Classical Education: Is it a Good Idea?

Classical Education: Is it a Good Idea?

This is a guest post by David & Shirley Quine (founders of Cornerstone Curriculum) on Classical Education:

The Three Pillars of Classical Education

Some time ago Shirley and I were in a conversation regarding Classical Education with a small group of Christian educators. We were told that this was the growing trend among Christian home school educators and that we should consider embracing it as well.

Although we mostly listened, we asked a few questions in the discussion — especially, regarding the notion of Truth. We were shocked to be introduced to the three pillars of “truth” being embraced by Classical educators:

  • Christianity – the Spiritual Pillar
  • Greece – the Philosophical Pillar
  • Rome – the Governmental Pillar

We were told that the union of Greek and Roman thought with Christian truth is the basis of Classical Education and that it actually yields a much broader and more comprehensive understanding of truth.

However, this wasn’t the Protestant Reformation idea of Truth Shirley and I had been taught by Dr. Francis Schaeffer in his writings and lectures. Rather, this was exactly the opposite. Dr Schaeffer wrote extensively that Protestant Christianity provides good and sufficient answers in all three spheres: Spiritual, Philosophical, and Governmental. He warned us of the dangers of mixing Greek and Roman ideas with Christian Truth.

A person must ask “where does this mixing lead?”

I continue seeking greater understanding of the goals and objectives of Classical Education. Just recently I found a graphic from a Catholic web site showing the three pillars of Classical Education which we were encouraged to embrace years before. I was shocked to see the close connection between Classical Education and Catholic teaching.

Classical Education Triangle

Protestant Reformation teaching does not mix Greco-Roman thinking with Christian Truth.

Paul, writing to Christians living in the city of Colossae which would have been under the influence of Greek and Roman thinking, states:

Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. Colossians 2:6-8

PS. Teaching involves both curriculum (content) and instruction (the delivery). My greatest concern is not over the Trivium per se (although I do not hold the ‘grammar’ stage in high regard), but with the interpretations that encompass the content. Three very easy areas to test a curriculum to determine whether it is Protestant Reformation based or not:

  • 1 – In the History Curriculum: How are Adam and Eve and the first eleven chapters of Genesis treated?
  • 2 – In the Art Curriculum: How are the images of Biblical prophets painted alongside the Greek Sybils in the Sistine Chapel understood?
  • 3 – In the Literature Curriculum: What interpretation of Dante’s Divine Comedy is given?

I will expand upon #3:
One classical curriculum describes The Divine Comedy in this way …

“Upon the literary foundation of the West, laid by the hands of Homer and Virgil, sits a cathedral. That cathedral is Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. One of the CROWN JEWELS OF BOTH WESTERN AND CHRISTIAN LITERATURE, the Comedy is an epic, allegorical poem accounting Dante’s spiritual journey of redemption that takes him through the pit of Hell (the Inferno) to the Beatific Vision of God (the Paradiso). The Comedy is necessary to any classical curriculum, for it is the UNION OF TWO TRADITIONS, BOTH CHRISTIAN AND CLASSICAL”(Memoria Press, emphasis added).

It is just this UNION of Christianity and the Greco-Roman Classical pagan thought that places it outside Protestant Reformation thinking.

“[Dante’s] writing has a deep and profound beauty and is a work of genius on its highest level. But in the development of the humanistic elements of the Renaissance, Dante followed the unfortunate side of Thomas Aquinas in MIXING THE CHRISTIAN AND THE CLASSICAL PAGAN WORLD in allusions throughout his work (Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live?).

The Classical viewpoint understands Dante’s Divine Comedy as a “cathedral” and one of the “crown jewels of both Western and Christian literature.”WVWW_I

The Protestant Reformation viewpoint, however, understands Dante’s Divine Comedy as “mixing the Christian and the classical pagan world view.”

Are you beginning to see where this is leading?

It is not that Protestant Reformation thinking doesn’t read or recognize the beauty and genius of such a work, but it considers such a UNION of the classical pagan world view with the biblical world view as UNTHINKABLE.

