David Hicks once said, “An education is about mastery, not about being informed. Being educated means you understand a subject so well that you have a humble appreciation for how difficult it is to know anything.” Mr. Hicks provides a wonderful and helpful definition for education, but, more specifically, he is describing classical education. Classical education is a type or approach to education which is distinct from modern education in significant ways. Unlike other means, classical education employs questioning and dialogue in the classroom, training students to think through the great questions and issues of life. Classical education prepares young men and women for life, not merely for a job. In other words, classical education is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue, and it is accomplished by nourishing the soul on the three principles of truth, goodness, and beauty.
To begin with, classical education instills within the student a love for truth. Strictly speaking, truth is that which corresponds to reality. Encountering truth means encountering the answers to life’s most important questions. The classical approach to education acknowledges that truth exists and is to be pursued, thus, creating a disdain for falsehood and insulating one from error. Ultimately, the aim of this is the sanctification of the student to the glory of God, Who nourishes and builds His people through His truth (John 8:31-32, 17:17).
Second, classical education encourages young men and women to value goodness. The path to valuing goodness is paved with the idea that there is an objective standard of goodness, that goodness exists. Proceeding on the notion that man does not determine what is good by his own standard, classical education enables one to see and savor what is good and right in the eyes of God. While studying the great works and ideas of Western civilization, students are taught to analyze, contrast, and meditate upon that which is good and to lament its absence. When students are taught to identify both the presence and absence of good in previous cultures, they are then equipped to support it where it is found and call for it where it is lacking in their own culture.
Finally, classical education nourishes students upon that which is beautiful. As previously mentioned, God has established the absolute standard for what is good, true, and beautiful (Genesis 1). Because of this, beauty if not in the “eye of the beholder;” it also is essentially objective. Classical education attempts to provide students with an appreciation for what is truly beautiful, that which accurately reflects truth and goodness. By encountering the great works of literature, art, architecture, and music, one develops a love for their beauty and aversion for modern distortions of it.
In conclusion, classical education is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue, and it is accomplished by nourishing the soul on the three principles of truth, goodness, and beauty. It would not be an overstatement to say that classical education provides hope for a civilization. In the midst of a culture which feeds upon error, evil, and distortions of beauty, classical education is establishing a generation nursed upon truth, goodness, and beauty which cannot die or fade away.