Classical Christian Education and Doug Wilson

One of the largest and best-known movements within Christian education is Classical Christian Education (CCE). CCE is popular with both private schools and homeschoolers. There are several publishing houses that produce CCE curricula, whole networks of CCE schools, and a number of CCE programs available for interested parents.

As a homeschooler, I have many friends who use CCE materials or programs. I also have a number of friends whose children attend CCE schools. So while I do not use CCE myself, I have had a good bit of exposure to the programs. Personally, I prefer other educational models, and generally, I take a “live-and-let-live” approach to educational choices. However, after doing some research into Christian Classical Education, I find it necessary to say something.

What concerns me the most about CCE is not a difference of educational model. Many educators, schools, and parents favor a “classics” approach to education. They generally teach Latin and Greek. They probably read Cicero, Virgil, and Plato. They may have a list of “great books” that they believe the well-educated student should read.

While Christian Classical Education includes all of these aspects, my argument is not about these things. My concern is that CCE as a movement has very close ties to Doug Wilson and has been and continues to be influenced by him and his views. Because of his connections to the movement and because of his influence over what is taught, my concern is that CCE is not a good option for parents and educators, especially those in Reformed denominations.

In 1947, Dorothy Sayers wrote an essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning,” in which she lamented the state of education and proposed some changes that she thought would improve the future. The heart of the essay is her recommendations which are based on a combination of the Medieval Trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric) and Sayers’ three stages of child development. This is the framework that CCE uses. There are also secular classical programs that incorporate ideas from Sayers’ essay.

Dorothy Sayers explains her theory of child development as it relates to education:

My views about child psychology are, I admit, neither orthodox nor enlightened. Looking back upon myself (since I am the child I know best and the only child I can pretend to know from inside) I recognize three states of development. These, in a rough-and- ready fashion, I will call the Poll-Parrot, the Pert,and the Poetic–the latter coinciding, approximately, with the onset of puberty. The Poll-Parrot stage is the one in which learning by heart is easy and, on the whole, pleasurable; whereas reasoning is difficult and, on the whole, little relished. At this age, one readily memorizes the shapes and appearances of things; one likes to recite the number-plates of cars; one rejoices in the chanting of rhymes and the rumble and thunder of unintelligible polysyllables; one enjoys the mere accumulation of things. The Pert age, which follows upon this (and, naturally,overlaps it to some extent), is characterized by contradicting, answering back, liking to “catch people out” (especially one’s elders); and by the propounding of conundrums. Its nuisance-value is extremely high. It usually sets in about the Fourth Form.The Poetic age is popularly known as the “difficult” age. It is self-centered; it yearns to express itself; it rather specializes in being misunderstood; it is restless and tries to achieve independence; and, with good luck and good guidance, it should show the beginnings of creativeness; a reaching out towards a synthesis of what it already knows, and a deliberate eagerness to know and do some one thing in preference to all others. Now it seems to me that the layout of the Trivium adapts itself with a singular appropriateness to these three ages: Grammar to the Poll-Parrot, Dialectic to the Pert, and Rhetoric to the Poetic age.

Sayers’ essay became the catalyst for Doug Wilson to start a private school implementing her ideas in the late 1980s. He went on to write a book, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning, about the school and his application of Sayers’ theory of education. Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning (RLTL) was published in 1991, and it marks the beginning of the CCE movement. Nearly every CCE school, publishing house, educational program, etc point to Wilson’s book as the foundation of Classical Christian Education.

In RLTL, Wilson writes about the importance of Christian education. According to him, public schools are not to be trusted in educating Christian children.

Error is pervasive. It can come from TV, from library books, or from peers, as well as from school. A Christian parent has two options. The first is to neutralize the false teaching, which means the parents have to spend at least a few hours every night countering what the children learned in school. This is difficult because the parents don’t know exactly what the children learned that day. The children are not yet trained to come back and report on what was unbiblical in what they heard. Responsible oversight sight is extremely difficult. (Douglas Wilson. Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education (Turning Point Christian Worldview Series) (Kindle Locations 495-498). Kindle Edition.)

Interestingly enough, in RLTL, Wilson is also against homeschooling as a viable option. I have read more recent material where he moderates that position, but at the beginning of the CCE movement, he was not supportive of homeschooling because he didn’t believe it was possible for parents to keep up.

If parents instruct their children at home for several years and then place them in a Christian school to continue their education, there is no fundamental difference in principle. But if a home schooling family maintains that children can be given a complete education in the average home (say, K-12), then frankly there is an important difference in educational philosophy. The difference mostly concerns the importance of division of labor in a rigorous, comprehensive education. (Douglas Wilson. Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education (Turning Point Christian Worldview Series) (Kindle Locations 1430-1433). Kindle Edition.)

