What is classical education?

What is Classical Education?

St. Francis Classical Academy is an ecumenical Christian school, meaning that we enroll families from many denominations to participate in the work of classically educating their children. Our school is safe, our students laugh and are happy, we memorize the scriptures, and we sing and pray together. But, because we are a classical school, we are philosophically and ideologically different from any other Christian, public, or preparatory school in the Southeast. We’re different because classical education isn’t pragmatic. It’s not primarily about useful things. It’s about beautiful things. 

Our students read the classics and memorize scripture and poetry. They recite, sing, write, debate, and act. 3rd graders study ancient Greek and Roman art and literature, 6th graders read Shakespeare and Sophocles, 12th graders read Virgil in Latin, upper school students delve into theology, political philosophy, and economics and read Augustine, Smith, Plato, and Burke. 

Classical students graduate with the ability to answer questions like: What opera is best? Do you prefer the paintings of the renaissance or baroque period? Who is your favorite historian? They are taught to interpret all of their experiences and loves in light of their loves of the greatest things. 

Our final aim is not good test scores, though many students certainly achieve those. Our aim is to graduate able Christian citizens, linguists, philosophers, historians, political theorists, and theologians — free men and women who will go out to wage cosmic war on rulers, principalities, and the powers of darkness. 

If this kind of education appeals to you, we’d love for you to join us at St. Francis Classical. You can find an application on our website.

What kind of people will your children become?

What kind of people will your children become?

The father of a family who recently applied wrote the following in answer to an application question:

I desire to raise children who love their souls more than their bodies, who love others’s souls more than their own, who love and fear God and His divinely-appointed authorities, including and especially the generations of wise fathers in the City of God and City of Man who council them from the past. St. Francis will help me toward this end by feeding my children dead languages; feeding them dead men’s stories, philosophy, music, poetry, art, and more; for out of these dead things God brings new life to each generation.

Why Start a School?

Why Start a School?

The good school does not just offer what the student or the parent or the state desires, but it says something about what these three ought to desire. A school is fundamentally a normative, not a utilitarian, institution, governed by the wise, not by the many. It judges man as an end, not as a means; it cultivates the human spirit by presenting a complete vision of man as he lives and as he ought to live in all his domains – the individual, the social, and the religious. It teaches the student how to fulfill his obligations to himself, to his fellow man, and to God and His creation. Its understanding of man, therefore, is prescriptive – and its curriculum and organization allegorize the scope, the sequence, and the vision that all men must recognize and accept as fundamental if they hope to grow to their full human stature.

The need for a prescriptive understanding of man suggests that we make a retrospective beginning. The rebirth of the old is not incommensurate with the new. “For century after century, almost without interruption,” wrote Ortega y Gasset (1975), “whenever European culture needed an ideal, it always found it in the culture of Greece. Remember that what is innermost in a culture, most productive, the force that fashions it and drives everything else is a repertoire of longing, norms, of desiderata – in short, its ideal.”

During the Italian Renaissance, the rediscovery of Greece’s longings and norms, of its Ideal Type, was accompanied by vast social changes and brilliant new discoveries, as well as by a renewed sense of human worth and potential. Classical education refreshes itself at cisterns of learning dug long ago, drawing from springs too deep for taint the strength to turn our cultural retreat into advance.

– David Hicks, Norms and Nobility

Field Day Fridays

Field Day Fridays

One of the beautiful things about the university model at St. Francis Classical Academy is the time and flexibility afforded to families and children to learn, explore, and create. Because classes are held Monday through Thursday, families have the opportunity on Fridays to continue book-studies at home or to wander off in pursuit of other educational ends.

In the spirit of broad and beautiful education, the Tutors at St. Francis Classical will be offering once-a-month Field Day Fridays to any student enrolled in at least one class. Attendance at Field Day Fridays is entirely optional. Activities will be announced ahead of time and may include lessons and hands-on experience with the following:

Bread Baking
Horseback Riding
Auto Repair and Maintenance
Animal Husbandry
Pasture Management
Wood Splitting
Knot Tying
Seine and Cast Net Fishing

There’s leadership and then there’s…

There’s leadership and then there’s…

I do not place much stock in the idea of leadership as it is represented by books about leadership and by modern leadership training and coaching. As long as leadership means acquiring or maintaining power in an attempt to “win” or “execute” or  bring about some form of prosperity, success, teamsmanship, financial viability, diversity, or any of the other ends of the secular corporate and political sphere, I’m not interested. I do not adhere  to the popular modern conception of leadership that elevates it to the level of the virtues. 

Leadership is not a virtue in a classical or Christian sense. As Joshua Gibbs points out: this is an easy distinction to make if we ask ourselves the question: Do we want our enemies to have it? Do we want them to read and make use of books with titles like, “How to Lead People Through Change in 4 Simple Steps?” The answer is a resounding, “no.” I don’t want my enemies to have the corporate virtues of team building, success, or winningness. Instead, I want my enemies to have faith, hope, love, wisdom, justice, courage, and temperance. If they had these virtues, we might not be enemies. 