Paul exhorts us  to …

“… examine [test, prove, scrutinise (to see whether a thing is genuine or not)]


carefully  [test, prove, scrutinise (to see whether a thing is genuine or not)];

hold fast [to hold firmly]

to that which is [intrinsically] good”.

(I Thessalonians 5:21, NASB, amplification from Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.)

Cornerstone Curriculum presents the Protestant Reformation basis for viewing God, life, and the world in a dynamic interactive multi-sensory way.

We hope you will visit our web site at your convenience:

Blessings to you and your family,


David and Shirley Quine

For more background on the Quine’s ministry, check this out!



19 Responses to “Classical Education: Is it a Good Idea?”

  1. Kris says:

    David and Shirley,

    Thank you for posting this article. I have been reading about classical education as I have been seeking the Lord’s direction for my next place of service. I too can identify with Schaeffer’s perspective having read his books. Truth alone is the authority and mixing Greek and Roman thought is the essence of the movement to remove/reject Truth in the academic and scientific world.

  2. Katy says:

    David and Shirley,

    I am wondering if you have heard of something called Classical Conversations? We have participated in this curriculum and they very heavily promote what they are doing to ‘spread and make Him known’. Do you happen to know or could you share how it relates to what you have written here? They are aggressively growing and strongly selling to the homeschool community and call themselves a community as well.

    • Israel Wayne says:

      I think the questions David asked in this article would be great questions to ask any Christian group that is using the name “Christian Classical.”


  3. Rebecca says:

    This is an excellent article. We should always remember that knowledge and truth come from God. The ‘pull’ that i see in the ‘classical’ pedagogy is the ‘teaching the child to think’…. We should never place a pedagogy on a pedestal, but always seek to teach our children the way God intended them to be taught, but in pedagogy and curricula.

  4. Gina Glenn says:

    Christianity – the Spiritual Pillar
    Greece – the Philosophical Pillar
    Rome – the Governmental Pillar

    This is so important to draw out in any pedagogy.

    Christian education would recognize Christianity as the Spiritual, Philosophical, and Governmental Pillar of all of life and learning (education), they cannot be divorced.

    In the fullness of time, Christ (the focal point of history) came to Earth when the Greek philosophical pillar had exhausted itself with endless questions, and the government of Rome (the governmental Pillar) would provide peace & infrastructure for the spread of the Gospel (the Spiritual pillar.

    However, the government would rest on HIS shoulders in the form of individual self-government through a new birth that comes from the Holy Spirit. Internal.

    This new internal government would extend to the home, church, and nation. External.

    This is God’s mighty work.

    Man would now be tasked with Know God, rather than Know Thyself.

    Children from Kindergarten age can identify the subjects of learning by their Biblical (governmental) principles (research) and understand the symbols God uses to display his Mighty Works (fingerprints, snowflakes, etc.).

    Mimicry and “Poll parrot” aren’t the educators only tools with the very young.

    True Christian education teaches the individual (youngest to oldest) to reason from the Scriptures to all of life and learning.

    Our “pillars” in a Christian pedagogy should be planting the seeds, tending the seedlings, growing the plant, and reaping the fruit.

    PS. Quine’s book, “Let Us Highly Resolve” is a great family book.

  5. Jackie B. says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this, Israel. I am just beginning to scratch the surface on learning the truth on these things, especially with how easy it is to get sucked into this type of ideology within the homeschool environment. We are going to read How Should We Then Live starting today!

  6. jvangeld says:

    It is amusing that Mr. and Mrs. Quine escalate Schaeffer’s “unfortunate” in the quote, “Dante followed the unfortunate side of Thomas Aquinas,” to “UNTHINKABLE” (all caps).

    I don’t know if the Classical schools where Luther and Calvin (and, fair point; Erasmus) studied examined the Divine Comedy. But if they did, I expect that their conclusion would have been similar to Schaeffer’s

  7. David Quine says:

    We have been lead to believe that “Classical” = “Protestant Christianity” when in fact, in many instances “Classical” = “Secular” or “Classical” = “Catholic Christianity”.

