Still more vindication of classical education

You know all of that research into “learning styles,” whether a child is a visual learner or an auditory learner or whatever?  Well, we are finding that, while there is an element of truth to it, attending to such things does not seem to matter much in children actually learning more.  The key factor in learning is grasping meaning, a concept that evades any of these sensory approaches.  (While cultivation of meaning is what classical education is all about.)

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Ryan

    I appreciate the latest article relating to classical education. May I ask how you translate a Classical style to the more casual settings especially relating to Church such as Sunday School, Adult Bible Study, and Confirmation? (I realize Confirmation is not strictly casual, but I am speaking to outside the regular school house doors)

  • Ryan

    I appreciate the latest article relating to classical education. May I ask how you translate a Classical style to the more casual settings especially relating to Church such as Sunday School, Adult Bible Study, and Confirmation? (I realize Confirmation is not strictly casual, but I am speaking to outside the regular school house doors)

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Catechesis! Study the structure, form, and method of the catechism (which was formulated around classical education theory) and apply it on different levels. The catechism is not just a text to memorize (though it is that too). It consists of solid material, then solid questions that lead to solid answers. Catechesis helps the catechized answer the question “What does this mean?”

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Catechesis! Study the structure, form, and method of the catechism (which was formulated around classical education theory) and apply it on different levels. The catechism is not just a text to memorize (though it is that too). It consists of solid material, then solid questions that lead to solid answers. Catechesis helps the catechized answer the question “What does this mean?”

  • fw

    Dr Veith! Excellent.

    The format , when used properly, is not merely wrote learning of dry facts and factoids. “What does this mean” has real power if youth and adults catechised are asked this question in a truly socratic way.

    We learn by making things our own. We know we truly understand when we can express those things in our own words.

    We know we have it right when we come to realize that we still can return to the same text and draw new meaning or new ways to draw meaning from our life and experience using the text.

    The problem is not with the catechism. It is with lazy pastors and teachers who would rather rely mostly on audio/visual aids (excellent as those also are, after all it also helps to engage ALL the senses possible to learn).

    If there is one fault perhaps of those who use the catechism, is that we haven´t gotten good at harnessing audio/visual aids always in a classical manner.

    So the question then is…am I right that this is desirable and somewhat missing from Lutheran culture? and if so, what could be done about it and what form(s) would that take?

  • fw

    Dr Veith! Excellent.

    The format , when used properly, is not merely wrote learning of dry facts and factoids. “What does this mean” has real power if youth and adults catechised are asked this question in a truly socratic way.

    We learn by making things our own. We know we truly understand when we can express those things in our own words.

    We know we have it right when we come to realize that we still can return to the same text and draw new meaning or new ways to draw meaning from our life and experience using the text.

    The problem is not with the catechism. It is with lazy pastors and teachers who would rather rely mostly on audio/visual aids (excellent as those also are, after all it also helps to engage ALL the senses possible to learn).

    If there is one fault perhaps of those who use the catechism, is that we haven´t gotten good at harnessing audio/visual aids always in a classical manner.

    So the question then is…am I right that this is desirable and somewhat missing from Lutheran culture? and if so, what could be done about it and what form(s) would that take?

  • Ryan

    Well, wait a second. I understand the use of the Small Catechism as a base, and that we truly don’t out grow it. No argument there.

    I’m talking about doing the regular Bible Class, how does a classical style look when grappling with a book of the Bible. And lets not forget the Small Catechism usually comes with an Enchidron… lets talk about angels, defense of the Trinity, discussing under the first commandment or first article issues of Evolution vs. Creation. Certainly there must be some resources to educate me, a pastor… in ways of using a classical model in the Church classroom.

    Oh and audio/visual aids are not as simple/lazy as it may sound. I’m currently teaching Revelation and using various works of aert (Durer and others) in power point along with the text. And as I feared developing powerpoint (actually Keynote … Go Mac) presentations on your own takes lots of time.

    Plus, isn’t audio/visual part of the classical package? Cranach’s Altar piece for one has been a useful in discussion for Confirmation as well as introducing the students to good Lutheran hymnody.

  • Ryan

    Well, wait a second. I understand the use of the Small Catechism as a base, and that we truly don’t out grow it. No argument there.

    I’m talking about doing the regular Bible Class, how does a classical style look when grappling with a book of the Bible. And lets not forget the Small Catechism usually comes with an Enchidron… lets talk about angels, defense of the Trinity, discussing under the first commandment or first article issues of Evolution vs. Creation. Certainly there must be some resources to educate me, a pastor… in ways of using a classical model in the Church classroom.

    Oh and audio/visual aids are not as simple/lazy as it may sound. I’m currently teaching Revelation and using various works of aert (Durer and others) in power point along with the text. And as I feared developing powerpoint (actually Keynote … Go Mac) presentations on your own takes lots of time.

    Plus, isn’t audio/visual part of the classical package? Cranach’s Altar piece for one has been a useful in discussion for Confirmation as well as introducing the students to good Lutheran hymnody.