And,

The alternative is for the home school parents to keep pace generally with the curricula of the more traditional Christian school. Some parents are quite capable of doing this; many are not. As a rule, the average parent who attempts to keep pace with the education that goes on in a good school will have increasing difficulty as the years go by. … For starters, you have to know Latin to teach it. … The reason home schooling works so well at the early years is that the parents are teaching literacy, and they are all literate. This is not true of subjects later in the curriculum. (Douglas Wilson. Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education (Turning Point Christian Worldview Series) (Kindle Locations 1500-1503, 1507-1508). Kindle Edition.)

Wilson’s answer to the question of how to school Christian children is Classical Christian Education. He likes the format that Sayers developed in her essay, and he expands on it. He believes that education must conform to the Bible:

We should hold all forms of education up against the same Biblical standard and then make our decision.(Douglas Wilson. Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education (Turning Point Christian Worldview Series) (Kindle Locations 534-535). Kindle Edition.)

And that it’s not possible to have a theologically neutral education:

Neutrality is impossible; worldviews in education are unavoidable. (Douglas Wilson. Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education (Turning Point Christian Worldview Series) (Kindle Location 573). Kindle Edition.)

At these points, I have to agree with him. We should recognize that all education is going to be influenced by the worldview of the educators or authors of the curricula, and all our educational decisions should be made using the Bible as our standard. And this is why I’m concerned with Wilson’s continued influence over the CCE movement. Doug Wilson is often referred to as the founder and one of the most influential leaders of the Christian Classical Education movement.

Doug Wilson founded Logos School in Moscow. Logos School is a model for CCE and holds teacher training seminars every summer for CCE teachers. In 1994, Doug Wilson founded the Association of Classical and Christian Schools (ACCS) “to promote, establish, and equip schools committed to a classical approach to education in light of a Christian worldview.”

ACCS, which is headquartered in Moscow, holds an annual conference and regional teacher training conferences. The speakers at  this summer’s conference will include Doug Wilson, his son, N.D. Wilson, and Matt Whitling, who is a principal at Logos School. ACCS also provides accreditation for CCE schools. There are around 200 schools listed as member schools accredited by ACCS. This accreditation allows Wilson oversight of the CCE schools implementing his model of education. Accreditation can mean control.

As Wilson points out in RLTL:

An accredited private school may or may not be a high-quality school, but one thing is certain-it is a school on a leash. An accredited school is a controlled school. (Douglas Wilson. Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education (Turning Point Christian Worldview Series) (Kindle Locations 1324-1326). Kindle Edition.)

Canon Press, a publishing house founded by Wilson’s Christ Church in Moscow, has a CCE curricula branch called Logos School Press. Logos School Press offers curricula, resources, and online classes for Christian Classical Education schools and homeschoolers.

While there are a number of other publishing houses and CCE programs that provide resources and books for CCE, many of them either publish books by Wilson, promote materials by Wilson, or use Wilson’s books in their programs. Even Susan Wise Bauer’s book, Well Trained Mind,  quotes Wilson to explain aspects of CCE.

To recap, Wilson literally wrote the book on CCE. He founded one of the first schools. He founded the association that trains and accredits many CCE teachers and schools. His books and the curricula he helped develop are used by many CCE schools, programs, and homeschoolers.

While I intend to write more about this in my next post, Wilson’s views on theology, history, slavery, patriarchy, marriage, and sex are present in various materials and curricula used by many CCE schools and programs. Here are some small examples from the RLTL book.

Wilson’s Federal Vision theology, which includes baptismal regeneration, paedocommunion, and a denial of justification by faith alone, shows up in a passage discussing the importance of parents educating their children in the faith.

God has given parents a profound authority over children. If they use that authority correctly, with much love and affection, the children will wholeheartedly follow the God of their parents. … In Titus, the elders are required to have children who are believers-which implies that fathers can bring their children to belief. … He put children in their parents’ charge, and then He instructed the parents to teach their children in a certain way. A child should come to belief on the authority of the parents. (Douglas Wilson. Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education (Turning Point Christian Worldview Series) (Kindle Locations 477-480, 487-488). Kindle Edition.)

Wilson also has views on various aspects of history that many find troubling. This is particularly true of his views on slavery, more on this is the next post, but it’s also true of his views on the American Revolutionary War. Wilson does not believe it is accurate to call it a “revolution” and prefers to call it a “War for Independence.” He apparently believes that revolutions are sinful and not an appropriate description of the Revolutionary War (more on this in the next post).

