Friday, 8 April 2011

A Classic(al) Interview

Doug Wilson was recently interviewed about education. Here are some selected and edited highlights. 
In plain English, what is a “Classical Education” and what does the adjective “Christian” add here?  Classical education refers primarily to two aspects — one is the methodology of the Trivium, and the other is the “great books” approach to content. The Christian component means that theology is treated, as it was in the medieval period, as the queen of the sciences. With classical education there is a lot to integrate, and we believe that Christ is the great principle of integration.
Classical education, traditionally, was based on the trivium and quadrivium. What are these and how important are they to a classical curriculum? The Trivium consists of grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric. We treat these serially, as Sayers urged in her seminal essay The Lost Tools of Learning. Grammar is taught in the elementary years, logic or dialectic in the junior high years, and rhetoric in the high school years. The students learn classical logic, but they are also taught some of the more recent advances. The formal logic course is taught in 8th grade. The school does not develop the Quadrivium, except to the extent that we have some of the standard courses you might expect to find in a high school.
Given that so many ancient manuscripts have been translated into English, why is it important to have students spend so much time on Latin and Greek? There are many reasons, but two basic ones come to mind here. One, there are a great many more texts to be translated, and we will need translators to do it. But granting that most of our students will not keep their Latin and Greek up, we teach these languages to them as a form of mental discipline, and as a way of establishing them in English. Their Latin might revert to zero, but their English will never be the same.
Is it possible for parents to homeschool their children and provide them with a Classical Christian Education? If so, what curriculum would they use? Yes, quite a number of homeschoolers are pursuing a classical Christian curriculum. Two of the main programs I would mention are the Omnibus program published by Veritas Press. I am one of the general editors of that project, and many homeschoolers use it. Another good program that helps homeschoolers with this is Classical Conversations. Online courses are available for particular courses when the parents are in over their heads.
Is a Classical Education (leaving aside its Christian or religious orientation) for everyone? My goal is not to have absolutely everyone receive a classical Christian education in all its rigor. But I would like a classical Christian school, of the high standards variety, to be available to everyone. I do think the classical structure of the Trivium would translate well to all forms of private education, even if they didn’t go full tilt into the Latin, for example.
How well does a Classical Christian Education equip students to understand the role of science in society? I think they are very well equipped to understand the role of science in our society, even though we don’t use the standard texts. The students who go to state universities are prepared for what they will get there. We are able to do this even though we think Darwin is a joke. Though we don’t believe it, we know what it is we don’t believe. A university professor from a nearby state university (he was a microbiologist) spoke at a New St. Andrews event, with virtually all our students in the room. He asked how many had read Darwin’s Origin, and virtually every hand in the room went up (it is part of our curriculum). He commented on how odd that was — he taught in the Temple of Darwin, where everyone believed it, but no one had read it.
Surveying the American educational landscape, what do you see? The American school system looks like a helicopter that tried to land sideways. 
What websites, books, and resources would you like readers of this interview to be aware of? I would recommend the web site of the Association of Classical and Christian Schools (, as well as my own web site ( In addition, there is a lot of material at Canon WIRED (, as well as at Canon Press ( And Logos School has a web site also ( For books, I would recommend three I have written — Recovering the Lost Tools of LearningThe Case for Classical and Christian Education, and The Paideia of God. The first two are published by Crossway, and the last one by Canon Press.
You can read the whole interview here

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