Josephine Mrema: "What Is Classical Education?"

In order to explain classical education, I will start by explaining the words in the phrase—the first word is “classical” and the second word is “education.” The word “classical” is a very ancient word, first used by the Roman Patricians. The Patricians were the highest social class in the Roman Empire, also referred to as the Aristocrats, and they were considered to be the standard for excellence in their time and age. Why were the Roman Aristocrats regarded with such honor? They were free individuals at a time when slavery had widely dominated the globe and freedom was sacred. With their freedom, the Aristocrats carefully and intentionally utilized their time by learning the “liberal arts”—the arts of the free people.

The second word in our phrase of discourse is “education." The word “education" comes from a Latin word “eductar,” the root of which is “ducar," which means “to lead out from or away from self." Therefore, education is the process of leading away from self-centeredness and selfishness so as to understand the infinite beauty and harmony of human variety.

Classical education is therefore a way of acquiring insight and an evolution that is infinite and beyond human scope. The Roman Patricians understood this sacred truth pretty well and from them rose great human beings, such as Plato, Socrates, St. Augustine of Hippo, and William Wilberforce. These are just a few reformers and thinkers who were trained in the liberal arts and made it their purpose to understand the rhythm inherent in the infinite beauty and harmony of humanity.

Now, this brings us to a very important question in our discussion: What are these liberal arts that transformed the Roman Patricians into being the standard of excellence? The free arts are divided into two broad categories. The trivium and the quadrivium.

The trivium is the verbal art of grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric. William Wilberforce, who I mentioned earlier, is probably one of the greatest reformers in all of history. Mr. Wilberforce was a student of grammar at his hometown of Hull in England. During his early teen years, he lived with his uncle William, who introduced him to John Newton—who would become a great friend to Wilberforce, a force behind the end of the slave trade, and the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace.” Later on, at the tender age of seventeen, Wilberforce went to Harvard University for his first degree in grammar and rhetoric.

Wilberforce used his gift in rhetoric to communicate fluently and eloquently in carrying out his mission to reform and later abolish the slave trade. In this mission, Wilberforce fluently and eloquently presented many debates and motions to the English Parliament. This course was universally opposed at the time because the world’s economy was supported by the practice of slavery, an atrocity which was universally accepted. However, Wilberforce ultimately emerged victorious, and humanity won.

Wilberforce was just one among many reformers who grew to world recognition not because of wealth or social status but because of being a human who experienced true liberation through an education in the liberal arts. The liberal arts, well understood within the worldview of God’s mind, is the sure blueprint for holistic human formation and the reformation of manners. These arts are essential for a true understanding and interpretation of the infinite beauty of humanity and God’s order of creation.

Next, we have the quadrivium. The quadrivium consists of arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy. These four arts train humans in the understanding of harmony and proportion through discrete and continuous patterns in time and space.

Studying the seven liberal arts (grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy) culminates not only into intellectual formation but also the love of order, and the love of God’s creation as being beautiful in all its forms. This immaculate formation leads to understanding what is holy and pious, and acquiring practical skills for service and civic virtue. Classical education is therefore a universal language that tells my story, your story, our story, and everyone else’s story to the world without prejudice.

Ms. Josephine Mrema is a math and science teacher at the Rafiki Foundation Classical Christian School in Moshi, Tanzania, which is the only classical school in Tanzania.  Josephine has been teaching with Rafiki for about 6 months. Madam Josephine completed her secondary education at private schools in Kenya. She attended her first conference on classical education in Nairobi, Kenya in October 2023, and has been passionate about learning and implementing classical pedagogy. At this conference she was able to hear from such CCE educators as: Dr. Brian Williams, Dr. Grant Horner, Dr. David Diener, Mrs. Robyn Burlew, Mr. Ravi Jain, and Dr. Tim Dernlan – plus others! Her essay reflects what she has learned so far, and we expect that she will become a leading proponent of classical education in Tanzania. We at Rafiki are grateful to have her as an educator at our Rafiki Classical Christian school near Moshi Tanzania – her grasp of CCE is even more remarkable when you consider that English is a 3rd language for her.

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