    We must not confuse the Trivium (the stages of child development) with the Classical Content being presented through the Trivium. In most classical schools and classical home schools or CHS co-ops, the curriculum (that is, the content) and the Trivium (the instruction) are interwoven in such a way as to make them one, that is, inseparable.

    However, we must always keep the focus of conversation on the content and the interpretation of that content being taught to our children.

    One final thought: I believe the Protestant Christian viewpoint is there is a time and a way to study opposing ideas.

    The TIME:
    1 – Whenever the person has a solid Christian world view.
    2 – Whenever the person has the cognitive ability to use abstract reasoning. Only at this developmental level can a person work from assumptions. In general, ideas opposing the Biblical worldview should not be elaborately taught in the Grammar stage of the Trivium.

    The WAY:
    Using God’s Word as an absolute universal standard to judge whether or not ideas are true or false. The Protestant Christian thinking is “Sola Scriptura” — the Bible is the supreme authority in all matters of doctrine and practice. The Bible is the gauge against which we measure all thoughts and ideas.

    According to Edith Schaeffer being a Christian “means coming to believe that what has been given in God’s Word is historical truth, not just a vague religious truth.” Therefore, we can trust that what God has said is true whenever His Word touches on history and science as well as theology. And we do not have to be ashamed.

  8. David Quine says:

    Perhaps “UNTHINKABLE” is too strong a word.

    However, if after reading the Divine Comedy any of our children asked “should I ask the Muses or should I invoke Apollo to explain YHWH to me?” as appears to have been done in Paradiso, that would be more than “unfortunate.”

    The mixing of Christian and classical pagan allusions has the potential to produce a muddling in the minds, hearts, and souls of children. It would be UNTHINKABLE for me to write a curriculum which incorporated Dante’s Divine Comedy which did not alert students to such unbiblical pagan allusions.

  9. Janice says:


    I’ve been involved in classical Christian education for the last 7 years and do not recognize any of your descriptions of the goals and foundation of classical education as what the movement itself claims (at least among Christians). This article leaves me wondering how much you’ve read of the leaders and proponents of the classical Christian ed movement.

    Whoever told you that “the union of Greek and Roman thought with Christian truth is the basis of Classical Education and that it actually yields a much broader and more comprehensive understanding of truth,” is not expressing what we in the classical Christian ed movement desire to accomplish. Classical education is not indoctrination in classical “thought” or worldviews. It is a return to an approach to education that was nearly universally practiced in the west up until the last 100 years or so. As Christians engaged in recovering these “lost tools” (grammar, logic, rhetoric) we bring the ultimate truth found in the Living Word, Jesus Christ, to bear on ancient thought as well as history, math, etc to produce a whole learner who is equipped to worship God and live lives that persuade others of his truth, beauty and goodness.

    Perhaps you could ask Nancy Pearcey, a protege of Schaeffer, what she thinks about classical Christian education.

  10. David Quine says:

    Hi Janice,

    Thanks for your response. I think it will help if I clarify my major concerns before I contact Nancy. I am not exactly sure where we disagree and on which points Nancy and I should talk.

    First, let me say that I do not have a concern over the use of the Trivium. In fact, I have embraced a form of those three stages in my curriculum writing since 1980 — some 10 years before the release of Doug Wilson’s book Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning.

    My concern centers around the teaching of opposing ideas. Specifically, when and how that should be done.

    I am afraid that some Christian educators are careless when it comes to the Grammar stage. Since children at this level are incapable of reasoning abstractly, they are not able to reason deductively from a set of assumptions. What do I mean? Students during this phase are not able to complete this intellectual construct: “IF (or SINCE) this ___ is true, THEN, it follows that this ___ is also true, THEREFORE, this ___ conclusion can be drawn.

    So whenever young children are presented with ideas which are opposite the biblical position, they are not capable of logically deducing that which is true from that which is false. It should become a limiting factor in what ideas are being presented during this phase.

