Philosophy, Distinctives, and Methods
At Providence Prep, we are committed to the Christian classical liberal arts—history, literature, language, and composition—disciplines that will immerse the student in the great books and ideas which comprise the pageant of Western civilization. The study of the classical liberal arts sets a proper course for a lifetime pursuit of wisdom by teaching the student to think, to love learning, and to passionately desire truth, beauty, and virtue.
Christian Classical Liberal Arts
Christian classical education must be established firmly on the centrality of the gospel of Jesus Christ as it is revealed in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Education that is distinctly Christian begins with the conviction that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10). We subscribe to the historic creeds and confessions of the traditional Protestant church. On doctrinal matters, we hold to the principle, “In essentials, unity, in non-essentials, liberty, and in all things, charity.”
Christian Classical Liberal Arts
The classical model of education is rooted in the pedagogy of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Paideia is the Greek word which we translate education. In Climbing Parnassus, Tracy Lee Simmons argues that this word is better translated enculturation. He says, “Paideia was about instilling core values, enunciating standards, and setting moral precepts.” Thus, the classical Greek view of education meant something much more than our typical understanding of the word; it referred to the training of the whole man—mind, soul, and heart—to fit him for his place in his culture and society.
Our aim as Christians in training our children—mind, soul, and heart—is to fit them for their place in the Kingdom, which in turn will fit them to lead and shape their culture and society. This philosophy of education, rooted in the classical pedagogy of the ancient Greeks and Romans, has been embraced by western Christians for the past two millennia, has been instrumental in bringing about the great flowering of Western civilization, and has produced many of the best theologians, thinkers, authors, and statesmen, including the apostle Paul, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and C.S. Lewis.
Christian Classical Liberal Arts
The word liberal is derived from the Latin word for free. The liberal arts in the ancient world were those disciplines considered essential for the education of a freeborn person. These disciplines were further developed and divided into the trivium and the quadrivium during the Middle Ages. The culture which resulted from this classical tradition ushered in a society that achieved individual freedoms which, though imperfect and far from universal, were unprecedented in the history of the world. Without the classical liberal arts tradition of the West, there could have been no Magna Charta, no Mayflower Compact, and no Constitution of the United States.
This, then, has been the prevailing method of education in the West over the past two millenia. Yet, during the twentieth century, education in the United States, and in much of the West, shifted away from the classical liberal arts tradition. Dr. Gene Edward Veith, provost of Patrick Henry College, contrasts classical education with the utilitarian model of education which is so prevalent today:
The (American) founders emphasized the value of a “liberal” education—from the Latin word meaning “freedom”. Free citizens of the Roman Republic were trained to develop their mental faculties to the fullest, through the trivium and quadrivium of the so-called “liberal arts.” Slaves were given only a vocational training, taught not to think for themselves but only to serve the economy; in other words, the kind of education being demanded by many Americans today, the curriculum of slavery. ~ World Magazine, September 19, 1998 (emphasis ours)
A classical liberal arts education frees the mind to think, to discern, and to reason. It trains young people not to be swayed by every popular new idea that comes along or to remain in intellectual subjugation to the powers that be. The church, the culture, and the nation are in great need of such citizens.
There is much more we could say about the philosophy and practices of classical education and the myriad ways in which it is superior to the prevailing educational practices of our day, but time and space do not permit us to do so here. We heartily recommend that you begin to read through the articles listed on the Parent Resources page in order to understand the overarching vision of our commitment to the Christian classical liberal arts.
Above all, our aim is that all we do and say at Providence Prep will point students and teachers alike to the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Our aim is to come alongside home educating families who wish to provide a rigorous classical liberal arts education for their students, but who need help making it a reality. We have pulled together some outstanding resources, and gathered a group of experienced home educating teachers who have a passion for encouraging students to develop a love of learning. As a true co-operative endeavor, our teaching positions are staffed by home educating parents who are eager to learn alongside their students, modeling a lifelong love of learning. We strive to equip home educating parents to teach and mentor students in our classrooms using classical methodology.
Students will be equipped with useful skills which make learning a joy instead of a burden. Our content is family-centered, so that everyone in the family is studying the same general time period. The materials we choose are user-friendly for students and teachers at home, and our weekly class meetings are geared to give students opportunity for discussion and recitation, as well as accountability to keep progressing through the subject matter.
Our methods at Providence Prep will be organized around the classical trivium— literally three ways—which was developed in the Middle Ages, focused on learning to understand and use language. The three parts of the trivium were grammar, dialectic (or logic), and rhetoric. The grammar of a language has to do with its structure, vocabulary, and rules, as well as the conventions governing usage. Logic is primarily concerned with learning to think and reason in that language, and rhetoric teaches a student to communicate using the language in a persuasive and winsome way. As Dorothy Sayers points out in her helpful essay The Lost Tools of Learning, the trivium is “by its nature not learning, but a preparation for learning.”