In RLTL, Wilson uses this distinction to illustrate the importance of the worldview of educators:

The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. Surely that is a bald historical fact, whether or not the teacher is a Christian. Yes, but did that action by the colonists begin a revolution, or a war for independence? A revolution occurs when the government established by God is toppled, there are mobs in the streets, and lawful authority is rejected. (Douglas Wilson. Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education (Turning Point Christian Worldview Series) (Kindle Locations 710-712). Kindle Edition.)

Even Wilson’s patriarchal views are evident in RLTL when he expresses concern about mothers being the primary educators in homeschools:

In many home schools, the responsibility for lesson preparation, curriculum research, attendance at home school association meetings, and actual teaching falls on the mother. There is obviously no problem Biblically with the mother working with these things, so long as the father is truly exercising his responsibility as the head of the household. But in how many home schools is the father a passive onlooker? In how many situations has the father simply allowed the mother to run the program? If one were to attend a typical home school association meeting, how many fathers would he see there? (Douglas Wilson. Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education (Turning Point Christian Worldview Series) (Kindle Locations 1465-1468). Kindle Edition.)

It’s also worth noting that in 2003, the board of Logos School voted to restrict membership to men. From the Logos School newsletter explaining the board’s decision:

“First, we are not considering this amendment because we believe that the scriptural requirement of men only in the eldership of a church applies to the board of the school,” the newsletter noted. “Thus, it is our view, it is not a question of whether it is a ‘sin’ to have a woman on the board, but rather a question of wisdom and prudence in our cultural circumstances.”

“Second, in regard to those circumstances, we believe that it is necessary to resist egalitarian feminism, which has spread throughout our culture and has even affected many parts of the church. As a classical Christian school committed to the Scriptures as our ultimate rule of faith and practice, we believe we have an obligation to set a positive example. Sad to say, frequently in the current climate, women seeking positions of authority (e.g. on a school board) subscribe to some form of feminist philosophy. Rather than vetoing a nomination of this sort (which would appear personal instead of principled), we would rather address the issue this way, without involving personalities.”

The danger that I see in this is that many people who do not share Doug Wilson’s views on theology, history, slavery, patriarchy, marriage, sex, etc. may be allowing him to teach his views to their children without being aware of it. You may think that the danger is small, that his views on these topics are only a small portion of what your children are being taught. But as Scripture says, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” (Gal. 5:9, ESV). In my next post, I will be going through some of the popular CCE curricula to show how Wilson’s views on these topics are being taught and promoted.  For now, I’d like to note that Wilson advises in RLTL that even a small amount of unbiblical teaching is too much:

It is a mistake to assume that the unbiblical nature of the curriculum must be overt before Christians oppose it. If we come to understand that a man’s life is unified in his theology, whatever that theology is, then we will not be surprised to see what he affirms in one area surface in another. (Douglas Wilson. Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education (Turning Point Christian Worldview Series) (Kindle Locations 662-664). Kindle Edition.)

It’s not often that I agree with Wilson, but I do here again. Wilson’s theology shows up in many places in the material I researched in ways that I didn’t expect.

My conclusion is that if you want to teach, or have your children taught, the classics, if you want to study Latin, Greek, and Socrates, that’s great. But if you currently support the Christian Classical Education movement, maybe it’s time to take the good out and start over on the system. As Wilson noted in RLTL, a reform of CCE may be necessary:

There are potential dangers-this is one reform that is necessary, but it might result in a system needing a different type of reform later. (Douglas Wilson. Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education (Turning Point Christian Worldview Series) (Kindle Locations 261-263). Kindle Edition.)

I think the time has come to stop funding Doug Wilson and his various endeavors and to protect our children from being indoctrinated by his heterodox views. May God bless those who seek to develop a new and better way.

28 thoughts on “Classical Christian Education and Doug Wilson

  1. Jeff Crippen says:

    Thank you Rachel for your hard work writing this. Our church tossed all of Wilson’s books from our library years ago. His gospel is skewed, his attitude toward women appalling, and his arrogance atrocious.

  2. Dash says:

    Doug Wilson is a cult leader, QED. Why people keep tiptoeing on eggshells around this self-evident fact beats the h$!! out of me. The man is a dangerous lunatic.

  3. NJ says:

    “Sad to say, frequently in the current climate, women seeking positions of authority (e.g. on a school board) subscribe to some form of feminist philosophy. Rather than vetoing a nomination of this sort (which would appear personal instead of principled), we would rather address the issue this way, without involving personalities.”

    These men are assuming that women, across the board (including Christian ones), are more likely to be feminist than men. Never mind that men can be feminist as well, or at least insufficiently patriarchal by Wilson’s standards. I wonder where the cutoff is.

