Midland Classical Academy partners with families to provide what is best described as a Classical Education from a Biblical Worldview.
Classical Education is demanding of students, their tutors, and parents and is not for everyone. It is not the only or most convenient path to a well-trained mind, but we believe for those who are willing and able to invest in the journey, it is the surest. When the rigors of a Classical Education are grounded in the life-transforming truth from a Biblical Worldview students are not only equipped to be effective leaders in culture, they also have the humility to pursue Christ and His love for others.
Most people already have at least some idea of the concept of a Biblical Worldview. It is an understanding of reality in light of who God has revealed Himself to be in the Bible. It does not merely factor in what God has communicated into the equation of our thoughts and lives, but brings the fullness of His authority to bear upon the way we think about the cosmos and interact with other people. Among its more central claims are the existence of an all-powerful, loving Creator; the reality of human sin and death; the divine intervention of Jesus, who was God become man; and with His coming, crucifixion, and resurrection the opportunity for eternal life for everyone who has faith in Him. A Biblical Worldview considers a wide-range of ideas, “taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (II Cor. 10:5), but it dwells upon “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute… anything of virtue (excellence) and anything praiseworthy…” (Phil 4:8). Most importantly of all a Biblical Worldview does not confine the Bible and its teachings to the subjects of theology or morality, but it speaks to and informs every facet of our lives.
But what is Classical Education?
Classical Education has three unique characteristics. These include its Curriculum, the Trivium, and the Socratic Method.
Classical Education is…classical. That is, it teaches classical subjects. Within the subject of history, instead of starting with Modern times, a classical approach steps back to the beginning and proceeds from there to the present. This allows students to understand the development of thought and retrace the present blossoming and withering of current events back to their roots. When Classical Education is taught from a Biblical Worldview human civilization is rightly understood to have begun in the garden with Adam and Eve. From there our classical curriculum studies the ancient river cultures of Mesopotamia and Egypt, the nation of Israel; the Greeks; and the Romans, before moving to the Middle-Ages, Renaissance, and Reformation. Only after this foundation has been laid, do we look at the more recent history of the Modern times in the Enlightenment and so forth. Our Literature program is similarly organized along a chronological sequence. The Great Books are read in the order from which they were written. The reason behind this is because there is a Great Conversation, a kind dialogue of big ideas that develops from author to author, generation to generation. Beginning with the ancient Greeks – their epics, tragedies, and philosophy – we see something of ourselves because many of the big ideas our society is based upon were first espoused and dispersed through Athens. Later writers would then adopt or challenge these ideas with new ones. When we read Literature this way students have an opportunity to retrace the development of thought and have some idea of where it goes wrong and how to put it back on course. At the Upper School the Literature curriculum coincides with the History classes (i.e. Medieval Literature is read in the Great Books classes while Medieval History is studied in World History I). This overlap mutually enriches both classes and cultivates a fuller comprehension. Another example of unique subject matter are the classical languages of Latin and Koine Greek. Beginning in third grade, students begin taking Latin as part of their core curriculum. This provides them with an excellent foundation for learning new languages such as Spanish, French, and Italian as well as equip them with the ability to decipher unfamiliar English vocabulary. At the Upper School, we teach Koine Greek, the language the New Testament was written in. The focus of our Greek courses is to enhance the student’s capacity to understand God’s word. Other Upper School courses that are particularly classical include Logic, Rhetoric, Euclid’s (Geometry), and Astronomy.
The most distinctive feature of Classical Education is the three stages of learning referred to as the Trivium. Subjects are best learned when broken down into the sequential phases of Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric.
The Grammar phase is where the most fundamental elements of a subject – its definitions, facts, basic principles – are learned. The Grammar stage sorts out the pieces of the puzzle in a given subject. In a subject such as Geometry the grammar phase would include understanding the definitions and properties of things like a point, a line, an angle, triangle, etc. For History it would entail the knowing of dates, timelines, maps, important figures or ideas, etc. In a language such as Latin, the Grammar stage involves memorizing vocabulary words, understanding the functions of nouns, verbs, and prepositions, cases and conjugation charts, etc. The Grammar phase often consists of a great deal of rote memory. It is the part of the learning process where the building blocks of the subject are acquired. Developmentally, children between the ages of five and twelve are mental-sponges with a remarkable capacity to absorb and retain data. They are ideally suited for learning in the Grammar stage. The quality of learning that develops during the Logic and Rhetoric stages is largely dependent upon how well the foundation has been prepared during the Grammar phase. At Midland Classical Academy we have an entire school devoted to this phase of learning that is well suited to the natural curiosities and skills of young children.
