Lesson Learned over 40 Years of Recovering Classical Education

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Over the last 40 years we have learned some lesson and made some mistakes. The list that follows is from a presentation I have delivered a few times at school and homeschool conferences. I first list some lessons, then some mistakes, though they are often one and the same!

In the comments section, feel free to add your own lessons learned, your own hard-earned wisdom.



·      If this is the best education for the few, it is the best education for all. (Africa got this education in part, only for the few).

·      If we don’t give this education away to all we have no right to keep it. It is only in giving that we receive.

·      It is a slow work, more like learning a new language than switching a brand. Adopt a five-year plan.

·      Classical education is not a brand but a culture—the culture of the church 

·      It is a generational work: What was lost in two or three generations will take two or three generations to fully recover.

·      It blesses people every step of the way, like a gradual recovery from an injury or sicknesses. We don’t get stronger all at once, but we do increase in strength. The various blessing encourages us along the way.

·      We won’t see another C. S. Lewis until we provide the church with kind of education Lewis received.

·      Not everyone will be or should aspire to be a scholar and writer like C. S. Lewis. A classical education is a human education and aims to bless and equip all kinds of humans for all kinds of callings.

·      Not a formula, nor a franchise operation, nor easily scalable

·      Teaching in an art not a science, though it is informed by science

·      We were poorly-educated and so we will recover this poorly. However, if it is worth doing its worth doing badly (Chesterton).

·      Curriculum will not grow and flourish without a loving community

·      Students don’t really care much about educational philosophy—but the philosophy you adopt will make all the difference.

·      Students, because they are humans, love the TRUE, GOOD, AND BEAUTIFUL; and they love and long for friendship (not so much grammar and logic—at first).

·      We teach the way we were taught, which is to say progressively in many respects; therefore we have to patiently unlearn our pedagogy.

·      Don’t teach philosophy to 13 year-olds.

·      Don’t download a seminary curriculum into your high school.

·      “Rigor” is often distorted into “hard for hardness sake.” I prefer vigor or ardor.

·      We teach too many subjects too poorly and ruin a student’s standards thereby. C. S. Lewis: We should teach far fewer subjects and teach them far better.

·      Our schools and homeschools are ugly and we don’t easily see it.

·      We esteem standardized tests (like the SAT) too much.

·      Many are classically-minded (perhaps all really?) though not classically-trained or educated.

·      No one who is well-educated thinks of himself as well-educated.

·      You don’t have to read as many great book as you can. Read the paradigm great books. The slightest knowledge of a great book is better than the greatest knowledge of a slight book.

·      A classical Christian education (as transformative as it is) is no guarantee that every child will love Chaucer, Cicero, Shakespeare… or Christ.

·      People who don’t genuinely love classical Christian education should not be the head of classical Christian  schools or on boards.

·      Teachers need coaching and mentoring not merely books and consultants like me.

·      We teach in silos because we were educated in silos.

·      There are classical remnants that persist even in progressive schools.

·      Not everything in the progressive educational tradition is bad. In fact, some is good, valuable and not in conflict with classical education: cognitive science, teaching for memory, some testing, educational therapy.

·      We have an impoverished vocabulary for education—the words we have inherited have lost much of their meaning: liberal arts, assessment, dialectic, rhetoric, virtue, intellectual.

·      Classical education is so big, deep, and long that it eludes simple dictionary-style definitions, but we can construct some decent ones: The liberal arts and the great books.

·      Grammar school teachers tend to ask HOW? Specify for me just what you want me to do.

·      Upper school teachers tend to ask WHY? Then they want to be left alone to each what they are thinking about.

·      The K-12 paradigm for referring to education is very thin or shallow. It merely describes steps without specifying what we are stepping to. It is mere progression—but progression to what? Much thicker is: GRAMMAR, LOGIC, RHETORIC and the best is PGMAPT: piety, gymnastic, musical education, the seven liberal arts, philosophy, and theology. See the Liberal Arts Tradition by Clark and Jain.

·      Some aspects of renewing classical education are relatively easy like the early grades (K-4); some aspects are relatively hard: 8-12.

·      Rarely can one leader start AND finish a classical Christian school.

·      We need a K-16 solution harmoniously weaves college into the K-12 renewal. Cf. the Alcuin Fellowship and about 20 American colleges dialing in to the renewal.

·      We need money and donors to help classical Christian schools start well and flourish sooner.

·      Our assessment/grading system is broken and keep progressive elements persisting in our schools.

·      Most pastors in the U.S. won’t touch this. It is a hot potato and they don’t want conflict.

·      Schools in the U.S. cannot count on robust, extensive support and will sometimes encounter opposition (elitism, racism).

·      What elitism really is: not excellence but pride. The charge of “elitism” is often a way of down-talking excellence and goodness when we don’t have it.

·      Classical Christian education was (and is) largely global, not merely western, human not merely white, as it traveled wherever the church thrived and was part of the culture of the church.

·      There is in fact, a skill, trade, and business of running a school. 

·      Classical education is Christian historically. Before 1900, what did we call classical education? Education. And it was almost always Christian. Classical education was rightly regarded as education—not merely a form of education.

·      Beauty matters; ugliness matters

·      The best two thing parents can do: Read to their children from infancy; fill the house with as many good books as they can reasonably afford.

·      Everyone has a mind and therefore a “classical mind,” but each person’s mind is on a journey and will awaken on its own schedule. Give people space and time to grow.

·      Good teaching is not technique but an art; Good pedagogy consist of teaching principles that guide and inform our practices not a set of tips and tricks.

·      Even and imperfect classical education is powerful.



·      To violate each of the maxims above at various times!

·      Hiring “non-believers” as heads of school

·      Assuming doing classical was a brand-switch—just another type of education easily implemented.

·      Assuming it could be done quickly and would be easily scalable. (It is scalable, just not easily so).

·      Underestimating the way we have been formed and patterned by our own teachers.

·      Underestimating the time it would take to unlearn our progressive teaching habits to become skilled as classical educators. Think: 5-10 years.

·      Growing proud when successful.

·      Becoming too tightly identified and bound up with our efforts that we became defensive, brittle, serious—and unable to hear and learn from our critics and mistakes.

·      At times we became intemperate, cowardly, unwise, foolish, and unfair. Sometimes unloving, unfaithful, ungenerous, despairing. Sometimes brash and rash. We have shown ourselves fallen human beings in need of sanctification.







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