Christians retain strong edge as classical education diversifies and goes public

Classical education based on studying the “great books” of the pagan and Judeo-Christian traditions is now championed by a growing number of Christian homeschoolers as well as taking on a more public face, according to reports. Once the province of elite private schools, classical education caught on among an unlikely group of Protestants in the 1990s as a way to fight secularism and serve as an alternative to liberal and more multicultural public schools. Louis Markos writes in Christianity Today (September) that the classical school movement was first shaped by the conservative Calvinist (and Christian right) pastor Douglas Wilson in Idaho, but has since spread beyond his controversial ministry to a variety of Catholic, Protestant, and secular schools in the U.S. and abroad, with their curriculums now accepted and adapted by many colleges and universities. Between the Association of Classical Christian Schools (ACCS), the Catholic-based Institute for Catholic Liberal Education, and several secular classical education networks (which came later than their Catholic and Protestant counterparts, though they still hold to the Judeo-Christian tradition), these schools represent well over 100,000 students.

According to Markos, the leading edge in the classical education movement is held by homeschooling and “cooperative” schooling Christians (the latter combining homeschooling with attending school a few days a week). Many homeschooling families and cooperatives also go on to form their own classical schools. At the same time, the movement has also gone public, working through charter schools as well as building ties with colleges and universities, which themselves have taken up teaching the classics and training teachers in classical education. These schools can range from mainstream evangelical colleges such as Biola University and Houston Baptist University to secular conservative ones like Hillsdale College and St. John’s University, as well as to the Catholic University of Dallas and even the Muslim Zaytuna College. In another article on classical schooling in National Affairs (Fall), Ian Lindquist looks at why classical schools have such wide appeal for believers and argues that it is due to their countercultural stance in a secularizing culture combined with their maintenance of a “civic-minded attitude toward their communities” oriented toward the transcendent virtues of the “good, the true, and the beautiful.” He also cites the strong professionalism of teachers and the connections between families and their strong involvement in the associations that start these schools as reasons why religious communities have been attracted to this option.

(Christianity Today, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188; National Affairs,