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A Well-Balanced Classical, Christian Education

Another lesson I have learned from taking a graduate class on History of Classical Education is that educational models can often be unbalanced. Education is like eating a healthy meal that is balanced. From reading and studying about various models of education in history, I learned that each model fits the needs of its historical context. But we can learn from these various models about what an ideal school should look like. I will summarize strengths and weaknesses of several models and offer what traits a well-balanced education/school should have.

1. Cicero—(1st century BC)—Cicero is easily the most influential non-Christian educator. His influence throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance is vast. His educational model is that of “wisdom and eloquence.” His educational goal can be summarized as: “wisdom without eloquence is of little use; eloquence without wisdom is harmful.” His obvious weakness is that a personal relationship with the living God is missing.

2. Augustine (5th century)—Augustine is the most influential Christian educator. He set a model of education that can be summarized as “faith seeking understanding.” He believed a cautious selective use of secular learning is helpful in understanding the Scriptures, through which we can experience union with Christ, the Wisdom of God. His slight weakness would be that he was a little too cautious of secular studies.

3. Cassiodorus (6th century)—Cassiodorus laid out an encyclopedic organization of both the “divine learnings” and “secular learnings,” and provided a much more positive grounds for studying the Seven Liberal Arts (Trivium and Quadrivium), for knowing God better. A weakness is that it was limited to the academic training.

4. Hugh of St Victor (12th century)—Perhaps the second most influential Christian educator. He expanded the Augustinian educational vision to include theoretical, practical, mechanical, and logical arts, or commonly known as the “Head, Heart, and Hand” vision of education. Training included academic, spiritual, and vocational aspects. Overall, fairly well balanced.

5. Humanists of Renaissance (15th century)—Renewal of the ancient Ciceronian model of education with an emphasis on reading great classics, in view of producing virtuous servant-leaders in the society. They emphasized poetry, history, and rhetoric. Two chief weaknesses are very little training on logic/critical thinking and weak integration with Christian worldview.

6. John Comenius (17th century)—Known as the “Father of modern education,” Comenius advanced universal education for all boys and girls, a feat made nearly possible because of the use of the printing press and the Reformational doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers.” He developed the first school textbook, and first children’s illustrated books, and first textbook on classroom teaching pedagogy. Two chief weaknesses are not enough reading of the great classics, and Christian worldview is not well integrated.

From this sample of the most influential educators, we can learn that a well-balanced, ideal educational model is the one that has the following elements:

1. Comprehensively Christ-centered. (Augustine)

2. Strong liberal arts program. (Cassiodorus and Hugh of St. Victor)

3. Training of the whole person: intellectual, ethical, practical skills. (Hugh of St. Victor)

4. Reading the great classics to gain their wisdom and eloquence. (Cicero, Humanists)

5. Well-trained teachers who mentor & disciple their students. (Augustine, Medieval and Renaissance Humanists)

6. Excellent curriculum and pedagogy—Comenius

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