This is one of the best examples of classical education I’ve seen. It is often difficult to find descriptions to clarify classical education’s distinction and promise – this one does both. The quotation is a bit lengthy (so is my commentary) but it’s worth it.
In his excellent book about Christian classical education, co-author Ravi Scott Jain includes the following anecdote about his experience as a Christian classical teacher.
One of the authors, Ravi Scott Jain, has taught AP calculus BC and AP physics C for seven years… While success on the AP exams in an important part of the classes’ goal, the more distinctive achievement is their extensive reading in primary source materials. Though including material from the ancients like Plato and Aristotle, the focus has been on primary sources from 1600 to the early twentieth century. We read large portions of Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and Leibniz during their junior year and excerpts from Euler, Faraday, and Maxwell their senior year. For six years our class has culminated with a careful reading of Einstein’s 1905 manuscript “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” in which Einstein first proposes his theory of special relativity and a short follow-up paper in which he proves E=mc2. While we only read through section six, in good years, that is enough to retrace the proof of the covariance of Maxwell’s Equations under the Lorenz transformations. This approach allows for endless enrichment. A particularly capable class even endeavored to read Einstein’s 1916 work, “The Foundation of the General Theory of Relativity.” Though not ever expecting to understand his work on General Relativity in full, it was gratifying to see that students could at least grasp the problem Einstein posed and his suggested plan of solution… This could only be done because the students had been following the primary sources for two years along with their other normal AP textbook work. Recapitulating the narrative of discovery allowed them to grasp and pick up the conversation.
This is incredibly impressive. If you don’t understand how impressive, just start reading the easiest of Einstein’s papers here. Keep in mind while you do that only a quarter of college graduates have achieved the literacy necessary to read the sentences, let alone understand the content.
Proponents of classical education, myself included, often compare Christian classical education to the worst of progressive education, mostly because it is an easy target. Jain’s example shows how radically different a Christian classical education is from even the best progressive education. At the best public high schools many students take AP calculus and physics and many do well on their exams. Few, if any, know anything about the debate over nature of Calculus or have read Einstein’s arguments for why relativity is necessary, despite the success of Newtonian physics. They are trained to pass the test, not introduced to the history and import of the knowledge they are learning, certainly not by reading the original sources.
Jain also demonstrates a necessary part of Christian classical education: the unity of truth. All truth is from one source, God, and therefore is all connected. This interconnected nature of knowledge informs the way we teach different subjects and Jain’s class is a perfect example. He has not just taught calculus in his class, but has incorporated history, logic, physics, and a broader understanding of the natural world. The class would more accurately be called a natural philosophy class. This is exactly the reordering of teaching that Christian classical educators strive for.