Our commitment to a Christian classical paradigm and the dignity of the
human being results in a robust philosophy of education centered on the
formation of the whole person.
Classical education is about the moral, intellectual, and spiritual formation of students. It seeks to shape or cultivate a disposition to the world that is animated by well-ordered loves.
While other forms of education promote self-discovery, Smith Prep seeks to cultivate Christian virtue and fit the soul of the creature to the design of its Creator. G.K. Chesterton once said, “Education is not a subject, nor does it deal in subjects. It is instead a transfer of a way of life.”
This way of life is modeled by our faculty and staff, and demonstrated in our curriculum choices.
The poet T.S. Eliot once asked, “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” It is helpful to think of classical education as an answer to Eliot’s lament. The stages of a classical education move students through the accumulation of information to the formation of knowledge, which is then directed toward the pursuit of wisdom through the cultivation of eloquence.
Educational reformers of various stripes have insisted on opposing the mastery of content to critical thinking or the acquisition of skills, and they pay no attention to beauty or wisdom. Classical education recognizes the value of each and incorporates them all into a model that seeks to cultivate informed, thoughtful, and articulate students.
The trivium—Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric—provides the structure of classical education. Chronologically, the three stages of the trivium roughly correspond with grammar school (K-6), middle school (7-8), and high school (9-12). At each stage, instruction emphasizes the skills that are developmentally appropriate for the students: memorization in the grammar stage, critical thinking in the dialectic stage, and compelling communication in the rhetoric stage. Naturally, the stages and skills are not neatly sequestered in each stage. Students in the grammar stage will have occasion to practice rhetorical skills and critical thinking. Students in the rhetoric stage will still need to commit new knowledge to memory and hone their critical thinking.
We can also understand Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric as three layers of any discipline or subject that always overlap. Grammar stresses the accumulation of information and mastery of fundamentals. Dialectic emphasizes the passage from mere information to knowledge, which requires logic and critical thinking. Finally, Rhetoric trains students to communicate effectively and encourages them to apply their knowledge to the pursuit of wisdom.
While the trivium provides the general structure of a classical education, the goal is the moral formation of the student. In Greek culture, the goal of education was to align the soul with the transcendental order of the cosmos. There were three parts of the soul: thumos, logos, and eros. We might think of these, roughly, as our guts, mind, and heart or our capacity to achieve goodness, discover the truth, and enjoy the beautiful. These capacities corresponded to the three transcendent and eternal values, Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, to which even the gods were subject. Christians adopted and adapted this model of education. The retained the emphasis on the formation of the soul and the ideal of conforming the soul to an eternal and transcendent standard. Christians, however, understood this standard to be grounded in the nature of God. Having been made in God’s image, human beings do have a capacity to achieve goodness, discover the truth, and enjoy the beautiful. In doing so, we learn that whatever truth, goodness, or beauty we encounter in this world is a reflection of the Triune God, whose character is the measure and source of all truth, goodness, and beauty.
The goal of a classical education at Smith Prep, then, is particularly ambitious: cultivating in our students a love for the good, the beautiful, and the true that will be a foundation for a life in service to God. Our program seeks to train the hearts and the minds of our students in order to furnish them with the tools necessary to glorify and enjoy God through their individual callings.
If you would like to know more about classical education, we recommend Dorothy Sayers’ “The Lost Tools of Learning” and Stratford Caldecott’s Beauty for Truth’s Sake: On the Re-enchantment of Education.
Christian humanism affirms the dignity of the human person because it first affirms the wisdom, grace, and goodness of God, our Creator and Redeemer. We seek truth because God is Truth; we pursue what is good because God is Good; we rejoice in what is beautiful because God is the source of all Beauty.
Unfortunately, humanism is a word that has fallen into disrepute among Christians by its recent association with the adjective secular. At Smith Prep, however, we are committed to the recovery of a distinctly Christian humanism. There can be, in fact, no truly secular humanism. As many astute thinkers have noted, the “death of God” leads finally to the death of man: the devaluing of the human person and the disarray of human culture. This is why we believe a recovery of Christian humanism is in order.
What we mean by Christian humanism is simple: a commitment to human flourishing informed by a biblical understanding of the human person. Our educational philosophy is grounded in this commitment.
As human beings made in God’s image, we are uniquely equipped to receive creation as God’s gift and return to Him our service, gratitude, and praise. We are, in other words, created to worship and enjoy God through our stewardship of His Creation. Work, family life, the arts, politics—the whole of human culture is a product of this mandate. Consequently, we believe an education ordered by the ideals of Christian humanism will lead students to appreciate, celebrate, and promote whatever is true, good, and beautiful in our cultural heritage. It will also equip students to faithfully and joyfully fulfill their own calling to love God and love their neighbors.
Educating the Whole Person
What makes for a good education? To answer that question, we need to ask another: What is an education for? We might imagine someone saying that the point of an education is to make students smarter or to equip them for college. Still others might say that an education should prepare students for the job market or help them become good citizens. While these may be important goals to consider, they don’t tell us all that we need to know. As human beings we are more than just our intellects, we are more than our value to the economy, we are more than citizens.
To answer the question of what an education is for, we must ask yet another question: What are people for? Whatever our answer to that question, the best and fullest education will help us move toward it.
At Smith Prep, we believe that Scripture and the Christian tradition provide for us the answer to this all-important question. We are creatures made in God’s image and we were created to love and glorify our Creator. An education, in the fullest sense, moves students toward the fulfillment of our humanity in God.
To put it another way, the Church Father, Ireneaus, wrote, “The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God.” God is glorified in our humanity when we are wholly oriented toward God. The best education, then, will simultaneously address itself to the fullness of our humanity and point the heart and mind of each student toward God.
It is in this context that we speak of the cultivation of Christian virtue and the recovery of Christian humanism.
Smith Prep is devoted to creating an environment that is conducive to the flourishing of Christian virtue. Our curriculum and instruction are integral to the fulfillment of this goal, but they are only part of a larger effort. Virtue, after all, is not merely a matter of the intellect. The pursuit of virtue is also a matter of the heart and its habits and is grounded in the life of a community. It is our desire to create a school culture that works as an integrated whole toward the cultivation of Christian virtue. This includes an intentional ordering of our day, the fostering of meaningful relationships, and working together with parents to address the spiritual needs of our students.
To speak of Christian humanism is to speak of the dignity of the human person. Christian humanism affirms the dignity of the person by first affirming the wisdom, grace, and goodness of God, our Creator and Redeemer. We seek truth because God is Truth; we pursue what is good because God is Good; we rejoice in what is beautiful because God is the source of all Beauty.
Unfortunately, humanism is a word that has fallen into disrepute among Christians by its recent qualification by the adjective secular. At SPA, however, we are committed to the recovery of a distinctly Christian humanism. What we mean by Christian humanism is simple: a commitment to human flourishing informed by a biblical understanding of the human person. Our educational philosophy is grounded in this commitment.
As human beings made in God’s image, we are uniquely equipped to receive creation as God’s gift and return to Him our service, gratitude, and praise. We are, in other words, created to worship and enjoy God through our stewardship of His creation, work, family life, the arts, politics—the whole of human culture is a product of this mandate. Consequently, we believe an education ordered by the ideals of Christian humanism will lead students to appreciate, celebrate, and promote whatever is true, good, and beautiful in our cultural heritage. It will also equip students to faithfully and joyfully fulfill their own calling to love God and love their neighbors.