Category Archives: Classical Christian Education

Ever Wondered Why CLS Teaches Latin? Here You Go.

Last month I read David Epstein’s new book, Range, thinking that it might be a good explanation of the advantages that a liberal arts (classical) education can provide to young scholars. It did not disappoint. But if you don’t want to read the whole book yet, you might take a look at this article Epstein published on The Guardian.

There is a planned post for the Columbia Lutheran School blog site explaining the advantages of late specialization, but if you want to see the research behind that idea, please read Epstein. Also, when it comes to teaching Latin, keep in mind that it’s not taught at classical schools in the tradition of a foreign language elective where students can specialize in the hope of someday visiting a certain exotic land. Learning Latin is all about the general-purpose mastery of language in general, together with the opportunity to benefit more deeply from the great conversation of western civilization. There are many exotic lands from the past that you can visit with a trip to the library, and visiting those places allows you to understand the wider world of the present day. The study of Latin can be your introduction.

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Top Ten Reasons for Studying Latin

Usually these lists are quick reads, and mostly for the humor. This time it’s a carefully constructed and well-presented set of reasons for learning Latin. If you have had your doubts, or if the young Latin student in your house has expressed complaints about his or her work, then you may want to take a look. You can find it here

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Bethany Lutheran Church, CLS, and the Souls of our Community

This article describes a trend that has been noticed in many parts of American public and private life for some years. Several American generations have on the whole lost a deep appreciation for the value of faith, especially the most formative faith of western civilization: Christianity.

There has been a strong push toward multiculturalism on several fronts simultaneously, notably in the areas of religion, history, and social norms. This is linked to the trend mentioned above. For clarity in this article, we will distinguish between “cross-cultural” and “multicultural” points of view. The word “culture” is used to describe the traditions, language, and customs of a group of people. It often includes their native religion, but not necessarily. A person’s native religion depends on choices made by his father and mother that do not change their culture.

A “cross-cultural” view recognizes that various cultures each have their dignity and special value worth preserving, and that there can be communication and influence between cultures without damaging or eroding them. A culture is only wrong to the extent that it opposes universally-recognizable truth. One person can function and communicate in multiple cultures beyond his own native culture. An example of this is Christian missionary activity such as in the book of Acts when St. Paul traveled throughout the Roman empire, speaking in various languages and using the local customs to communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It’s important to note that the gospel of Christ is not part of any specific earthly culture, but transcends culture just as the god worshipped by the ancient Jewish people is transcendent far beyond the local gods worshipped by heathen people throughout the world. While the gospel has been a powerful formative influence on western civilization and on America, it would be a mistake to think that it’s part of western or American civilization. The gospel, and therefore the Christian faith, exists outside the many earthly cultures and is truly cross-cultural. That’s why the Romans continued to be Romans whether Christianity was accepted among them or not. The gospel has influenced the cultures where it has been embraced, but it does not create a homogenous earthly culture in all parts of the world. Palestinian Christians have a culture distinct from African Christians, and together those cultures are distinct from that of American Christians. Yet they also share something with one another that runs deeper than the traditions in any culture. In this way, the gospel can unite people across many cultures without destroying their most valuable characteristics.

The “multicultural” point of view attempts to unite the people of many cultures, but without the gospel of Christ. Instead of providing a common thread, it attempts to uphold all elements of every culture, especially where they contradict each other. It relies on something like moral relativism or the Orwellian skill of believing two contradictory propositions at the same time. In the process, multiculturalism undermines the distinctive value of every culture. Even more problematic, it denies the value of the message that St. Paul was communicating in the book of Acts. It attempts to destroy the foundation of the gospel.

Unfortunately, the multicultural point of view has been spreading for many years, and dominates most education systems throughout the world. American public and higher education is exhibit A in the United States. The massive influence of this trend is behind the observations in the article linked above: a decline in religious faith, and the difficulty that Americans have when dealing with evil.

One of the serious spiritual problems with the multicultural approach is that it goes hand-in-hand with moral relativism. Moral relativism is the notion that the definitions of right and wrong have been constructed by people in their particular cultural situations. It would mean that there is no absolute definition of what is right and what is wrong that transcends all cultures. What is right or wrong for people in China would be in opposition to what is right or wrong for people in Uganda, and multiculturalism says that the opposition of the two doesn’t matter at all. It calls them both morally right and correct, regardless of whether they are compatible.