This idea of the trivium stands in opposition to the modern paradigm of education with students bombarded with a large number of unrelated subjects without any apparent connection. As we focus on just the few core disciplines of the liberal arts, our aim is to give students the content and the tools to make those vital connections between language, literature, and history, and to do so in a way that is age-appropriate.
At Providence Prep, academic rigor is provided chiefly by the content of the courses, rather than relying on tests and assessments. We provide the positive benefits of classroom interaction, group projects, and student recitation. We will also provide assignment checklists and complete course syllabi in order to free parents from the need to plan and prepare for each subject. We differ from many other co-ops in that we are more tutorial in nature, and as a general rule will not provide grades or assessments of student work; instead, we provide parents at home the resources to check homework, give tests and other assessments if desired, and mentor their students in composition. In the high school classes, there are a few exceptions to this; please see Class Descriptions for details. Because of this, it is necessary that students be motivated to complete their work and come to class prepared. Many students will be very motivated by classroom teacher expectations, commitment to an effective classroom ethos, and even the positive peer pressure of the presence of other students. However, we do recognize that not all students have this kind of internal motivation, and in that case, we do request that they be externally motivated by parent expectations and requirements.
For each of the levels below, the methods and practices listed are described in much more detail in the articles and books linked on the Parent Resource page.
Primer and Grammar School
In the elementary years, children are masters of memory; they love to learn and recite of all kinds of things—facts, stories, poems, lists. So memorization, and its counterpart, recitation are key methods for this level. Students work on memorizing a timeline of history—people, places, and events. Other memory work includes Scripture memory, poetry, and speeches.
Literature selections are chosen in order to help fill to our children’s minds and imaginations with a “storehouse” of stories. Narration and copywork enhance reading comprehension using models drawn from Scripture, classic children’s literature and poetry, fables, historical stories, and fairy tales. Composition focuses on imitation of models from the same kinds of sources, and English grammar will be taught in a natural and comprehensive manner using these models. Geography is addressed in context with history and literature. Observation and classification skills are developed using methods developed by nineteenth century educator Charlotte Mason, including picture study and nature study. Latin studies focus on memorization of vocabulary, chanting of paradigms, and systematic study of grammar concepts, as well as some translation and integration with English grammar.
As students begin to transition from the primary grades into high school, many of the methods used in the primary grades continue to be appropriate—narration, memory work, geography in context with history, and English grammar and composition skills based on imitation of models from literature and history. In addition, junior high students are given tools to strengthen analysis skills in the content areas of history and literature, and to hone communication skills, both oral and written. Classroom discussion becomes more central. One main aim for this level is to prepare students to study the great books of the Western tradition as they move into high school. Another aim is to encourage students to begin to follow the development of the “City of God” along with the “City of Man” as they consider the flow of history, and to look for the sovereign hand of God in each and every event. Latin studies will also tend toward the analytical at this level, as we help students organize the grammar knowledge they are gleaning. We also dig into derivatives as students are gaining the skills and knowledge to understand the connections Latin, literature, and history have with our own English language. Translation and reading comprehension are emphasized.
Analytical skills continue to be developed, along with memory work, geography in context with literature and history, Latin grammar and translation, and English grammar and composition based on analysis and imitation of models from literature and history. Assignments and classroom discussion are crafted to help students begin to interact with some of the ideas and great books that have shaped Western civilization. The aim of this kind of interaction is to prepare students to take their own place in this Great Conversation which has been ongoing for two thousand years. Students are not reading these important works with the expectation of mastery of a particular work, or with the intention of giving them an exhaustive introduction to all of the best works of Western literature, if it were even possible to come to a consensus about every book to be included in such a pursuit. Instead, we are aiming for four things: First, we want to help students see that “classics” have endured precisely because they are readable, understandable, and yes, enjoyable. Second, we want students to gain familiarity with representative works from each major period of history. Third, along with C.S. Lewis, we want to help students avoid the chronological snobbery of thinking that modern culture and thought is far superior to earlier civilization, and fail to see the common frailties and glories shared by mankind through the ages. Finally, we earnestly desire to whet the students’ appetites for the pursuit of lifelong learning.
In all of these areas, we want to challenge and students to winsomely and persuasively defend the traditions of the Western Civilization, and ultimately, the gospel that has animated those traditions. This final aim is summed up in the inspiring charge from Arthur Quiller-Couch, the great classical scholar, editor of the Oxford Book of English Verse, and mentor of C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, and J.R.R. Tolkien:
“You are the heirs of a remarkable legacy—a legacy that has passed into your hands after no little tumult and travail; a legacy that is the happy result of sacrificial human relations, no less than of stupendous human achievements; a legacy that demands of you a lifetime of vigilance and diligence so that you may in turn pass the fruits of Christian civilization on to succeeding generations. This is the essence of the biblical view, the covenantal view, and the classical view of education. This is the great legacy of truth of which you are now the chief beneficiaries. And this is the great legacy of truth which you are now called upon to bequest to the world.”