Reviewed by Kyle Rapinchuk
In Classical Me, Classical Thee, Rebekah Merkle has written a winsome explanation and defense of classical Christian education for students currently enrolled in a classical Christian school. Of course, the book is wonderful for educators and parents as well, but Merkle knows her audience well and does not depart from a focused conversation with that audience. And this ought to surprise no one as Merkle is both a classical Christian educator and a product of classical Christian education herself. This uniquely qualifies her as one who can speak from both perspectives, from one who understands the struggles of the day-to-day grind for classical students, but who also can look back and understand how easy it can be to waste a wonderful gift.
Merkle begins by building rapport with the reader, particularly taking time to win over the student whose parents “forced” them into classical education and they have yet to see the value of it. In order to accomplish this difficult task, she not only empathizes genuinely with this student, but presents a convincing case explaining why they have been given a gift. In chapter 1, “A Fundamentally Different Pizza,” she uses the first of several silly, yet helpful analogies to explain her point. She suggests that many classical Christian students think that they are getting basically the same education (pepperoni pizza) as public school kids, just with a few add-ons like Latin (green peppers). However, later on she claims these students will find that public school kids received something vastly different and altogether less satisfying than their classical Christian educated peers (tuna and crackers, not pizza at all!).
As she progresses throughout the work, she demonstrated how various subjects in classical Christian education not only teach different content in many cases, but all subjects help refine skills that will serve the student well throughout life, regardless of whether or not one remembers the content. For example, in chapter 4 she shows how studying Latin helps refine our language use, and in chapter 5 she shows that literature is a fundamentally different subject when we learn what a text means (according to the author) as opposed to what does this text “mean” to you. Chapters 6 and 7 discuss logic and rhetoric respectively, both classes that are rarely taught in public school, and yet shows how an ability to think and communicate clearly, correctly, and persuasively will help students become leaders rather than followers. Chapter 8 on Worldview points out that skills without discernment turn is into monsters, so she argues that we can never say the word Worldview too often, for it stands at the heart of what we do. Chapters 9 and 10 show how math, science, and history are vastly different subjects, despite similarity in content, when we view them through a Christian lens of a creator God and an organized and purposeful universe.
Chapter 11, “Complications with the Trivium,” serves as a helpful clarification on the terms Trivium and Quadrivium and how they relate to the learning frame of the student. Of all the chapters, this is the one that seems least applicable to her audience, yet by placing it at the end, Merkle makes it a helpful clarification that readers are willing to consider as opposed to an introduction that would cause many student readers to disengage. The book would be great without this chapter, but it’s certainly not irrelevant. Finally, Merkle provides an appropriately stern warning about the dangers of wasting such a gift, using Jesus’ parable of the talents as her foundation. Since Merkle has worked so hard to win over her audience through empathy (pathos), her own credibility (ethos), and a convincing argument (logos), I suspect most students will receive this warning well and desire to act in such a way that they will make a return on the investment they have received in their education.
I would highly recommend this book for any high school student, especially those entering their freshmen or senior years, as it helps provide a wonderful reflective exercise during a season of significant change where it would be easy to despise one’s education. I also recommend this book to parents who are considering classical Christian education for their children. The difference between public education (or even non-classical private) and classical Christian education is a far wider gap than most parents probably realize, and this book helps demonstrate those differences persuasively and clearly.