Moral relativism takes another step when people raised in a certain culture decide that they don’t agree with its morals. According to the multicultural point of view, they should be able to establish their own personal system of morality that may or may not be compatible with other systems. There is inevitable conflict when people try to live by opposing moral systems, but the multicultural point of view says that none of them is superior or inferior in any way.

The conflict that takes place joins multiculturalism and moral relativism with another destructive philosophy: social marxism. Karl Marx laid the foundation for the atheistic philosophy that drove the communist revolutions of the 20th Century. The basic doctrine of Marxism is the struggle between classes of people. With Marx, the classes were defined by their wealth and income, but today the struggling classes are defined in many different ways. For example: by sex (men vs. women), by ethnicity (such as white vs. others), and even by recently-imagined categories like “privilege” and the newly-defined fluid concept of “gender.” What they have in common is the Marxist struggle between classes of people. Thanks to moral relativism, there are no rules in these struggles, and they can be brutal. Journalism and propaganda become synonyms. There is hardly a distinction between lies and truth. Even clear words like “violence” and “murder” are twisted to serve one or another side of the Marxist struggle.

It’s no coincidence that “traditional religion” has suffered in this environment, because in a way Christianity has been the target all along. This explains the decline of religious faith among Americans. It also explains the difficulty when those who have been steeped and indoctrinated in multiculturalism, moral relativism, and social Marxism are confronted with something undeniably and objectively evil.

Bethany Lutheran Church is here as a witness to the culturally transcendent truth of the gospel. We all have one creator, and He has revealed himself in specific ways that are accessible to people of all cultures. He does not tolerate disobedience and other kinds of sin. Instead, He has provided a redeemer: His eternally-begotten Son, who became human to accomplish the redemption of all humanity. While sinners didn’t (and couldn’t!) ask for Him to do this, He did it anyway, as the only alternative to everlasting punishment in a place of torment. He did this because He loves us. He graciously restored us to eternal life, while remaining perfectly righteous himself. The only way for us to lose is to reject our Savior by closing our ears His word or rejecting the faith it gives. By faith, we stand before God in the righteousness He provides.

Columbia Lutheran School serves the mission of Bethany Lutheran Church by teaching what is needed for people to engage with the revelation of God and to critically distinguish between what is true and what is false, between what is good and what is evil, and between what is beautiful and what lacks beauty. Thanks be to God that our little congregation, together with Concordia in Hood River and with the indispensable assistance of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, stands against the forces of multiculturalism, moral relativism, and social Marxism. May Columbia Lutheran School continue boldly to carry that torch for the salvation of souls and for the good of our neighbors.

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What Happened to the Signers of the Declaration of Independence?

Here’s a brief run-down about the later lives of some of those who made this courageous step.

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The Classical Adjustment to “Differentiation”

One of the buzzwords for a while now in education theory is “differentiation.” This is the concept that some students in your classroom will learn differently than others, and by assessing their learning styles and needs, you can customize the instruction they receive by grouping students together with similar needs. This was the subject of a recent conference presentation. But the 20th-Century theory of differentiation is not compatible with the classical model used at Columbia Lutheran School.

As defined above, differentiation describes what happens by necessity in a mixed-grade classroom. Teachers who have only one grade in the room strive to differentiate their instruction, because this is recognized as a strength of teaching. But when teaching multiple grades, a teacher must always differentiate to succeed. In fact, a student in one grade may participate in learning with students of a different grade, depending upon the needs of the students in a certain subject.

This sounds like CLS, but the theory behind differentiation as it is commonly taught and implemented today runs contrary to a basic premise of classical education. Quoting from “Differentiated Instruction” by Amy Benjamin (1951),

The theory that guides differentiation is constructivism: the belief that learning happens when the learner makes meaning out of information. That may sound too self-evident to deserve mention. Of course, learning involves making meaning out of information. What else would learning involve? Well, if you’ve ever seen a kid memorize definitions for a list of “vocabulary words” without having the slightest idea of, nor any intention of learning, how to use those words in context, then you know what learning is not: We do not know the meaning of a word, the significance of a historical event, or the applications of a math process just because we have memorized a set of words. (Emphasis original)

Ms. Benjamin has hit upon something here, but is still off the mark, as far as classical education goes. While it’s true that memorization alone is not always the same thing as learning, it’s just as true that thorough learning doesn’t happen without memorization.