    For example, when a very popular history book for the classical child, written by a Christian and used by many Christian classical educators during the Grammar stage, clearly declares that the “earliest people” in the world were the nomads of Mesopotamia that is in direct opposition to the biblical explanation recorded in the Book of Genesis that the earliest people were Adam, Eve and their children. If the parent or teacher only reads the history book account, then the child is only receiving the secular position. However. if the parent or teacher would combine this reading with the biblical account, then the result is a muddling the mind of the child because both positions cannot both be true. Such discussions should be introduced only during the Logic or Rhetoric stages, not during the Grammar stage.

    Another example which I have seen on Youtube is of Christian classical educators having their children sing songs about being Zeus or the other Greek gods and goddesses. This seems to be a clear departure from the command of Moses given to parents recorded in Deuteronomy chapter 6. It would have been unthinkable to Moses to have children sing songs about the Egyptian gods and goddesses in order to have a well trained mind.

    And finally, let me return once again to the example of Dante in the original posting. I know of several Christian Classical curricula which take the position that the Divine Comedy is one of the greatest of Christian allegories or as quoted above by a Christian classical curriculum company — “One of the CROWN JEWELS OF BOTH WESTERN AND CHRISTIAN LITERATURE,… the UNION OF TWO TRADITIONS, BOTH CHRISTIAN AND CLASSICAL.” My question is this: How can this book be given such high status among Protestant Christian classical educators when 1 – Dante’s spiritual guide is Virgil, the pagan poet, who penned the Aeneid which presents Caesar Augustus is god; 2 – when asked about the source of his information about Hell and the after life Virgil says it came from “the great Philosopher” referring to Aristotle; and, 3- the continual mixing and uniting of biblical and classical pagan thought throughout the trilogy.

    Should Christian students read such “classical Literature”? My answer is yes. But not during the Grammar stage. What conclusions should they draw? that the uniting of Christian and pagan thought yields the highest form of thought as in the Divine Comedy? or that such a union presents a non Protestant Reformation world view of truth?

    Why would Protestant Christian classical educators deliberately present ideas which oppose biblical Truth during the Grammar stage? And why would they ever present ideas which join pagan ideas to biblical truth as an expression of true Christian thought? I simply do not understand their thinking.

    Edith Schaeffer explained in her book, Christianity is Jewish, that “the center of attack today is against truth.” My concern is what view of truth are we presenting to our children.

    Whenever Protestant Christian young people are being taught opposing ideas either

    1- before they are reasoning abstractly, or

    2- which are considered “Christian” when, in fact, they are mixing Christian and pagan world views,

    are we not undermining our Protestant Reformation understanding of truth? We must be careful when and how we present opposing ideas to our children, because our children’s hearts, souls, and minds are at stake.

    Janice, I hope this clarifies my concerns regarding Classical Education. I look forward to reading your comments.

    A note to Israel:
    If what I have written is too long, don’t feel compelled to post it. I will leave that up to you. Blessings.

  11. I have been around classical and Christian education for a while now and do not recognize the classical described here. Interesting enough, Dr. R.C. Sproul just released a short podcast on the importance of studying the western cannon (classics) and why Christians should not be afraid of it. You can listen to it at http://www.thegreateducationstruggle.com/audios/whos-afraid-of-the-big-bad-book/

    I have also copied and pasted the transcript below.

    “Great Works” are not always the easiest things in the world to read. I am always on the hunt for books that are of value and books that are pleasant to read, books that are not too much of a challenge. But that is not often the case, those are rare things indeed. Usually great books are big books.

    Years ago, my dear wife went shopping for my birthday and what she was looking for was a copy of the Scottish Chiefs. She went into one of those ubiquitous megastores that had just about every book that’s ever been put in print and every flavor of coffee ever invented. She asked for help, “I need the Scottish Chiefs, the biography, story of William Wallace.” But in that store, they couldn’t track down this big, fat 700 page book. The reason they couldn’t find it was because it was listed under “juvenile” literature. That’s what it had been when it was written hundreds of years ago, this 700 page book. Today it is a challenge for grown men to read.

    As parents, we don’t like listening to our children grumble. We want them to be happy, but what they want, often, is ease. The great books that have shaped Western culture, however, were designed to shape culture, not to be entertaining diversions, the equivalent of comic books. They often dealt with difficult concepts and always used difficult words.

