The Five Foundations of Classical Christian Education

5pillarsThe Association of Classical and Christian Schools (ACCS) has a helpful list of five foundations of classical Christian education.[1] In this post I give a brief commentary on how I understand the significance of each foundation for classical Christian education.

  1. Age Specific Learning

The resurgence of classical Christian education is heavily indebted to a 1947 essay by Dorothy Sayers entitled “The Lost Tools of Learning.”[2] In this essay, Sayers suggests that children learn differently as they age and mature, and that education is more effective when it takes into account the child’s frame of learning. She identifies the poll-parrot, the pert, and the poetical. In the poll-parrot stage, children enjoy memorization, songs, chants, repetition, and hands-on learning. In the pert stage, children become more argumentative and enjoy debating various viewpoints. In the poetic stage, children enjoy talking and communicating ideas. Sayers’ suggests that these three frames for learning correspond well to the three stages of the Trivium: Grammar, Dialectic/Logic, and Rhetoric. She proposes a correlation between the poll-parrot and the grammar stage, pert with the dialectic stage, and poetic with the rhetoric stage. Classical Christian education, then, attempts to match teaching styles with learning styles according to these categories.

  1. Time-tested method and content

Another foundation of classical Christian education is its return to time-tested method and content. This approach does not entail a rejection of all things new, but it does recognize that these new methods and content have not yet had the benefit of the test of time. They also have been viewed only through the lens of our cultural age. Older works, however, have the benefit of time and a variety of cultural ages to judge them. Those works that stand the test of time prove themselves to be worthy of continued study. This test of time is one way many attempt to define the Great Books. These Great Books, along with the time-tested methods, serve as the starting point for classical Christian education.

  1. All subjects point to God

Since all truth is God’s truth, classical Christian education teaches all subjects from a Christian worldview, meaning that when rightly understood, these subjects all point us back to God. As we propose above, since all truth is God’s truth, good education must begin by recognizing and relating rightly to him as God in all areas of life, including all subjects in school. Only from this worldview can we pursue any discipline of study with any lasting hope of success.

  1. Academically rigorous

Classical Christian education strives for excellence in all areas, from content to pedagogy to growth in wisdom and virtue. As such, we cannot expect to be excellent without hard work. Classical Christian education is academically rigorous, and unapologetically so. But academically rigorous does not always mean quantity of work. Rather, wrestling with the Great Ideas of history as discovered in the Great Books is taxing labor, but rewarding. Classical Christian education aims to be rigorous in the pursuit of truth, so that we might be well-trained for whatever we encounter.

  1. Nurturing community

Classical Christian education ought to be a holistic education of the head, the heart, and the hands. Consequently, we cannot succeed in this task in an environment of educational slavery. As teachers and schools, we are not taskmasters, but rather coaches that help guide students through the process of learning. We aim not to be harsh (though discipline will be necessary), but we do aim to be nurturing. We aim to build community. At School of the Ozarks (where I teach), we speak of ourselves as a family. This nurturing community helps encourage students, foster growth, and exhibit Christian fellowship.

How would you define any or all of these? We would love to hear from you in the comments or by emailing me at

[1]One can learn more at, the website of the ACCS.

[2]Sayers’ complete essay can be found at


Feature image credit: Photo by Patrick Schneider on Unsplash

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