Douglas Wilson, Crossway, 2003, 253 pages, 5 of 5 stars
Summary: Because all education is religious and incapable of being morally neutral, classical Christian education is the solution.
Wilson has been a head honcho in the classical and home school educational universe for decades. In his view, classical education (CE) is not a luxury but a necessity. Parents have a moral obligation to remove their children from government schools and provide them with a Christian education (Eph. 6:4)—the best option being classical Christian education.
CE is the teaching philosophy that wants to pass on the Western heritage. The goal of CE is rhetoric (a good man speaking well). But one can only reach rhetoric after the first two basic stages of learning: grammar and logic. Thus, the final product of clear thought is clear speech.
Through the thirty chapters of the book, Wilson acts as a tour guide through the ins and outs of educational philosophy. Careful of that faulty thinking over there. The roots of these matchless writers can be found over here. And just around the corner we’ll find dozens of practical suggests.
After the first dozen or so foundational chapters, some of the best include: chapter 16 on the case for Latin (mental discipline, literary discipline, mastery of English, foundation for Christian ministry), chapter 20 on holy living, including twelve ways we circumvent repentance, chapter 22 on school clothing (Christians should dress for the comfort of others, not their own), chapter 23 on seven laws of teaching, and chapter 24 on some dangers of homeschooling (prep time, familism, the genders, and home school as an ideology).
Strengths: (1) Wilson convinces the reader that “secular” education is absurd and impossible. Public schools can’t be impartial. He says, “Pluralism is simply another name for polytheism” (p. 36). In fact, virtually all religions reject the pretense of neutrality. Quoting R.L. Dabney: “Pagan, Catholics, Moslems, Greeks and Protestants have all rejected any education not grounded in religion as absurd and wicked” (p. 35). It is no surprise, then, that Wilson discourages the fight for “prayer” in public schools. Prayer is worship and if it is not Christian, it is idolatrous.
(2) He argues successfully in chapter five against sending children to public schools as “salt and light.” If we wouldn’t send our kids to a Mormon VBS to evangelize, why send them to a humanist organization to do the same thing? The goal is to thrive, not just survive.
(3) Wilson exposes the lie of multiculturalism. Classical education emphasizes Western culture not because it is identified with the God’s kingdom but because it is the culture in which the Christian faith made the most advances. For example, Christian educators always emphasize Charlemagne over the Ming Dynasty. Wilson’s logic is indisputable:
“The first two thousand years of [the church’s] obedience were spent largely to the north and west of Israel, and this has had cultural and historical consequences. This statement is not a cultural vaunt or boast, but is rather a recognition that the Gospel, and only the Gospel, displays such cultural power. I believe therefore that a truly Christian education will, with gratitude, emphasize the heritage of the West” (p. 232)
Cons: I wish Wilson had probed the challenges of escaping the public schools. Sure, for most Christian families, classical Christian education is ideal. But what if there is nothing like that near by? What if the family structure does not allow for homeschooling? What if the tiny Christian school down the road isn’t much better than the local high school? What if finances really do preclude this kind of thing? Aren’t some public schools dramatically different from others? I know Wilson is aware of these concerns (he attended them briefly), but he should have taken more time to address them.
Conclusion: Wilson’s vivid and humorous writing style fused with clear logic makes this defense of classical Christian education an excellent read.
- “The brain is a muscle not a shoebox.”
- “Children are under-disciplined and over-medicated” (18).
- “Nonbelievers can teach the truth in any given area only on the basis of common grace—that is, if they borrow Christian categories on the sly in order to do so. But when nonbelievers grow increasingly aware of their epistemological assumptions, they begin rejecting the very concept of truth—every manifestation of it—and they embrace the absurd.” (57)
- “We do not need gun control; we need self-control. And we cannot have self-control, a fruit of the Spirit, without the Gospel.” (18)