Over the past 40 years, the renewal of classical Christian education in the United States has grown to 800 or so schools and about 3,000 classical homeschool co-ops. It has educated thousands of children in classical literature, taught them how to think logically, and shaped their souls to love goodness, beauty, and truth—the things of God.
It has also faced some resistance from those who think it looks elitist. It can seem as if only kids who are rich enough, white enough, and smart enough get to do classical education.
Sure enough, the recent news about Thomas Achord seems to affirm this. Achord is the former classical school headmaster from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who admitted last week that he was the anonymous person behind a Twitter account that featured many racist and anti-Semitic posts. He resigned two weeks ago amid the controversy that began to swirl around him.
Having visited over 50 classical Christian schools in my career, and knowing probably 100 classical school headmasters, I can assure you Achord is an outlier, and I hope the only one. His racist posts couldn’t be further from what classical education is about.
Instead, classical Christian education aims to give the best, most interesting, and most beautiful education possible to as many children as possible. It aims to teach the history of the entire world, not just a single state or country. It celebrates the heritage, literature, and contributions of all people, not just those of Americans.
Done right, classical education is not only incompatible with racism, it actively works against it.
African Americans and Classical Education
I’m honored to be the CEO of Classical Academic Press, which recently published The Black Intellectual Tradition: Reading Freedom in Classical Literature by two African American professors, Angel Adams Parham (University of Virginia) and Anika Prather (formerly at Howard University). Both know African American experience and history in the United States. Both know the classical Christian tradition (read TGC’s interview with them).
These professors have shown how traditional classical curriculum and education formed and equipped great African American leaders from Phillis Wheatley to Anna Julia Cooper to Frederick Douglass to W. E. B. Du Bois to Martin Luther King Jr.
Traditional classical curriculum and education formed and equipped great African American leaders from Phillis Wheatley to Martin Luther King Jr.
This is because the tradition of classical Christian education is at least 1,500 years old. For centuries, it has been the educational approach favored by the church and has blessed people of all kinds. Right now, there’s a resurgence among African Americans in embracing homeschooling (16 percent according to the 2020 census) and classical education as well.
Prather has started a classical school (The Living Water School) for African Americans (and everyone else) in Alexandria, Virginia. Parham has created a classical and Christian after-school program for minority students, called Nyansa Classical Community. The Spreading Hope Network, patterned after Hope Academy in Minneapolis, is starting classical Christian schools for minority communities in several cities.
There’s ample evidence historically and in our present time that classical Christian education is a human education.
International Classical Christian Education
Classical education isn’t just for Americans. The education renewal is also growing internationally.
Chinese Christians are recovering it—and at great cost, enduring persecution and oppression for doing so. The Rafiki Foundation has started 10 classical Christian schools in Africa—and hundreds, if not thousands, of existing African Christian schools are moving to adopt the classical Rafiki curriculum.
Those Christians don’t regard classical education as Western or elitist but rather as historical, traditional, and ecclesial. They note that one of the great progenitors of Christian classical education was Augustine, the fifth-century bishop from North Africa.
In fact, many Chinese Christians call it simply “the education of the church.”
Classical Education for Everyone
Is classical education elitist? Is it only for privileged, white, Western, smart people?
Classical Christian education is a human education for people of every nation, race, and tongue.
The answer is no. Classical Christian education is for all races, people, and languages. It seeks to shape all souls to love the things of God. It asks every student to aspire to excellence. It aims for every student to understand history, to read great books, to see the God-honoring beauty in math.
I believe, with those Chinese educators and with the other leaders I know in the renewal, that classical Christian education is the education of the church. It’s the formative curriculum and study of Scripture, the liberal arts, the natural sciences, and the great books of humanity. Its goal is the cultivation of wisdom, virtue, and holiness among all peoples.
And the more it does that, the less space there is for racism.