  • http://www.pagantolutheran.blogspot.com Bruce

    Classical ed is neutral on A/V. It can be of use, and in some cases (e.g. the history of Art) is necessary, but it generally isn’t essential.
    As to how to apply Classical ed format to Bible class: a true Classical ed Bible class would be teaching the original languages. I’m sure you aren’t going there with your adult Bible study.
    The rub here is that you are talking about adult Bible class. But if your adults haven’t done the grammar level of studying their Bibles, i.e. reading all the way through it, knowing the Bible stories, having a grasp of what each book of the Bible is relating and how it is relating it–then it is not possible–classically speaking–to move on to what most of your adults will expect: dealing with the Bible on a logic and rhetoric level.
    Progressive ed tends to turn the process on its head: encouraging rhetorical activities (e.g.”values clarification” ) before mastery of the grammatical level of the subject. Only after repeated failure do students in a progressive system go back to the grammar level to complete their education.
    So I guess you have to ask yourself: where are your adults in terms of their Biblical familiarity?

  • http://www.pagantolutheran.blogspot.com Bruce

    Classical ed is neutral on A/V. It can be of use, and in some cases (e.g. the history of Art) is necessary, but it generally isn’t essential.
    As to how to apply Classical ed format to Bible class: a true Classical ed Bible class would be teaching the original languages. I’m sure you aren’t going there with your adult Bible study.
    The rub here is that you are talking about adult Bible class. But if your adults haven’t done the grammar level of studying their Bibles, i.e. reading all the way through it, knowing the Bible stories, having a grasp of what each book of the Bible is relating and how it is relating it–then it is not possible–classically speaking–to move on to what most of your adults will expect: dealing with the Bible on a logic and rhetoric level.
    Progressive ed tends to turn the process on its head: encouraging rhetorical activities (e.g.”values clarification” ) before mastery of the grammatical level of the subject. Only after repeated failure do students in a progressive system go back to the grammar level to complete their education.
    So I guess you have to ask yourself: where are your adults in terms of their Biblical familiarity?

  • Ryan

    Thank you Bruce for your comments. Ah, there is the rub. So then how do we engage a culture that is ignorant of the Bible?

    In almost every Adult Instruction Class (the Church Membership kind), I have had adults who have never heard the Gospel so that I have to define everything, explain everything. The Small Catechism has been a great help.

    Difficult then is the fact that whether confirmation, Sunday School, or Adult Bible Class I engage with willing (mostly) learners who are a very different levels in their Biblical Familiarity. Preaching too encounters this.

    How then would one work on both building the Grammar stage, as it were, in Biblical Literacy while still engaging the adults on the desired rhetorical stage.

    Hmmm… thinking out loud, this would include constant reemphasis of the Catechism, Yearly set readings of Scripture. (Ala’ the One year Lectionary), and perhaps more topical study over against book by book study of Scripture.

  • Ryan

    Thank you Bruce for your comments. Ah, there is the rub. So then how do we engage a culture that is ignorant of the Bible?

    In almost every Adult Instruction Class (the Church Membership kind), I have had adults who have never heard the Gospel so that I have to define everything, explain everything. The Small Catechism has been a great help.

    Difficult then is the fact that whether confirmation, Sunday School, or Adult Bible Class I engage with willing (mostly) learners who are a very different levels in their Biblical Familiarity. Preaching too encounters this.

    How then would one work on both building the Grammar stage, as it were, in Biblical Literacy while still engaging the adults on the desired rhetorical stage.

    Hmmm… thinking out loud, this would include constant reemphasis of the Catechism, Yearly set readings of Scripture. (Ala’ the One year Lectionary), and perhaps more topical study over against book by book study of Scripture.

  • http://www.pagantolutheran.blogspot.com Bruce

    Yeah, it’s tough. My family and I attended a certain church a few years ago. The pastor was thrilled to have us there: we read our lectionary readings ahead of time, had family devotions at home, taught our kids classically at home, and our oldest son was a Classics major at the local university. This pastor wrote and delivered the best law and gospel sermons I’ve ever consistently heard. He would toss in allusions to books we had discussed, movies we’d seen and enjoyed. He would prick us with the law, and always the gospel was preached refreshingly and fully.
    The time came, however, when I became aware that many in this small church were not understanding the sermons! There were complaints that he was “too intellectual”. The young pastor and I both realized that he was preaching to a few at the expense of the many. It was a painful lesson. For my family, it meant the realization that we pretty much had to settle for sermon content with lots of sports metaphors and shallow messages. Ironically, we noticed that this also coincided with andend to the Law/Gospel sermons. I think this is because the kind of metaphors the pastor now had access to were not helpful or didn’t lead to convincing messages. This shouldn’t have to happen, but it does.

    Anyway, my point: You can only do what your parishioners will allow you to do. You only have so many bullets, so to speak. While it is always necessary to find a way to challenge your people, you also have to know just how far you can go with them. Pastoral Ministry 101, eh?

