Perhaps you are familiar with the concept of the urban legend. Urban legends are modern folktales, stories believed by their tellers to be true but that don’t necessarily have any basis in fact. Remember the giant alligators in the New York sewers? How many of us have believed at some point that saying “Bloody Mary” three times facing a mirror will cause her to appear? It doesn’t matter if it’s true; the story just needs to be sensational.
Not surprisingly, urban legends have cropped up around the classical Christian school movement. Never mind that these myths are no more true than the thousands of myths, urban legends, and internet rumors discussed at Snopes.com. They are still out there, and families should be well-informed so that they can fend off these tales.
One urban legend about classical Christian education is that it is harsh and oppressive. When people hear words like Latin, classics, uniforms, and recitations, they immediately think of the film Dead Poets Society with frustrated children being pushed to the breaking point by grinding homework loads and dictatorial teachers.
But does challenging curriculum lead to unhappy children? Just the opposite, in fact. To quote our friends at The Ambrose School, “The excitement of children learning Latin grows as they become able to describe the world in a language that most adults do not understand. The rich and complex texture of classical literature is strangely amplified by youth. Science and the history of Western Civilization come alive for those who hunger to know about their world.” When you visit Regents Academy you find children who are excited about learning. Learning new things can be intimidating to adults, but to children it is exciting.
Classical Christian schools insist on order and respect in the classroom, but this order does not require students to sit quietly with eyes directed downward, never interacting with their teachers. In fact, students at Regents are encouraged to ask questions, offer opinions, make observations, and vocalize answers. Regents students sing, chant, debate, invent, and inquire. Our classrooms are lively places with active students who are learning from a demanding curriculum with joy.
Another urban legend about classical Christian education is that classical education was good for bygone generations, but it is no longer relevant in the modern era. The fact is, however, that a classical school teaches students facts, shows them how to relate those facts coherently using logical tools, and then gives the students the ability to relate their ideas beautifully and persuasively. This is a skill set that is as much in demand today as ever and is as applicable to technology and science as ever. It was people who were trained classically who made the great scientific discoveries that have birthed our technologically marvelous world.
To quote our friends at The Ambrose School once again, “The process of teaching students to think extends far beyond filling their heads with knowledge. Modern education, to varying degrees, has succeeded in teaching facts and some skills. Classical education helps students draw original, creative, and accurate conclusions from facts and then formulate those conclusions into logical and persuasive arguments. . . . Parents who are exposed to classical education recognize that its back to the basics approach contrasts with the distractions of modern education. . . . Classical education teaches children the timeless skills of thinking, reasoning, logic, and expression.” Yes, we teach Homer and Virgil and Dante and Milton, but our subject matter is as current as any curriculum out there. It’s just that we add a depth of Christian reflection and a dimension of time-tested methodology that make our curriculum unique and very effective.
Next time I’ll add a couple of more urban legends that are out there. Until then, please know that if you face a mirror and say “Trivium” three times quickly, Dorothy Sayers will not mystically appear in the mirror. But no shame if you give it a try.