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Liberal…In The Classical Sense

Classical Christian Schools provide a liberal arts education. Classically defined, this means to “study truth for its own sake, not only for the sake of what you can do with it or what you can make with it”. (1) Aristotle used an analogy likening this type of study to a ‘free’ man who exists for his own sake and a ‘slave’ who exists for the sake of another man. The purpose, then, of liberal arts study is to educate a man to help him become a better man, not for the sake of producing something for someone else or for creating an economic unit.

Aristotle categorized knowledge into three ‘sciences’: productive, practical, and theoretical. Productive sciences focus on knowledge that works to fix or improve some material thing in the world, such as engineering, surgery, and auto repair. Practical sciences focus on knowledge that seeks to improve our lives, like economics, politics, and singing. The theoretical sciences were seen as most important by Aristotle because they acquire knowledge to improve our own selves. They include disciplines like mathematics, physics, biology, and theology. (2) Most adults today have been educated in the progressive model which looks upon technology as the most important science. For Aristotle and those of a classical mindset, the theoretical sciences were and are the most important. Theoretical sciences are aimed at knowing and understanding truth for the growth of mind and spirit. “Truth is to our minds what food is to our bodies.” (3)

So why do classical schools choose to do some of the things that they do? Their goal is to improve the man (and, of course, you start with the child). Truth fulfills and matures our minds and provides a way for regeneration of the spirit. Jesus identified Himself as “the way, the truth, and the life”, and explicitly stated that He is the only way to God. (4) To ignore the enormity of this claim and focus solely on something like how to build a bridge or a faster computer shows misplaced priorities. Jesus asked, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (5) Please note that this does not negate ‘gaining’ in the world; it just places it on a lower priority than the soul of man. At creation God gave man the command to subdue to earth. This includes using the knowledge that the productive and practical sciences provide. In their right order, these sciences are used to enhance the world and lives of God-fearing men. Out of their right order, they become gods.

In our postmodern world the search for truth has been abandoned by many people. The familiar term that succinctly summarizes this is ‘Truth is relative’. Postmodernism says there are no absolutes; no principles are inflexible and inviolate. The moral decay of our culture is testimony to the fact that when men do not retain the knowledge of God, He gives them over to depraved minds.

Classical Christian schools exist to help families educate their children in the truth of God, and this truth spans all academic disciplines. Since schools of this model educate counter-culturally, is it any wonder that they must lean heavily upon God in order to survive? Yet how rewarding and joyful it is to see our children “walking in truth”. (6) Those who are part of classical Christian schools must not lose sight of what they are doing. They are not only producing students who will become engineers, architects, doctors, lawyers, farmers, writers, or teachers. They are producing students who are truth bearers and society builders.

copyright 10/2005, 09/2008, 02/2010 Cheryl Nester. All Rights Reserved.

End notes:

1. Peter Kreeft, Socratic Logic, (South Bend, Ind: St. Augustine’s Press, 2004), p. 8.

2. Ibid., p. 8.

3. Ibid., p. 7.

4. John 14:6

5. Matthew 16:26

6. 2 John 1:4

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