The basic problem is the philosophy of constructivism: the notion that meaning or knowledge is a human construct. This is part of a philosophy called Postmodernism, which claims that there is no objective, external truth that exists on its own. But the Bible reveals objective knowledge that God communicates to us, so Classical Christian education begins with the assumption that we have objective truths to teach, and that it’s the student’s job to learn their meaning from the teacher, not create a new meaning for himself. There are external truths in places other than the Bible too, like principles of mathmatics: arithmetic, algebra, geometry, etc.

Constructivism claims that meaning is created by learners as they absorb information. That is supposed to be the learning process, under a Postmodern philosophy. David Thompson describes the claims of constructivism in his 2010 book, What In the World Is Going On?:

Truth and knowledge are not prior realities that exist apart from man; society constructs them, invents them. This is relativism at the group level, whether that group be a nation, culture, or subculture. So for example, one group, the Christian church, constructed the truth that God is triune, that Jesus is God, that he rose from the dead, and so on. Another societal group, humanists, constructed the truth that man is the measure of all things. Evolutionary scientists constructed knowledge about the descent of man, the age of the universe, and the big bang theory. Religious groups invented certain truths giving priests privileges. The culture of heterosexuals constructed the truth that only their lifestyle is legitimate, while the subculture of homosexuals developed an opposing truth. A group of greedy Americans took the lead in constructing capitalism. Children are taught in schools to construct rather than to learn or discover existing knowledge and truth. And on it goes.

Classical schools typically teach mastery of a subject through a progression tuned to the natural aptitudes of children. Very young children thrive on repetition and memorization, so they begin learning all subjects that way from the start. Once they have mastered this grammar level of knowledge, they revisit all of it systematically, learning the relationships between the things they have learned. This is often called the logic of each subject. The final stage, especially for language-oriented learning, is the ability to apply the grammar and logic of a subject in a beautiful, appropriate, and persuasive way. This is the rhetoric of the subject. But subjects are not isolated either, so that a student fully trained in rhetoric will be able to articulate multiple disciplines like history, science, math, and music in an integrated way.

Classical instruction continues from there, but already one can see that there is a basic assumption: knowledge and meaning are objective and universal. Like they said on the television show The X Files: “the truth is out there.” It’s not “in your own mind, however you want to construct it.”

At Columbia Lutheran School, we seek to differentiate our instruction as the needs of students may require, though we seek to teach meaning rather than have the students construct it. One of the tools at our disposal is frequent, adaptive testing that covers multiple basic disciplines on a large, stable scale of performance. Testing up to four times each year allows our teachers to engage in formative assessment, and adjust their differentiated instruction in the most beneficial ways.

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Science at a Christian School? It’s a Natural Fit!

The Columbia Lutheran School science textbooks were written by Dr. Jay Wile, and some of our K-4 students even look forward to science as a favorite class. Dr. Wile wrote an article you might find enlightening about the relationship between Christianity and science, mainly because it presents that relationship as it stands historically, rather than the atheistic propaganda that our public schools are forced to present. There are some dedicated educators at public schools who do good work, but the entire system is hamstrung because the “separation between church and state” is forced upon their teaching, resulting in a scope of learning and a perspective that are artificially limited.

I realize that proponents of atheistic science like to claim that a Christian worldview artificially limits scientists, thinking of the “flat earth” theory and the like. However, they have it exactly backward. Dr. Wile’s post linked above shows why. It’s also worth reading the comments below the post as Dr. Wile responds to some questions from someone called Josiah.

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The Liberal Breadth of Classical Education

Those new to the term “classical education” might be familiar with an older name for it: “liberal arts.” But even that term is often misunderstood. A “liberal arts” focus in college is sometimes denigrated as a way to get out of real academic work. No doubt some students have hoped this to be the case, and maybe even found a compliant school. But as a discipline, “liberal arts” is not necessarily easy, partly because it’s such a broad area of study. There may be a perception that it lacks focus, but this perception fails to understand the meaning of liberal in the term “liberal arts.”

Liberal derives from libertas in Latin, meaning liberty, or freedom. Someone trained in the liberal arts is ready to undertake the discipline needed to exercise the liberty of a free society. Such a life can take a person in any morally good and ethically noble direction. So the focus of a person’s classical education is intentionally broad, until that student is ready to narrow it, based upon what has already been learned and mastered. It also includes the assumption that there is such a thing as objective truth, able to be known, discovered, and learned. Furthermore, truth is not detached from morality and ethics, so they also have a place of honor in the liberal arts.