  • http://www.pagantolutheran.blogspot.com Bruce

    Yeah, it’s tough. My family and I attended a certain church a few years ago. The pastor was thrilled to have us there: we read our lectionary readings ahead of time, had family devotions at home, taught our kids classically at home, and our oldest son was a Classics major at the local university. This pastor wrote and delivered the best law and gospel sermons I’ve ever consistently heard. He would toss in allusions to books we had discussed, movies we’d seen and enjoyed. He would prick us with the law, and always the gospel was preached refreshingly and fully.
    The time came, however, when I became aware that many in this small church were not understanding the sermons! There were complaints that he was “too intellectual”. The young pastor and I both realized that he was preaching to a few at the expense of the many. It was a painful lesson. For my family, it meant the realization that we pretty much had to settle for sermon content with lots of sports metaphors and shallow messages. Ironically, we noticed that this also coincided with andend to the Law/Gospel sermons. I think this is because the kind of metaphors the pastor now had access to were not helpful or didn’t lead to convincing messages. This shouldn’t have to happen, but it does.

    Anyway, my point: You can only do what your parishioners will allow you to do. You only have so many bullets, so to speak. While it is always necessary to find a way to challenge your people, you also have to know just how far you can go with them. Pastoral Ministry 101, eh?

  • Ryan

    Your comments Bruce are most certainly true. Still in the challenge is the fun! To see the light bulbs come on in people’s heads is the great joy of teaching.

  • Ryan

    Your comments Bruce are most certainly true. Still in the challenge is the fun! To see the light bulbs come on in people’s heads is the great joy of teaching.

  • Joe

    Ryan

    My Pastor set out on a long trek three years ago. During one of the very first adult Bible studies after he accepted the call to our congregation he announced that, since he had no idea of our base of knowledge and since it most likely varied, he was starting with the basics. In the last three years time we have covered the small catechism, a detailed study of why we use the liturgy and why the parts of the liturgy are what they are, how to tell a “good” hymn from a “bad” hymn, the book of Genesis and the first half of Exodus. This got us all on the same page with the basics and Pastor has added additional evening bible studies focused on the Pastoral letters, and currently, on the characteristics of the early church beginning with the descriptions we have of it in Acts.

    I cannot tell you how great it was to go through the Small Catechism again. It was terrific! I recommend every Pastor do it every couple of years. Your congregants will be better for it.

  • Joe

    Ryan

    My Pastor set out on a long trek three years ago. During one of the very first adult Bible studies after he accepted the call to our congregation he announced that, since he had no idea of our base of knowledge and since it most likely varied, he was starting with the basics. In the last three years time we have covered the small catechism, a detailed study of why we use the liturgy and why the parts of the liturgy are what they are, how to tell a “good” hymn from a “bad” hymn, the book of Genesis and the first half of Exodus. This got us all on the same page with the basics and Pastor has added additional evening bible studies focused on the Pastoral letters, and currently, on the characteristics of the early church beginning with the descriptions we have of it in Acts.

    I cannot tell you how great it was to go through the Small Catechism again. It was terrific! I recommend every Pastor do it every couple of years. Your congregants will be better for it.

  • http://www.meanderinglutheran.blogspot.com Ryan Oakes

    I certainly agree with Joe! That’s what we are doing at our church right now. We have a great mixture of people that have professional degrees and some only their High School Diploma. But in general most of them have no classical influence. So the Senior Pastor and I decided that we needed to return to the basics of the Christian faith using the Catechism. I am preaching on the Ten Commandments on Sundays. He is preaching on the Lord’s Prayer at the midweek service. I am also discussing the parts of the Creed in our newsletter. The structure is slightly shifted but we will be evaluating the series after Easter. So far the comments have been great!

  • http://www.meanderinglutheran.blogspot.com Ryan Oakes

    I certainly agree with Joe! That’s what we are doing at our church right now. We have a great mixture of people that have professional degrees and some only their High School Diploma. But in general most of them have no classical influence. So the Senior Pastor and I decided that we needed to return to the basics of the Christian faith using the Catechism. I am preaching on the Ten Commandments on Sundays. He is preaching on the Lord’s Prayer at the midweek service. I am also discussing the parts of the Creed in our newsletter. The structure is slightly shifted but we will be evaluating the series after Easter. So far the comments have been great!

  • Richard Wohlers

    Dr. Veith, I am compiling a bibliography of monographs and journal articles pertaining to “Classical Education.”
    Do you or others visiting your blog have favorites, cherished ones, most helpful/insightful ones, as regards either monographs our journal articles treating the topic of classical education. Thanks for your forbearance and patience!!!!

  • Richard Wohlers

    Dr. Veith, I am compiling a bibliography of monographs and journal articles pertaining to “Classical Education.”
    Do you or others visiting your blog have favorites, cherished ones, most helpful/insightful ones, as regards either monographs our journal articles treating the topic of classical education. Thanks for your forbearance and patience!!!!

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