Classical Christian homeschooling refers to a movement in modern intellectual Christian families in which the public school system is rejected on several fronts; in response, the movement has developed a system of homeschooling that revolves around exploration of Christianity and usually other theologies as a major component of a classical trivium-based education.
There are two major issues underlying the push for classical Christian homeschooling: concern about educational quality and dissatisfaction with public religious education.
The first issue, a general concern about the educational quality available, is a general concern shared by most homeschooling families. The public school system in many areas is overcrowded and underfunded and provides very little specific guidance to the individual student, as the faculty is simply overrun with demands on their time. An additional concern expressed by many homeschooling families is the increasing move towards standardized testing as a means of evaluating performance with the advent of No Child Left Behind legislation.
The second issue is more unique. Public schooling usually adheres strictly to the concept of separation of church and state and for good reason. However, this philosophy creates some problems, the largest among them being that students have little way of learning about the wide variety of theologies and belief structures, and certainly have no way of exploring them in depth.
Classical Education / The Trivium
Classical education refers to the general practice of adopting the educational theory of the Greek and Roman empires and rejecting the more modern Prussian school of education. The difference between the two is this: the classical school has the end goal of producing a person who can think or reason; the Prussian school has the end goal of producing a good citizen who can perform specific tasks with efficiency for the betterment of society.
The core of classical education is the trivium. In essence, it means that the primary basis of the entire education of a student rests on three core topics: grammar, logic or dialectic, and rhetoric. Classical Christian homeschooling adopts these three topics as the center of the entire educational structure, balancing other subjects such as science, mathematics, literature, history, and so forth on top of them, and ensuring that religion remains a major part of this education.
A Summary of Curriculum
The curriculum of this model of education is heavily tailored to the individual student, but generally follows a sensible progression from grammar (i.e., basic skills and fundamental facts) to logic (i.e., methods of comprehending discussion) through to rhetoric (i.e., forming your own argument). In classical Christian homeschooling, bible study and, later, theological studies flow through the entire progression.
The grammar stage usually occurs from years five to ten, encompassing the "primary school" years of a child's life; many people will have already begun their children in this path much earlier, thus accelerating the ages here and to a degree those to follow (based on actual brain development). The primary function of education at this stage is to teach the "what is" aspect of understanding, rather than the why. This would include great deals of memorization, which is what the human brain is attuned to at this early stage in life. Memorization tasks include vocabulary words, basic arithmetic tables, grammar rules, basic facts of major historical events and scientific discoveries, and so forth.
Homeschooling families have the opportunity to focus exclusively on one student, helping them learn, so typical evaluation mechansims such as tests become less important. Evaluation of this rote memorization usually come from lots of games, in which the child is actually being tested on their knowledge without realizing it.
Logic and Dialectic
The logic and dialectic stage usually occurs from ages eleven to thirteen, encompassing the "middle school" years of a child's life. At this point, the child moves from strict fact memorization to reading longer passages with discussions on these passages. In classical Christian homeschooling, the Bible is usually read slowly over this three year period as a backbone for studies in a wide variety of areas. Quite often, it involves lengthy reading lists; during the logic stage, a child's love for books and learning is cultivated.
The rhetoric stage fills up the remainder of the educational studies of the student until they're able to move into higher learning in a university setting. The bible is often re-read during this stage, this time with a critical eye and a hand on the works of various apologetics and critics. A similar attempt is made in other subjects as well, often attempting to use contrasting perspectives on the same events or issues (for example, covering current events with books by both Ann Coulter and Molly Ivins; covering economics by reading Adam Smith, Milton Friedman, and John Maynard Keynes; studying politics with both Machiavelli and Marx). From this, the goal is to challenge the student to effectively argue on behalf of a particular perspective. Essay writing comes to the forefront here, as does debate and discussion. For intellectual parents, this is often a truly enjoyable period of time, as their child is coming into his or her own as a reasoning, complete human being.
What About A Social Life?
This is often a serious concern when children are homeschooled; without the proper socialization of the classroom, how will children make friends and develop social skills? Part of this is the responsibility of the homeschooling parent; teaching your child how to socialize by example is very important. Another important aspect is participation in events with other children, such as Sunday school and other church activities, sports, 4-H, and social gatherings with other families. When the student gets older, the student should be encouraged to participate in young adult activities, such as volunteer work.
As I move gradually towards having children and have considered what their educational future will hold in public schools, I share many of the concerns stated at the beginning of this essay. My evidence in sharing these concerns mostly revolves around my experiences in public schools in the 1980s and 1990s and, later, the adoption of No Child Left Behind policies.
My experience in public school is explained elsewhere; mostly, it revolved around teachers not knowing how to deal with the students who were significantly more advanced or less advanced than the average student. I was lucky to attend a small school where I was able to receive some individualized attention, but I fear that the same opportunities won't be available to my children.
It should be stated that I do not want to force my child to be a Christian. All I want in terms of religious education is that the child is strongly aware of the major theological structures in the world, is familiar with the text of at least the bible and the Qu'ran, and is aware of my personal belief structure. However, I feel that schools do not adequately educate children about the underlying basis of different belief structures, and that this is actually a serious detriment in terms of multicultural education, diversity, and understanding of different people and belief structures.
That stated, I am strongly considering adopting the methods and rationale described above to provide an education for my children.
There are countless resources available on classical Christian homeschooling. The best place to begin is at http://www.classical-homeschooling.org/, an extremely comprehensive website on the topic. The most essential written source on this general topic is The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise-Bauer, which is widely considered the essential book on classical homeschooling. She spends a chapter discussing religion's role in homeschooling and basically leaves it open to the reader on how to handle it, but offers some recommendations.