The alternative approach to education would impose a narrow focus much sooner, perhaps even as early as the lower primary grades. Examples can be found of education experts and politicians who want to begin training children as early as possible in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) oriented subjects, at the expense of subjects that are deemed less useful to present-day society (such as languages, world history, handwriting, and music). This has been the trend in progressive education since John Dewey (1859-1952) masterminded a progressive reform of American education theory a century ago. But by specializing the education of a student too soon, the student is deprived of a true mastery of those things needed to function across a spectrum of disciplines, and more importantly, many things needed to live as a free citizen who can think for himself.

In classical times, Greek and Roman society was divided sharply between the privileged and the unprivileged. Those who did most of the manual labor were slaves. There were ways they could become free, but until that happened, their skills were tightly focused and specialized in the areas of their work. A liberal arts education would seem to be a waste of time and money for a slave. Besides that, if slaves were educated to think critically and creatively as free people, they might begin to think they should be free people. An early specialization in the education of slaves (or lower-class, if you prefer) is preferable, both for efficiency, and for the preservation of a stratified society.

Since the Revolution, America has always been partly about the radical proposition that every human being is inherently capable of being a citizen of a free society. Previously, it was assumed that some few people were born to rule, and others only to be subjects of their rulers. American society, as envisioned by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, replaces rulers and subjects with the people: a body of free citizens, equal in value and equal before the law. It was much easier to describe that shift in America’s founding documents than it was to put it into practice, but it was mostly realized in the adjustment that followed the Civil War. The 19th Amendment and the Civil Rights movement were the last steps in that direction. This radical proposition at the foundation of America means that a liberal arts, classical education should be available to every American citizen, perhaps even a sine qua non.

The latest fad in progressive education, promised to fix what’s wrong (again), is the Common Core Standards Initiative. While it has drawn a lot of fire, there are some good things to be said about it. For example, the desire to have high standards for the overall learning of students is unquestionably good. Here is a sentence from the “Myths vs. Facts” web page for Common Core, described as a fact: “The standards are designed to build upon the most advanced current thinking about preparing all students for success in college, career, and life.” This shows that Common Core is yet another iteration of the Progressive reform of American education, which places the highest value on “current thinking” (like contemporary education psychologists rather than the work of brilliant teachers from Aristotle onward) and on the narrow focus of college and career preparation. As well-intentioned as it is, Common Core ends up determining the content that is taught in every participating school, leaving little to no room for a broader liberal arts focus, or the classical pedagogy. The “Myths vs. Facts” page also says, “Teachers know best about what works in the classroom. That is why these standards establish what students need to learn but do not dictate how teachers should teach. Instead, schools and teachers will decide how best to help students reach the standards.” In other words, teachers and schools get to decide how to teach, but only the Common Core Standards can say what to teach. And if teachers are limited in this way, one can be sure that parents are not even granted a seat at the table.

The utilitarian ends of the Common Core Standards are at odds with the liberal breadth of a classical education. This was also the case in previous iterations of Progressive education. Classical education seeks to equip and enable students to be disciplined, experienced, articulate thinkers in their own right, with a solid moral foundation, a rich awareness of human history, and deep appreciation for that which is good, true, and beautiful. Thus, students will be able to handle anything the unpredictable future may bring, adapting their knowledge and skills as needed. A free society needs such citizens to remain free. Progressive education, on the other hand, seeks to prepare students “for success in college, career and life,” which means early specialization for the capacity to perform the vocations anticipated by their educators and test-writers. After a century of increasingly Progressive education, it’s no wonder when many American citizens are easily swayed by demagogues or prefer to relinquish their civic responsibility.

Someone may wonder, “Why are you bothering to teach Latin to first-graders at Columbia Lutheran School?” Because Latin has an important place in a classical, liberal arts education (and western civilization too), along with the other subjects we teach. “Why do you make your students memorize rules of grammar and math?” Because those rules are required for a thorough understanding of these things. “Why do your students memorize so many Bible passages?” Because (among other things), the Bible is the basis for our understanding of what is right and wrong, and our knowledge of God. None of those things would be taught to Roman or Greek slaves, unless their work required it. They are also not emphasized in Progressive education. But they are at the beginning of a Classical education, and will continue to serve our students as their education broadens through all aspects of a free citizen’s life.

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