What is a Classical Education?
The Memoria Press Online Academy (MPOA) is a classical Christian school, and its goal is to produce wise and virtuous students who know both how to think well and how to live well in the world. Historically, a classical Christian education accomplished this goal through the inculcation of skills and the cultivation of knowledge. While students acquire skills through the liberal arts, they gain knowledge through the sciences. The liberal arts and the sciences represent two distinct but inseparable domains of human experience, and both are necessary for a classical Christian education.
The Liberal Arts
However, these two domains have taken on a life of the own in recent years, so they require further definition. First, the word “art” is unclear. Today the word refers to the products of artists (i.e., artwork) or the activities that artists perform with brush or chisel. However, “art” can have another less common meaning, as in the phrase “the art of conversation.” In this phrase, the word refers to a skill or a technique acquired through practice, and it recalls the original Latin term ars, which means “skill” or “craft.” Therefore, in education the liberal arts encompass two practiced sets of skills: language skills (grammar, logic, rhetoric) and mathematical skills (arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy). These skills are commonly known as the “trivium” and the “quadrivium.”
Second, while the word “science” is typically used in reference to the hard sciences like biology or chemistry, the word comes from the Latin scientia, which refers to knowledge more broadly. And historically a classical education focused on three bodies of knowledge: the human sciences (literature, history, philosophy), the natural sciences (biology, chemistry, physics), and the theological sciences (dogmatic, ethics, apologetics).
These two domains of human experience, one practical and the other theoretical, advance the other. While the liberal arts constitute the practical skills required to grow in knowledge, a greater understanding of the sciences allows students to perform the liberal arts with greater proficiency. However, both the arts and the sciences exist to cultivate wisdom and virtue in the lives of students. They are included in a classical education so that students will understand how to think well and how to live well in the world.