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What Is Classical Education, Anyway? (Part II)

Updated: Apr 30

Not so long ago, but just long ago enough to revisit it, we published an article of this same title: What is classical education, anyway? You can still read it, here.

But because time has passed, and because it remains a good question, we’re going to explore it a second time all the same. Yet to do so, we’re going to start by rephrasing the question; you’ll soon see why. Here it is, rephrased:


Who do we want our children to become?


Our answer is likely far-ranging; we wish our children become many things. We wish they become compassionate, gentle, knowledgeable, sincere, capable, humble and deeply happy. We wish they chart a meaningful way for themselves in the world – that they find success of the most satisfying and enduring kind. Yet if we’d consider our answer in only a word, we might best say this: We wish our children be free.  

It’s an old and well-rooted idea in schooling: Real education leads to freedom. As Dr. Paulson would remind us, the word itself – education – comes from the Latin educare, which means to lead or draw out. In a good education we’re drawn out of our innate ignorance and vice; we’re freed from ourselves in that way, and through the guidance of great books and their teachers we’re led gently by the hand toward wisdom and virtue.

Classical education begins with that end of wisdom and virtue in view. It begins with the portrait of a graduate, so to speak. It begins with the wise and virtuous young man and woman who is free to flourish and reach his or her full potential in an ever-changing, always difficult world.

Why is this starting point significant? It may be obvious when said out-loud, but we must first acknowledge that wise and virtuous young men and women do not become wise and virtuous by accident. Wisdom and virtue are not commonplace for that very reason. It is true in school and true most everywhere: We must know who we wish to become, if we’re to truly become that person.

Classical education does two things for us here. In unison with the Scriptures and Church Tradition, it paints a living picture of the wise and virtuous young man and woman. And then in what we teach (our curriculum) and how we teach (our pedagogy), it tells us how to get there.

Curricular and pedagogical distinctives at Whitefish Christian Academy are outlined in that original and aforementioned write-up, still here. But for the moment let's return to that lingering, essential question: “Who do we want our children to become?” You may have noticed that little has been said about what our children might do in the world. While career training is important, it isn't the business of classical schools. A classical student will be well-prepared for a number of careers, but that form of specialized job training comes later. As our friends at Circe say,

“The classical Christian student does not ask ‘What can I do with this learning?’ but ‘What will this learning do to me?”

It’s all such subtle language, but the difference in the subtleties is profound. Classical education is an education of the mind and the heart. It’s an education that forms our habits and trains our eyes so we’d be free to love what’s good and true and beautiful, and to reform and revive those things that aren’t. And while there is good evidence that classical schools like ours prepare its students best for standardized tests and college, that’s not where we begin, nor where we end. We begin and end here: Classical education is an education in the things that matter most, so that our children might become those uncommon wise and virtuous men and women who are needed now more than ever.


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