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Classical Christian
Classical Education
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Christine Miller

Classical Christian
Homeschooling FAQ:
The Well-Trained Mind

This page last revised:
February 2003


CCH & The Well-Trained Mind

Christine Miller

There are similarities and differences between Classical Christian Homeschooling’s method of classical education and The Well-Trained Mind’s method of classical education. The similarities, of course, are that they both attempt to define a modern way of implementing classical education in the home school. They both recognize the stages of the trivium. The differences are both fundamental and subtle.

The Biblical Foundation

It is true that CCH and the Well-Trained Mind approach the biblical foundation to education differently. If I understand Mrs. Bauer’s stated position, The Well-Trained Mind advocates the Biblical foundation of education, but provides limited guidance on this aspect of classical education, believing the authority of these matters to rest with parents and the local church, rather than with education books such as The Well-Trained Mind. And indeed, educational authority does rest with parents and not with books or websites. Now, because the Church (the universal church, the Body of Christ) disagrees on interpretations of Genesis, for example, for science and history, The Well-Trained Mind recommends secular science and history books, preferring to leave the interpretation and implementation up to the parents and local church. I am not trying to put words in Mrs. Bauer’s mouth. Please read her own essay on the subject.

The Well-Trained Mind includes a chapter on religious teaching. A local charter school discarded the chapter on religious teaching, implemented much of the rest of the recommendations, and the school is providing a first-rate secular classical education to the local community. This is what I see as the main question: is the biblical aspect of the education integral, foundational, to the whole education or optional? Mrs. Bauer addresses this question and her opinion should be studied. It is my opinion that a Christian classical education requires an integral, not optional, biblical foundation. My reasons for believing this opinion are outlined below. The rest of this essay will not compare The Well-Trained Mind with CCH so much as it will compare a secular classical education with my definition of a Christian classical education with an integrated biblical foundation.

Integrated Christian Classical Education

John Milton wrote in On Education, “The end ... 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.” If true, an educational method which ends with teaching the mind, and does not recognize an equally important charge to teach the heart to love virtue and to be wise (to fear the Lord as Creator and Sovereign Upholder and Ruler of the universe), has fallen short of the necessary end of learning. A simple example illustrates this. A fool says in his heart, “There is no God,” and macro-evolutionary “science” teaches that God is not the Creator. Thus an evolutionist is an educated fool, an abortion doctor is an educated fool, a scientist trying to clone humans is an educated fool. The end of learning has not been achieved for these individuals whose education ended with teaching their minds, and did not likewise teach their hearts to be wise.

Integrated Christian classical education, however, recognizes the importance of the biblical foundation in every academic subject. God is Truth, and man can only know truth which God has revealed (God has revealed truth in the Scriptures, and man discovers revealed truth as well in nature, mathematics, and so on). Christians which hold to the inerrancy of God’s Word as the standard of truth begin with its axioms in all areas of life. In other words, truth exists which is absolute, universal, and that is revealed by God, who is Truth, to man in Scripture; and absolute truth is the standard by which narrower truths are judged. Now, logic teaches us that truth cannot contradict itself. This is why Biblical truth can serve as a foundation for the truth to be found in all other academic subjects. If it is known that one axiom is true, an axiom which asserts a contradictory proposition cannot be also true. One of the axioms must be discarded as false. Therefore in the study of science, the Biblical truth that God is the Creator of life as recorded in His Word will not contradict the truth which is revealed to man in his study of the natural world. A “truth” falsely so-called, which does contradict the absolute truth cannot ultimately be true. Thus, unlike secular classical education, in Christian classical education, theology is the queen of the sciences, as universal (biblical) truth will not contradict specific (scientific) truth. (Read more on the necessity of theology as the queen of the sciences.)

Biblical truth is not the foundation for only science, however, but history as well. The revealed truth of the history of the universe begins in Genesis 1:1. The first eleven chapters of Genesis contradict in many ways the ancient history presented in library books. Since they contradict, they cannot both be true. One is true and one is false. Which is it? Well, Romans and the other epistles of the New Testament reveal that Christian theology depends on actual events of ancient history. In revealed ancient history, one man sinned, and as a result of this one act, death entered into a perfect world (Romans 5:12). It is because Adam’s sin is the first cause of death, that the death of Jesus Christ frees from sin. The theological truth that the wage of sin is death (Romans 3:23) depends on the historical event (Genesis 3). And this is only one instance of the theology of Christianity depending on the truth of the events of ancient history as revealed in Scripture; there are many others.

Now the ancient history presented in the library books denies the historical event of Genesis 3 and asserts that death has always been a part of life, since (they claim) fossils (which are dead) predate man (and if man, of course Adam). So if the truth of the ancient history presented in the library books is asserted, then the truth of Romans must be rejected, by logical extension. And many children, raised in Christian homes, who have gone to church all their lives, but who have not developed a biblical worldview based on the foundation of absolute truth as revealed in Scripture, do reject Christian theology by logical extension when they are grown. Christian classical education maintains the integrity of Romans and thus Genesis by logical extension in its teaching about ancient history.

