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Education | 4 Minutes

From Earth to Sky: Moving to Online Classical Christian Education - Part 1

Tom Garfield Written by Tom Garfield
From Earth to Sky: Moving to Online Classical Christian Education - Part 1

One phrase older Christians learn not to say is, “I will never do X work! That’s just not something I can see myself doing.” The Father seems to find it amusing to hear us say things like that since He then frequently leads us directly into doing X work. And, even stranger, we find ourselves loving the work of doing X!

My ‘X’ was that I would never teach online classes. It just wasn’t something I could see myself doing. To be fair, after 36 years of teaching in a ‘bricks and mortar’ classical school, I don’t think I was being presumptuous in my expectations. Yet, here I am in 2021 with three years of teaching online under my belt and, yes, loving it! But, I have to admit I had to overcome some biases. That, plus learning to manage the tech taught me to appreciate the benefits and community found in online classical education. I hope describing my experience might bless and inform others in the classical Christian realm.

As yet another example of how God likes to use the least qualified people to accomplish His purposes, in 1981 I found myself helping to start Logos School in Moscow, Idaho. Instead of teaching art at the secondary level in some public school (my original plan), I wound up serving as the Logos School superintendent for 35 years (where I also taught history and art). Logos served as Doug Wilson’s primary example of the value and purpose of classical and Christian education in his book, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning (1991). The book made quite a national splash, resulting in, among other things, the formation of the Association of Classical, Christian Schools (ACCS) in 1993. Marlin and Laurie Detweiler came to the first ACCS Conference at Logos where Marlin became one of the four founding board members of ACCS.

Marlin and I became friends while we both served on the national board for over twenty years. I was impressed by Marlin and Laurie’s entrepreneurial ideas and work, based on biblical convictions as they helped form two classical schools, start Veritas Press and finally Veritas Scholars Academy (VSA), an online classical, Christian school which grew in size and scope rapidly.

Shortly after retiring from Logos in 2017, I was contacted by Dr. Bob Cannon, the Headmaster VSA, and offered the position of Dean of Academics. What made this offer even more attractive was that I would get to teach several art studios, too. But, true confession time, I had to overcome my unexamined bias: How could virtual be even a close second compared to the quality of teaching in physical classes? Even more, how could a ‘true’ classical education be done online? For years I had this mental picture of sad, pale and socially odd kids sitting in a dark basement or a cluttered bedroom, staring at the cold glow of a computer screen all their waking hours their lives being similar to the crippled woman in Wyeth’s Christina’s World.

So, can the critical elements of a classical, Christian education be presented through a computer? Before I answer that question and reveal what I discovered, here is a short list of those elements:

1. Pedagogy (ways we teach) - consciously and effectively use teaching methods that take advantage of the characteristics/frames of the students;

2. Understand the historical value and purpose of the Trivium (Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric), and make curricular choices that articulate the benefits of those levels;

3. Identify and use historically significant, primary documents and languages (e.g. Greek and Latin), many of them from the classical period of the Western world;

4. Ground and integrate all instruction and content in the truth of Scripture, clearly acknowledging Christ as Lord of all;

5. Implement the key essentials and absolute nature of truth, goodness and beauty.

Back to the million-dollar question: can all that really be done on a computer? Well, yes it can, is the short answer! But how does it work? In the next post, I will share some practical examples from each stage (Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric) of a student’s development.