Generally speaking, educational philosophies distill into one of two basic models: The cognitive-developmental model and the behavioral model. The cognitive-developmental model teaches a core of knowledge in a way that challenges the student’s thinking. The imparting of wisdom goes beyond the assimilation of facts to the teaching of values, truth, decision making, and critical thinking. This model was perfected in the 15th and 16th centuries and educated most of the great thinkers and artists of the Renaissance and early Reformation periods. It was used almost exclusively in schools until the early to middle part of the last century.
The model that most influences our country’s schools and teacher training today is the behavioral model. Developed early in the last century, this model is built upon the principle of communicating information to the students and measuring their “learning” by how they recall and report that information on a test. Practical application and depth of understanding are not as strongly emphasized with this model. This model of teaching has been said to create “technicians” designed to produce good test scores rather than students equipped with knowledge, wisdom, and truth.
Dorothy Sayers, in her famous essay The Lost Tools of Learning writes:
Is not the great defect of our education today...that although we often succeed in teaching our pupils "subjects," we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think: they learn everything, except the art of learning.
In our modern age, more than ever before in history, there is an unceasing bombardment of propaganda and advertisements via TV, movies, Facebook, Twitter, magazines, video games, etc... Children today are being raised in a culture where literacy is decreasing and information is increasing (along with immediate and constant access to it). Unfortunately, modern educational methods encourage children at a young age to learn primarily through self-expression and experimentation.
Ascension Classical School uses a cognitive-developmental model commonly referred to as the classical model. It best respects the developmental stages of a child’s learning abilities and teaches in such a way as to take advantage of and build upon those natural stages of cognitive maturation. Teaching and learning, therefore, follow a pattern from the more concrete to the more abstract.
The classical model is built upon the Trivium used in the Middle Ages. This Trivium consists of three parts:
- Grammar, which involves the memorization of basic facts about a subject, is taught to younger children who naturally love to chant, recite, and memorize.
- Dialectic, or Logic, which is the study of argumentation and formal logic. This emphasis fits well with the middle and early high school years when young people begin to question, to challenge, and to test things for themselves. The Logic stage will teach them how to integrate facts into a coherent system that reflects biblical truth.
- Rhetoric is the phase of the Trivium in which the student learns how to express what he thinks in a manner worthy of the Truth. Obviously, rhetoric includes teaching speech, debate, essay writing, etc. Style and clear-minded expression are important.
All three elements are, to varying degrees, present at each grade level, but more emphasis, by necessity, is placed on the element that fits the student developmentally.
Why "Gospel-Centered" and "Classical?"
The gospel not only changes the lives of individuals, it also changes the direction of any city, state, or country as a result of the ideology of its leaders. Ascension Classical School has a vision to develop Christ-centered, classically trained leaders who will serve the Lord and our community well. This vision has been the fuel that has drawn families to our school and has drawn great teachers willing to sacrifice their lives to pour discipleship and academic engagement into our students.
Another vitally important reason for Christian classical education is that information is not neutral. Unless parents instruct children in a Gospel-centered worldview (i.e. what the apostle Paul in Eph 6:4 calls the paideia - or whole mind-body training and education - of God), the child's understanding of the world will be formed by outside messages and other Godless agendas. Combined with modern educational methods of self-expression, for example, young children will stimulate their minds toward increasing self-centeredness and idolatry, which is antithetical to the Gospel.
Therefore, Gospel-Centered, Classical education serves to maximize the development of a child's theology by teaching the tools of grammar, logic, and rhetoric applied to the Word of God which provides a foundation for learning every subject. That is, a child will have scripture memorized (grammar), be able to construct correct arguments against opposing worldviews in any subject (logic), and be able to express those arguments persuasively in writing and speech (rhetoric).