    I’ve never delved into any CCE curriculum, so I am looking forward to your next post with specific examples of how Wilson’s thought has been infused into it. Maybe as the Wilson scandals grow, some folks in the CCE community will consider developing alternative curricula and organizations, if necessary.

  4. Terri Rice says:

    Ha ha! My husband is a nuclear chemist and he spent about zero days teaching science to our homeschooled kids.

    “In many home schools, the responsibility for lesson preparation, curriculum research, attendance at home school association meetings, and actual teaching falls on the mother. There is obviously no problem Biblically with the mother working with these things, so long as the father is truly exercising his responsibility as the head of the household. But in how many home schools is the father a passive onlooker?”

    My husband was the “passive onlooker,” just like I was the “passive onlooker” when he headed off to his job in the nuclear world.

    Wilson’s idea about homeschooling moms is inane condescending drivel. Like, yah, “Honey, glad you’re home from work, could you please look over all the work I did today and make sure I did a good job; I’m just so insecure with my curriculum choices.”

    So… Ask me about my mother hampered homeschooled kids.

    The four currently in school?
    Daughter getting her PhD in molecular biology (full ride, stipend)
    Son getiing his Masters in Materials Science Engineering (full ride, stipend)
    Daughter full time work in nuclear lab and studying biology and physics.
    Son, at 17 years old, finishing his 3rd year in college while tutoring math, physics and chemistry

    Dang, if only my husband would have come home from work every night to look over my curriculum and make sure I knew he didn’t entirely trust me to do my job; imagine what heights we might have soared.

    • Christen Marshall says:

      Good for you!!! I was home-schooled for part of my education. My father was also a “passive onlooker” which is kind of ironic since he also holds to the views of patriarchy. I am one of six kids, and all of us are successful as well. It’s kind of funny how that works!!!

    • Rachel Miller says:

      Terri~ my husband is a PhD Chemist as well. Occasionally he does science experiments with our boys. Generally, I’m the one doing most of the education. He has no complaints …

  5. Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter says:

    If Douglas Wilson really wants to provide a Classical Christian Education, he needs to beat the students with 1 inch rods, or 2 inch wide barber straps.

    Somehow I don’t think that would go over well with most parents. For those who think I that this didn’t happen, read some of the old books about schooling from the fifties and before.

  6. Christen Marshall says:

    Rachel, thank you! I have heard so much about Classical Christian Education, but I had no idea there was this much Wilsonian influence. I am definitely looking forward to your next post.

  7. Mary Cartwright says:

    Friend, I take issue with the facts presented here. You state,
    “Wilson’s Federal Vision theology, which includes baptismal regeneration, paedocommunion, and a denial of justification by faith alone, shows up in a passage discussing the importance of parents educating their children in the faith.”
    My experience placing my children in an accredited classical school, attending both local and national classical education programs, and continuing education in programs like CIRCE reveal NO teaching of the above-mentioned theological concepts. Not in any of these programs. Not ever. Please limit criticisms to programs that actually include Wilson’s theological teachings.

      • Mary Cartwright says:

        But then you state,
        “My conclusion is that if you want to teach, or have your children taught, the classics, if you want to study Latin, Greek, and Socrates, that’s great. But if you currently support the Christian Classical Education movement, maybe it’s time to take the good out and start over on the system.’ Douglas Wilson did not invent classical schooling. The monks in the middle ages taught using these methodologies. The Progymnasmata method of classical writing and rhetoric goes back to Ancient Greece. You give Mr. Wilson WAY too much credit. He’s simply a vendor.

      • Rachel Miller says:

        No, I agree that classically educating is very old and well-respected. Wilson started a particular movement that he called CCE. My concern is not with classical education, but with the movement that Wilson started. I’m sorry for not being more clear.

  8. Randall MacArthur says:

    You are concerned that “many people who do not share Doug Wilson’s views on theology, history, slavery, patriarchy, marriage, sex, etc. may be allowing him to teach his views to their children without being aware of it.” Yet, your blog fails to provide any evidence that schools affiliated or accredited by the Association of Classical Christian Schools (ACCS) are required to teach Doug Wilson’s theological views that you cite.

    I am a ruling elder in the PCA as well as president of an ACCS accredited classical Christian school. While our school is based upon the CC educational model that Doug Wilson advocates, our CC school doesn’t teach any of Doug Wilson’s doctrines that you refer to in your article and we have never received a discrepancy from the ACCS Accreditation team for failing to do so. Furthermore, no one from the ACCS has even suggested that we should consider teaching such things. In addition, none of our textbooks are authored by Doug Wilson or anyone holding the theological views that you describe and we have never been told that we needed to add such texts. Beyond all of that, we have a teacher certification program that doesn’t require any reading of Doug Wilson’s theology nor does it require adherence to such doctrines and this program was approved by the ACCS without question.