If leadership is not a true virtue, if it is simply another name for power or authority, a “philosophy of leadership” might also be thought of as a “philosophy of authority” or, a “perspective on the ends that authority serves.” 

Such a perspective follows:

Authority flows in a sort of successional or hierarchical line. Movement originates with the Prime Mover, and authority originates with the Ideal Type who is Christ. Lesser authorities are types of His Ideal Type. Paul is all about this hierarchy and refers to it in 1 Corinthians when he tells the church to imitate him as he imitates Christ. In the Gospels, the centurion with faith greater than anyone in Israel is praised because he recognizes this flow of authority, and because he recognizes Christ’s place and his place in the cosmic hierarchy. 

As a side note, this understanding of authority explains precisely why the power acquired by a despot or a tyrant through a coup d’etat is so destructive. His power attempts to disrupt God’s hierarchical design for authority and dehumanizes those over whom he is lord. He denies the image of God in man by denying the Ideal Type in Christ. 

Anyone claiming authority apart from Christlikeness is a cheap hack. Both Herod and Christ were powerful, but one of them wielded secular power, and one of them, sacred power. Herod was undoubtedly a leader, but his leadership came to nothing because he was a fool, despite all of his political prowess and charisma. 

Because the image of Christ tyrannizes lesser authorities, and lesser authorities must imitate Him, we can know this about authority: Good men of authority do what Christ does. They exhibit the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. The man vested with authority ought to imitate the one to whom all authority has been given. He dies for his people, slays dragons for his people, gives rest to his people, commands his people, feeds his people, heals his people. He upholds justice, condemns the wicked, fights oppressors, and heals the brokenhearted. 

– Bobby McGee
(Originally composed Dec 4, 2020)

Q & A

I recently had the pleasure of formally answering questions posed by a group of men intimately involved with classical Christian education. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be publishing my responses to their questions.


Express your thoughts on the essay, The Lost Tools of Learning and the book, Norms and Nobility.


The Lost Tools of Learning

I share Sayers’ concerns about the sad state of modern thought and education. It is apparent that the modern approach to education is insufficient to create careful thinkers, debaters, and citizens. If education is simply the transfer of information from subdivided subjects in forgettable lessons, the capacity to reason deeply is sure to disappear. 

I also share Sayers’ hopes that returning to the medieval Trivium can help to revive our educational efforts. Her little essay has been extraordinarily helpful in identifying a weakness of the modern system of education and in offering an alternative. However, logical ineptitude is not the only ailment from which we suffer, and there is significant danger in imagining that Sayers’ essay is something that it is not. Her essay is brief, introductory, and pragmatic. If one were to approach it instead as a complete or holistic treatise on education, one would find her trivium methods just as unsatisfactory as more modern methods in this respect: they do not address the educational issue of rightly ordered affections. She does not address the question of whether virtue can or should be taught. 

This, of course, does not make her essay useless, but it does significantly limit its usefulness as a tool for crafting a classical institution. In this essay she is more interested in “method” than in “content,” but classical education ought to teach men, not only how to think, but what to think. The classical academy will always be engaged in the work of teaching students what is beautiful and true and good. 

Norms and Nobility

I find Hicks’ Norms and Nobility inspiring, and intend to continue pursuing the same kind of historic classical education of which he gives readers a glimpse. 

Everything he has to say about academic rigor, discipline, virtue, curriculum choices, teachers, and administrators coheres beautifully in his expansive conception of classical education. The kind of education he espouses seeks the theoretic or contemplative life which teaches students to “contemplate the divine reality” and the “Supreme Good underlying it.” It is the way of ascension, sanctification, and perfection. Students on this path “strive to enter through the narrow door” by imitating their teachers, as they imitate the great men who came before them, as they imitate Christ. He proposes a classical education that is “grounded on a dialectic between pagan humanism and Christianity,” and this is the kind of education I want for my children. 

Educators ought to strive to be what Hicks describes. We ought to grow in our desire for rigorous intellectualism for our students. We ought to refuse to be boiled in the water of “child-centered learning” or “childhood as a state of being,” but must cling tightly to the idea of childhood as a state of “becoming.” We ought to want to form adults and “teach the knowledge of a mature mind.” We ought “to discipline the unruly and discursive mind, adjusting its disorderliness through rigorous study to the order of logical processes found outside it in the subject matter.” We ought to 

“[…] think continually of those who were truly great. 
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history 
Through corridors of light where the hours are suns,
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition 
Was that their lips, still touched with fire, 
Should tell of the spirit clothed from head to foot in song.”
-Stephen Spender

We ought to aim to cultivate the health and goodness of human souls and love for the good things which last.

– Bobby McGee