Classical Education: A Flood That Becomes a Filling

by Karen M. Harris

It started out innocently enough: I read a book about classical education. But soon, what had begun with merely discovering a term for a style of education became a flood that threatened to drown me in an unknown world: contemplation; the Good, the True, and the Beautiful; multum non multi (this isn’t even English?); the trivium; unity and discord; art study (is there a test?); Socratic discussion; harmony; magic (is that Christian?); wisdom and virtue; read-aloud; the liberal arts. How on earth is a mother of nine children supposed to implement a new world of learning when she does not even understand its most fundamental pedagogy?

So, I began to read more. I read hard books that I heard referenced by other classical educators. I read and complained to my husband about how I had discovered that this new world was like reaching for the heavens for this mother firmly planted in sports practices, laundry, and dinner. I muddled my way through concepts that were foreign but ringing true in my spirit like a church bell pealing clear on a Sabbath morning; and slowly but surely, I began to comprehend these new ideas. A friend and I regularly met to read and talk about the books we were consuming. Our meetings would end with books scattered all over the table and our hearts pulsing with the glorious joy of learning.

Photo by Chris Barbalis / Unsplash

What joy and freedom I then experienced as it dawned upon my burdened soul that what I am ultimately called to do is to teach my children the ways of the Most High. All that we do should point to Him: His glory, goodness, beauty, sacrifice, trustworthiness.

So, habit by habit, we changed our way of living. Mornings now begin with a candle upon the table, a sweet scent wafting through the air. The children and I drink tea together, with an abundance of honey in our mugs to remind ourselves of the sweetness of the Word we are about to study. We sing hymns of praise and the Doxology to rest our souls in liturgy. The other-worldness of ancient prayers coaxes our spirits to think beyond our time. Stories vicariously teach us lessons of virtue. Unsung lyrics of poems give voice to the magic that is sensed. The children take pleasure in the stretching of their minds as we memorize together. We end by lifting in petition those who are living beautiful, reckless lives serving our God in hard places and those who are broken in body or spirit.

We break after a time, and the rhythm of alone studies and meeting with me begins. They sit with me in our schoolroom, where beautiful art adorns the walls. Classical music plays lightly in the background. They spend time memorizing, practicing their instruments, and working on math. I am even learning to enjoy math, albeit embarrassingly slowly, as we study how it points to the Creator. They are learning to write by reading, copying, and mimicking great writers. They are learning to think through the study of grammar and Latin. Minds, hearts, and actions are cultivated in the ways of Jesus, all being brought into order and harmony.

Much time is taken in the afternoon—children strewn all over the living room with toys, cards, paper for drawing, and sometimes a ball for playing catch—to read books. I read stories aloud to them, and we all delight and sorrow together. Though I have barely scratched the surface of a Socratic discussion, we recently began holding book discussions around the dining room table after finishing a read-aloud. We eat treats and consider what lessons we learned and how we were touched or changed.

But all is not about books. At intervals throughout the days of learning, they are sent outside to run free and breathe. When they encounter new loveliness, they have the opportunity to sketch it or bring it into the house. I have plans for a nature table to display the works of our God and little bits of happy things the children make. We spend time hiking, swimming in creeks, and going to the mountains and the beach. What a delight to meditate on our Savior in places so lovely.

Wet mountain valley
Photo by Kalen Emsley / Unsplash

My husband and I, along with our children, avail ourselves of every opportunity to serve others. We volunteer at an inner-city church plant, a Christian camp that runs activities year-round, church functions, and outreaches. We allow “school” to be set aside for a day to go be about the work of God, which is to heal brokenness through Him. So, we go wherever we can, whenever we can.

What began as a flood of information has become a means for the Living Water to wash our souls and fill us with adoration and praise for Jesus. Everything we do can be a song of praise to the One by Whom all was made.

Be at peace, Mama. Gaze intently at your God and place before your children a feast of things that fill their hearts with what is Good, True, and Beautiful. The Holy Spirit will bring the increase.

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