    The solution as parents, I would suggest, here is a common one. Both our children and we parents need to “buck up.” “Buck up” is a complicated, obtuse concept that means something akin to, “stop your sniveling and get to work.” Reading is no different than the rest of our lives: you get what you pay for. To think deep thoughts, you must read deep books. To accumulate wisdom you must study wisdom. No pain, no gain.

    There are those rare, fruitful books that are a delight to read, but if however we only study at the feet of those giants of the past who are most dexterous with pen than we will miss out on a great deal of wisdom.

    The second cause for concern is a bit less embarrassing, and a bit more understandable. Western civilization has happily been profoundly influenced by the Christian faith. It’s also been profoundly influenced however by those who would attack the Christian faith. And it was profoundly influenced by those who made wise use of God’s common grace, but who did not receive His redeeming grace. Milton has rightly found his way into the western canon, but so has Virgil. Augustine makes the grade, but so does Swift. When we read, we must sit through both wheat and tares, often in the same book.

    I have taught Homer’s Odyssey in the past to a group of high-school age homeschoolers. Our class consisted essentially of the sifting process. “See here how Homer highlights for us the glory of heroism…See here how Homer distorts the glory of heroism by presenting it as the accumulation of glory…Here Homer affirms that the future is not in our hands…Here Homer asserts that our future is in the hands of a capricious set of competing gods.” We in reading Homer not only better understand the Greeks, but better understand ourselves in the temptations that beset us.
    So why bother? The Bible, after all, is all wheat and no chaff. So should we just teach our children the Bible? Well, of course we must teach our children the Bible. We must see our calling as parents as fundamentally to teach our children the very oracles of God. We must steep them in that one book which stands above all others. Which is sui generis, “in a class by itself.” Only in the Bible has God spoken directly and inerrantly. But as we read our Bible, as we shape ourselves in our culture with its wisdom, we discover something confusing. We discover that God sends his rain on the just and the unjust. We discover that all men bear the image of God. We discover that God speaks through His creation. And we discover that the great heroes of the Bible had the courage and new enough of the cultures around them to fight them.

    We find Paul quoting the Greek poets and John alluding to the Greek philosophers. We find our calling to know to whom we are proclaiming the good news. Now, I am not suggesting that we wallow in the muck of contemporary pop-culture. This is but the fruit of an older, higher culture. The culture that shines for the great books. We don’t need to be “hip” to reach the lost, neither am I suggesting that we toss our children into the deep water in the hopes that they will learn to swim.
    My goal is not that as my children age they will read the great books, but rather, that as they age I will teach them to listen in with their parents and their Bibles beside them on the Great Conversation and respond with the authoritative voice of God. Our goal is not to raise highbrow pagans, but soldiers who not only know their enemies, but who know where their own weaknesses and strengths lie.

    I remember many years ago, there was a time when my daughter Darby was reading two books at the same time. One was Elsie Dinsmore, a saccharine account of a godly young woman growing up in the South. But at the same time she was reading that, she was reading Gulliver’s Travels. The former had a bit of chaff, but was really a fine example of what a godly young lady looks like. The latter gives us not only a view into the mind of Swift, but through his genius a view into the minds and follies of his contemporaries. We get to watch one heathen highlight the foolishness of other heathens and thus we know better the culture in which we live.

    We must not fear the big bad books. For He who is in us has already overcome the world. If we would have our children, through Him, be more than conquerors, we too must enter into the fray. We must not fear because we know that God has made the wisdom of this world into foolishness.

  12. David Quine says:

    “Opening a Door” which we may regret opening…

    If you are familiar with our World Views of the Western World, you know we read, study, analyze, and evaluate several of the “Great Books” of Western culture. I guess I have two concerns:

    1 – Any curriculum which calls Dante’s Divine Comedy “Christian” when it clearly has united, joined, and married Greco-Roman Pagan ideas to Christian truth. Should students read it? Yes, I believe so. But when? Probably in the Rhetoric Stage. But why? To help students discern when an author mixes false ideas with truth — to demonstrate how an author may use the Bible incorrectly. The Divine Comedy was and is still is a very influential book, but one thing it is not — a Reformation view of truth. It is a Catholic view of truth. In addition to the points made earlier, the second book, Purgatory, is clearly an example of that theology.