Around age twelve or thirteen, children begin to transition towards the Logic stage. They mature not only physically, but physiologically. They naturally grow increasingly discontent with Grammar for the sake of Grammar and begin to question or challenge answers that were once assumed. The Logic stage of the Trivium takes advantage of this natural development in the learning process. During the Logic phase students begin to see how the pieces of data acquired during the Grammar stage relate and affect one another. If the Grammar stage is sorting out the pieces of the puzzle, the Logic stage is where those pieces are fitted together. In Geometry, the Logic phase applies the concepts and properties of lines and angles and discovers why the two interior angles of a straight line falling on parallel lines always equals a right angle. In History, the dates, events, and figures who populate the timeline are revealed to have a type of cause/effect relationship within the flow of history and culture. As Latin progresses into the Logic phase translation skills develop and reading Latin on one’s own becomes increasingly possible. The Logic phase moves beyond rote memory and processes the information acquired. As students naturally begin to question during their early teen years, the Logic phase of the Trivium teaches them the important skill of learning how to think well while this development is occurring. Students at Midland Classical Academy join the Upper School beginning in 7th grade and our teaching methods dramatically shift to capitalize the students’ developments as they enter into this exciting phase of life.
When students turn sixteen a new change occurs in the learning process. They are no longer children but young men and women who are beginning to see and assert their place in the larger world. By now, they have more than a rudimentary understanding of a subject and are able to understand the principles by which it operates, but they also are beginning to sense a higher purpose that goes beyond the simple facts and equations. Students in the Rhetoric stage have an increasing desire to express what they see. It is in the Rhetoric phase where the picture of the puzzle comes to light for each student. This picture does not come together or it comes together more dimly if the Grammar and Logic phases are bypassed. In Geometry, the Rhetoric stage occurs as students begin to use their firm grasp of the complex theorems and propositions and are able to reimagine and communicate new possibilities or ways of applying them all on their own. During the Rhetoric phase students in History not only see the flow of ideas and their consequences, but are able to correlate them with beliefs and events occurring around them, and if pursued, where those ideas might lead. For Latin, the student would begin to not only read Latin, but begin to pick out and explain nuances that are uncaptured from mere translations, or perhaps even write their own thoughts through the language. When a student understands a subject at the Rhetoric level, it does not mean that he understands everything within its domain, but he has it firmly in his grasp so that he is able to employ it at his command and put others on the same path by teaching them its grammar and logic.
Most classes in the Upper School at Midland Classical Academy do not usually implement conventional teaching strategies such as lecture/note-taking or independent desk work. Instead the preferred teaching technique is the Socratic Method, a form of dialogue between tutor and student that is modeled after Socrates who regularly used this approach. (It is worth pointing out that Jesus taught his disciples in the same manner.) The Socratic Method is a guided discussion about the subject. The circular tables in our classrooms encourage this kind of learning. Instead of each student sitting separately at their own desk, they are connected - facing one another and their tutor around the table, enmeshed in the same topic, and engaged in the same conversation.
Questions are an essential part of the Socratic Method. They create tension and stimulate thought. The class often begins with the tutor asking a question concerning the assignment. As students begin to thoughtfully respond, their answers are questioned by the tutor or peers, inviting them to either clarify or change their thoughts. As ideas are challenged, abandoned for better ones, or refined, new questions arise from either the tutor or the students themselves and the process continues.
A second common ingredient within the Socratic Method is the practice of defining terms. Many disagreements can be resolved when identical definitions are being used by all parties involved. On the flip side many disputes arise when terms have different meanings to different people. One of the most frequent questions asked in MCA classes is “What do you mean by ____?”
As the Socratic Method occurs, real learning takes place because students are not being told what to think, but to take ownership of their thoughts and statements. Tutors and students alike, not only learn more about the subjects they discuss, but through the exchange of ideas and dialogue with each other are developing the habit of learning to think for themselves. As their skill in thinking grows, so does their capacity to evaluate the veracity and goodness of new ideas placed before them. It equips them to better avoid becoming ensnared by falsehood and enhances their ability to influence others through articulately expressing their ideas.
At MCA, tutors skillfully pose questions and guide conversations so that every student understands that they are valued and that their thoughts will receive a fair hearing before the class. The immediate goal of Socratic teaching is to understand the truth of the matter at hand as clearly as possible. The long-range goal as was mentioned above is to instill within students the ability to learn and think for themselves so that they can influence culture for Christ.
For more thoughts on Classical Education please read or watch the following works.