Classical Christian education is often said to be a pursuit of the good, the true, and the beautiful. Others have built upon this idea to say that we are aiming to produce wisdom and eloquence in our students. Still further, classical Christian education has been said to be an exploration and instillation of virtue. Likely the most common statement regarding the goals of classical Christian education comes from a quote by John Milton. In fact, the Association of Classical and Christian Schools (ACCS), the largest organization of classical Christian educators, uses the quote as the source for its annual conference name, “Repairing the Ruins.” In his essay “Of Education,” Milton says that “The end then of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him, as we may the nearest by possessing our souls of true virtue, which being united to the heavenly grace of faith makes up the highest perfection.” Others have argued similarly. Gene Fant, for example, has proposed that “the primary purpose of education is the glorification of God.” David Naugle posits that “the goal of education is to produce saints through scholarship.” The commonality in these definitions centers on how education ought to teach students to know God aright that they might glorify and love him aright.
If we are training students towards wisdom and virtue, then classical Christian education cannot merely be about the mind, about filling up one’s intellect with knowledge. But neither is wisdom and virtue an exercise apart from knowledge. What we need is a holistic Christian education, one that instructs the head (intellect), the heart (orders our desires), and our hands (doers of the word, and not hearers only). Put another way, it seems that classical Christian education must be an education that focuses on how all truth is God’s truth (the head), how to rightly order our desires toward the kingdom (heart), and how these come together in faithful discipleship in the present (hands).
What do you think? Do you agree that we are training students towards wisdom and virtue? What role does knowledge play in this task? How do you aim to instruct the head, the heart, and the hands in your classroom? We would love to hear your thoughts!
John Milton, “Of Education.” Accessed March 7, 2017 at https://www.dartmouth. edu/~milton/ reading_room/of_education/text.shtml. The English actually reads: “The end then of Learning is to repair the ruines of our first Parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him, as we may the neerest by possessing our souls of true vertue, which being united to the heavenly grace of faith makes up the highest perfection.”
Gene Fant, Jr., The Liberal Arts: A Student’s Guide (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 19.
David Naugle, Presentation at ACCS 2015.
We recommend James K. A. Smith’s work Desiring the Kingdom, for a lengthier discussion of how we are homo adorans (loving beings) and homo liturgicus (liturgical beings), and how these conclusions point us towards a more holistic education.