    2 – Any elementary (Grammar Stage) curriculum which uses a history textbook with ignores or denies the historicity of the first eleven chapters of Genesis. If parents/teachers use such a history book and then combine it with reading Genesis 1 – 11, then I believe they have fallen into the same sort of mixing as did Dante.

    Ignoring these two concerns has the potential to undermine the Reformation view of truth and faith in a child’s heart, soul, and mind. As Dr Schaeffer wrote about past history … we too will be “opening the door” for our children to walk through which is not the Reformation view of Truth.

    Be careful which doors you open.

    • David I completely agree with what you have wrote. Timing is very important, and the foundation students have received in the “grammar years” are critical. If they do not have sound biblical understanding of God’s truth, then they will not be able to accomplish what classical nd Christian Education says it does. There are unspoken expectations of students when we speak of classical and christian. I do find it interesting though, of the thousands tested for their biblical worldview by the Nehemiah Institute, it is those from a Classical and Christian education that scores in the top biblical worldview level.

  13. A Christian Classical Homeschooling Mother says:

    I am disappointed to see such an article posted on the blog of popular homeschooling speaker. The first premise of the author, that Classical educators have a wrong view of truth, is mistaken. I notice that there is no evidence given of this, other than the fact that the author overheard it from unnamed educators. If it were the view of leaders in the Christian Classical education renewal, I would expect to find evidence of it in the numerous books written on the subject. I recommend the author read actual texts on what Christian classical education is before attempting to tell others what he overheard it might be.

    One good place to start your research would be the book written by Clark and Jain, “The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education.”

    I also find it a little ironic that Francis Shaefer is brought up, since his daughter was a major player in the renewal of Christian classical education, by introducing homeschoolers to a modern interpretation of Classical education (Charlotte Mason).

    If you have a problem with Memoria Press, that’s one thing. But to say that the interpretation of Dante by Memoria Press is indicative of how ALL Christian Classical educators interpret Dante is a stretch. It’s also a bit of a put-down for us homeschooling mothers — we’re not blind sheep telling our children whatever a curriculum author tells us to say. My children memorize the Westminster Catechism with me every day and not the Greek Gods; yet I describe myself as a Christian Classical educator. I spend time reading theology and educational books — everything from the writings of the Puritans to, more recently, “The War Against Grammar.” I don’t feel the need to find a curriculum author that I agree with 100%. I am my child’s teacher, not a textbook author. You can find out what real homeschooling mothers actually think about Classical education by reading blogs like “Afterthoughtsblog.net” and “expandingwisdom.com” and “simplyconvivial.com”

    I believe we must watch for error in doctrine in all areas of study, but I don’t believe you have appropriately made a case for Christian Classical education being inherently erroneous. Classical education is synonymous with a liberal arts education. He who defines the terms wins, or something like that… So I feel compelled to point out that your definition of “classical” is wrong.

    I applaud your dedication to doctrine and your desire to point out an error you found in a Memoria Press article, but I am frustrated that you would publish something to denigrate an entire educational method in order to apparently promote your own materials.

    — A second-generation homeschooling mother of six, Classically Educating in the Christian Tradition

  14. Sara says:

    We are just leaving, Challenge A and Challenge ll.
    The main reason is that I am uncomfortable with some of the literature and art and the philosophical and intellectual focus. We are to glorify God rather than glorify man and his ability to create art, literature, philosophy and develop his intellect. My kids may be brilliant, as they are told, but all I want them to believe and walk in God’s truth and obedience to His truth.
    Paradise Lost, supposedly a great Christina work, is just filled with false theology, and that is just one example.
    I love the teachers, students, and parents, but I think the curriculum has an undercurrent, intended or not, that, in my opinion, doesn’t glorify God.

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