    You are painting with too broad of a brush when you recommend that people stop supporting the CC movement or not enroll their kids in a CC school because of Doug Wilson’s theological views that you cite. The CC movement is bigger than Doug Wilson. It may be based on a educational model he rediscovered but it is not a model that is based on his theological views.

    You seek reformation of the church. Well, those of us to who support the CC school movement seek the same kind of reformation. The CC school movement is training children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord such that by God’s grace they may be used by him in the next generation to effectuate the very reformation you and I seek. When you attempt to take way support for this movement – particularly from out greatest source of support, reformed churches – it does irreparable harm to our efforts. To do that would certainly be doing Satan’s work for him.

    I would love to spend some time talking to you more about this. You can email me below if you desire to do so.

  9. Robin McLain says:

    We are finished with homeschooling and used a variety of curriculum. Did not use Wilson’s. My question is that a very popular curriculum and method today is classical conversations. Does anybody know is Wilson’s materials or philosophy show up in this?

  10. rosejhuskey says:

    It is the case that parents sign an agreement prior to student admission to Logos School in Moscow that requires a signed parental permission to use corporal punishment as a means of disciplining children. In the past that discipline was managed by Tom Garfield, I do not know who enjoys the role of punishment provider. Mr. Garfield also gave “birthday spankings” after which child was rewarded with a small gift certificate to local fast food (or similar) business.

    “Our discipline policy included the use of corporal punishment. This is not done is a way that usurps the authority of parents. When a child is being disciplined, the parents are involved at every step. It is our desire to be a service to parents, not a replacement of them. This is not only true of the entire program at Logos, but is particularly true of our discipline policy.”
    http://logosschool.com/about/mission/

    I am sickened by this policy of inflicting pain and humiliation on a child to achieve obedience.

    Rose Huskey

  11. Sara @ Paperfences says:

    Even if you grant the premise that DW is wrong about some things, this is akin to saying we shouldn’t read anything by C.S. Lewis because of his faulty views. Not to mention that it is completely insulting to homeschooling parents — as though we wouldn’t notice glaring errors in theology in the curriculum if they were there.

    • Rachel Miller says:

      The errors that Wilson teaches are much worse than the faulty views CS Lewis held. I would not use Lewis, as much as I appreciate his books, as a source of theology for my children.
      I’m sorry that you are insulted. I am also a homeschooling parent, and I know that many homeschooling parents screen everything they use to teach their children. Not all parents have the time, and many use co ops or self guided study where they may not notice the problems immediately.
      These resources aren’t used only by homeschoolers. Schools use them too, and parents may not be aware, through no fault of their own, what the books contain.

    • Sarah says:

      I’m a child of homeschooling parents. Maybe you’d be surprised how much miscommunication can occur between parents and children regarding what views they endorsed. Much material in our house my siblings and I accepted at face value as our parents’ views, only to find out as adults when we challenged them, that they didn’t believe it either! But parents often are not nearly as effective at communicating such disagreements as they may think they are.

      • roscuro says:

        Another child of homeschooling parents here with the same experience. My parents used another now infamous homeschooling program with faulty theology. I tried so hard to follow the program’s teaching, because I thought that would be pleasing to my parents. Years later, when scandal exposed the corrupt roots of the program, I began to talk with my parents about the problems I had with the program. When I brought up a false teaching the program espoused, repeatedly my parents would reply, “Well, we didn’t agree with that!” My response would be, “Why didn’t you say something?” It just didn’t occur to them that I would take it that seriously. But the program had been presented to me as a spiritually safe alternative to secular education. I had trusted as a young teen that it would keep me safe where I knew secular education put me at risk. Had I simply used secular curriculum, both my parents and I would have been on high alert for faulty teaching, but we were both lulled into a sense of security by the claims of being conservative and Christian claims by the program.

  12. Paul says:

    Interesting but highly skewed view. As the Head of an ACCS school, I can say unequivocally that we have total control of the texts we use. We do not use Omnibus for instance. We are seeking to look further back, back to the educational model that produced the greatest minds of the Occident, so original readings are pivotal.

    I am a PCA minister, and very definitely not within the aberrant Federal Vision camp, so we are careful about what we bring into our school.

    Let’s not advocate this sort of “knee-jerkin.” It helps no one focus on the goal, the reaclamation of our culture, but training our children to enabrace the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. More can be said…thumbs getting sore!

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