Memory & Recitation
Elementary school children are wonderfully ready to receive information, and find memorization actually to be fun! Since children are so blessed with this miraculous capacity the classical education focuses on the learning of facts through memorization. During this phase of a child’s development we do not take a side track to “expression and self-discovery” but rather furnish their minds with the objective material of thought so fundamental for analytical thinking later on: Rules of phonics and spelling, rules of grammar, poetry, Latin vocabulary, stories from history and literature, descriptions of plants and animals and the human body, the facts of mathematics – the list goes on. The facts of these vital subjects are learned through the art of memorization. Students regularly memorize – and recite – poetry, selections from the Bible, mathematical and grammatical rules, and a wealth of facts which raise the foundations of their understanding of the real world. Students sing, they chant, and they rhyme, all the while adding to the treasures of knowledge stored in their minds and hearts.
In the classical model learning is accomplished primarily through words, both spoken and written. Why not just spoken words? Why not just “hands on” learning? Language learning – listening, talking, reading, writing – makes the young mind work harder! When reading, the mind must translate abstract symbols (words on the page) into concepts. But when the mind is confronted with only images (name whatever screen you can think of) the mind functions only passively. When faced with the written page a child’s mind must “roll up its sleeves and get back to work.” (Susan Wise Bauer – The Well-Trained Mind)
And why is this important? The Christian view that human beings are made in God’s image leads naturally to the belief that we should be like him in how we actually live our lives. And our source for knowing who God is, so that we might live as He would have us live, is the Bible. If the Bible – inspired words – is God’s gift of revelation to us, it follows that our first responsibility in life is to master language so thoroughly that we can read and understand what God has told us about Himself, and what He expects of us.
Because Classical Christian educators believe that children are made in God’s image, their teaching is grounded on the belief that learning and mastering language is an essential part of what it means to be a human being.
To the classical way of thinking all knowledge is integrated. If God created the world, and all that is in it, then we confidently expect that every living thing, every natural phenomenon, all inorganic matter, and the wonders of the solar system – every thing that constitutes “knowledge” – will reflect the wisdom of the creator. If all this has a single Creator, then all of creation will be related in infinitely remarkable ways. The world is full of knowledge, and finding the links connecting all the fields of study can often bewilder the student. But links there are, and a classical education takes special care to show its students the harmonious and delightful relationships that hold together every part of the curriculum. In a classical school there are no “important” subjects that take pre-eminence over “less important” subjects. Every subject supports its fellow subjects, and this drives a school where teachers are working together, and all their students are working together to create a community of mutually supportive and encouraging learners.
How do we link together the many ideas implicit in a complete school curriculum? Consider the ancient Greek word “logos”, which means word, or organizing principle. “Logos” captures the idea of what is necessary to link multiple ideas together. As a Classical Christian school we believe that the big idea holding together all the “ideas” contained in every subject of knowledge is – as explained above – God the creator. In fact, the Biblical Gospel of John nicely unravels this for us when the apostolic writer explains, “In the beginning was the Word (logos), and the Word (logos) was with God and the Word (logos) was God.” This idea is critical to the Christian faith because the “logos” or “Word” mentioned in John is actually Jesus Christ. He is the logos, the same God who created the universe and gives meaning and purpose to all things.
We believe that when Jesus Christ is understood to be the central organizing principle of all our curriculum, every subject takes on greater meaning, and every effort made to teach and to learn yields greater joy and satisfaction. Christ becomes the “sun” of our school’s academic “solar system.” He provides the gravitational pull by which all the other planets (our curriculum!) rotate in their orbits. Therefore, all subjects exist harmoniously with each other because they first exist harmoniously with God their creator. Science is enhanced by studying it in relation to the arts. History makes more sense if learned in connection with the development of language. Subjects are not divided and separated from each other as exclusive, competing entities, but all find their meaning in Christ.