of education, Westminster Academy has developed the following as its main distinctives.
In loco parentis. Westminster Academy believes that, according to Scripture, every child’s parents are the primary educators and ultimately bear the educational responsibility of their children. Westminster Academy serves as a tool to assist the parents in raising their children in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph. 6:4).
Christian Worldview. At Westminster Academy we are committed to the belief that God is a Personal God who is present and interacts through all aspects of creation. Because of this relationship, we can see the Person of God in every area of life. As a result, all subjects from literature, to science, to math are taught from a distinctively Christian perspective and, in this respect, all subjects integrated. Because our teachers are trained to communicate these truths, our students are trained to seek unity, life, and meaning in all aspects of reality, academic and nonacademic and, in turn, reflect God’s character in their lives.
Virtue and Wisdom. As a school, we seek to foster an environment that cultivates wisdom and virtue. Working from the premise that the goal of education is not ultimately knowledge alone, which cultivates pride, but wisdom beginning and ending with the living God - the result is students who apply knowledge appropriately with humility. Our goal is to produce students who know and act upon that knowledge. In addition, we understand that virtue is a necessity in all learning and life. Without goodness, any ideas of truth and beauty are futile. The goal is the “wise and virtuous” student who conforms to the image of Christ. In this way, the student is transformed, versus merely being informed.
Meaning and Purpose. The immediate product of wisdom and virtue is the recovery of meaning and purpose in all of life. The focus of Westminster Academy’s teaching is not just analyzing and critiquing, but connecting all the particular elements of life in a meaningful way. Knowledge and information is not a means in itself but must be synthesized into a higher purpose. Education is only complete if it ends in a purposeful existence that finds satisfaction and enjoyment culminating in the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty defined by the Person of Christ.
Emphasis on the Classical Liberal Arts. The Seven Liberal Arts are precisely what the name indicates…arts. These seven “arts,” which were used in Western Civilization for 1500 years from the Ancients on, have two broad categories: (1) the Verbal Arts (the Trivium, or “three ways”) and (2) the Mathematical Arts (the Quadrivium, or “four ways”). In this way classical education differentiates between the “art” (the skill) of a study and the “science” (or formal study) of a subject. In classical education the focus of the Trivium is first and foremost the development of the art of language through literature and grammar. With the focus on language development, the child(ren) would use a wide scope of great literature in various fields to achieve this, including fables, great literature, the Bible, the stories of history, and other works and subjects. The goal in these formative years is the development of those skills that aid in formulating and expressing meaningful thought. These skills are Grammar (linking concepts to symbols), Dialectic (reasoning correctly), and Rhetoric (communicating truth appropriately and persuasively). After training in these skills, the student is applying the arts to all subjects, such as science, math, and history in the pursuit of true understanding and purposeful knowledge. With these “tools of learning”, a student is trained to pursue wisdom and virtue, meaning and purpose, in all subjects with the ability to communicate these ideas to the community at large.
These traditional ideas result in a curriculum that is rigorous and demanding. Our emphasis on mastering the verbal arts combined with small class size (16 in the Lower School, 18 in the Upper School) requires students of all ages and in all subjects to verbally and continuously interact with faculty and peers. Teachers require that students work toward answers rather than providing answers for them. This develops in students the ability to both ask good questions and to know how to find the answers on their own. Such methods avoid “busy work” and peak during required formal rhetorical presentations in the sophomore, junior and senior years. These presentations are given in front of peers, faculty and parents and must be defended. There is a strenuous effort expected from our students in working through the ideas that have historically made Western Civilization great.
This purposeful rigor provides the skills necessary for students not only to respond to culture in a persuasive and winsome manner, but also to actively influence it. It is our hope and prayer that this education will further God’s kingdom by transforming culture to his glory.
Notes on the Curriculum…
A Classical Curriculum Explained