Absolute Truth & the Biblical Worldview by Chuck Colson

Truth Severed from its Roots

There is a parallel implication of having “religious teaching” compartmentalized away from the rest of academics, with the biblical foundations of science, history, mathematics, grammar, and other subjects severed from them. The teachings of the Bible learned in church (one or two hours on Sunday) are disconnected for children from real life (166 hours Sunday through Saturday). For the child who learns that sin is not the first cause of death, but that death was the tool used to create life (secular science and history), the horror of the consequence of sin -- death -- is diminished; death becomes more acceptable. How can the tool used to create life be in truth the last enemy? And today we live in a society where death (abortion, euthanasia, research on human embryos) is accepted. The horror of sin itself is diminished, and sin becomes more acceptable. And today we live in a society where sin (pornography, violence, adultery, divorce, theft, lying) is accepted.

When “Bible” is isolated from what the child is learning in his other subjects, the story of Noah’s Flood becomes a sort of “spiritual myth” to his mind -- a fictional tale whose object is to teach a moral, sort of on the same level as Aesop’s Fables. In history class this child learns that Noah’s Flood didn’t even happen. The historical event of Noah’s Flood teaches the theological truth that God judges sin, but also provides an Open Door for those who will go through it and be saved from judgment. When history is severed from its biblical foundation, modern man can look at a dinosaur skeleton in a museum, and the giant warning that God judges sin, so go through the Open Door, Jesus Christ, before it is too late is completely lost on him.

What happens to the child for whom biblical truth is compartmentalized in his mind, and disconnected from the other areas of life, when he faces a serious challenge to biblical authority in college or the work world as an adult? Often it is just as easy for him to discard his mental “Bible” compartment as it was for the secular classical school in the earlier example to discard the chapter on religious teaching without altering the fundamental makeup of the education. Children for whom biblical authority is woven in and out of all of life and all the subjects they study do not find it convenient to discard biblical authority as easily. Just think: if the authority of the Bible is attacked by modern science, for example, the fact that its authority continues to be upheld by philosophy and mathematics and family relationships and history and theology helps the child “weather” the attack on its authority in the one area, while an investigation ensues as to the truth of the claims which have seemed to undermine it. Christian classical education does establish all teaching on the foundation of biblical truth, and provides a coherent biblical worldview supported by the discovered truth found in science, history, mathematics, etc.

Some educators have asserted that The Well-Trained Mind provides for a strictly secular classical education. Knowing Mrs. Bauer’s thoughts on the matter; my thoughts on the difference between secular and Christian classical education; and the thoughts of the educators who assert such; you are in a good position make up your own mind and not to have to blindly follow someone else’s opinion.

... and the Rest

Now, back to differences between CCH and The Well-Trained Mind; these differences are my opinion; and the differences are subtle. CCH sees the foundational study of language as one subject undertaken in three stages, each stage building on the mastery of the one before. These stages follow the trivium: first the study of grammar, which teaches how language conveys meaning in the cultural convention; then the study of logic, which teaches right thinking to find truth as it is framed in the language convention; then the study of rhetoric, which teaches the eloquent expression of the truth now known, both in speech and writing. The Well-Trained Mind retains the elementary grammar study throughout the 12 years of the trivium, and adds logic and rhetoric to grammar study.

Another difference is in execution. CCH tries to reduce classical education to its core, and advocates teaching far fewer subjects, and teaching them far better; and especially in the higher stages, spending large chunks of time in focused study on single topics. As homeschoolers, we can rectify the problems inherent in the Prussian model of schooling in use by today’s educators. The Well-Trained Mind’s method of execution is closer to traditional schooling; CCH is closer to Charlotte Mason’s style, particularly in the grammar stage.

The Well-Trained Mind divides the trivium into slightly different grade levels than CCH does; this difference is minor.

Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer have especially been of benefit to me on the importance of summarizing and writing the thesis statement when reading books in the higher stages. A variation of this emphasis, along with ideas learned from Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book, are integrated into the On the Use of Real Books in the Secondary Curriculum article on the CCH website.

As is noted in Choosing Curriculum, classical education is not exclusively contained in one curriculum or another, or in one style of execution or another. As long as that which makes education classical -- the trivium, the supremacy of language, the culture of Western Civilization -- is present, then that education is classical education, whether it is secular or Christian, home or institutional, the Prussian style or the Charlotte Mason style or the unit study style, whether in private or home school, whether described by The Well-Trained Mind or Classical Christian Homeschooling or Trivium Pursuit. The differences do not make one style less classical than another, but simply reflect the different priorities of parents for their children.

Important Links:

The Well-Trained Mind

The Well-Trained Mind Website

A Neutral Education? by Susan Wise Bauer

Absolute Truth & the Biblical Worldview by Chuck Colson

Answers in Genesis

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