What is a Curriculum?
It is important not to view the curriculum simply as the assemblage of “subjects”. Curriculum is the entire track which the student will be running or path on which he will be traveling; it is the entire series of experiences and impressions which the child will be absorbing. The culmination of the K-12 curriculum is best understood as a Christian enculturation (Eph. 6:4) which will inform the tastes, desires, and loves of the child.
An understanding of place is an important part of the curriculum; the child will look at the walls, ceiling, flooring, the position of desks, items lining the hallways, etc. Place is a constant statement about the values, beliefs, and commitments of the classroom and the school. Many small schools must simply deal with the cards in their hand, this may mean classrooms are formed by dividers in a gym, a corner of the sanctuary, or even the nursery. No matter where a school is starting out, they must be aware of the aesthetic tastes being cultivated in the hearts of the children, even if the only major takeaway for the first few years is that a classical Christian education in an unexpected place is more beautiful than a secular progressive education in a spacious cog making factory.
Curriculum also includes the teachers, how they respond to children in the classroom and interact with other teachers throughout the day; the students are learning from everything in their environment. A very important part part of an educational institution is the formation of a school culture. A school’s faculty should be made up of happy warriors. People who understand the seriousness of shaping other eternal creatures, who fight against the powers of sin and the devil, and do so with grins and belly laughs, trusting in the sovereignty of God. Yes, a classroom full of eight-year-olds that is intentionally organized to cultivate a love for truth, goodness, and beauty is considered a threat to Satan’s influence over this world. Students learn from the way teachers act in the classroom and outside the classroom, how they interact with one another and the things they hear being discussed. Students should see teachers who are studying and discussing true, good, and beautiful things themselves, for if such things are not still lovely when they grow up, why should they spend time caring about them now?
Formation, Skills, and Bodies of Knowledge
Piety, gymnastics, and music are formative elements throughout the curriculum and are particularly important to emphasize early on. It is important to note that each of these formative elements impact one’s mind, body, and spirit, meaning both affections and actions should be emphasized. Piety to the Romans may be understood as devotion to one’s gods, their family, and their country. We would suggest the cultivation of piety in the classical Christian curriculum be understood as devotion to God, family, and community (prioritizing the community of the local church). Gymnastics considers the entire physical health of the child by developing fine and gross motor skills through play, physical training, and athletics. Music is to be broadly considered as the use of poetry, drama, literature, and the fine arts. As Clark and Jain note in the Liberal Arts Tradition, “The musical education was not primarily or exclusively about instruments and singing. Rather, it studied all the subjects in a poetic and precritical manner.” Picture children singing a song with hand gestures about the kings of Israel; this would be an example of using music as a poetic form of learning in a child’s bible class. Learning of George Washington’s character through the legend of chopping down his father’s cherry tree is an example of learning musically in a precritical manner in history class. The more formal study of Music is pursued in the liberal arts.
The Seven Liberal Arts are skills and tools known by free people, those able to rule themselves. These "liberating arts" are the arts of language and mathematics; they are the skills of thinking, and the tools of learning required for bringing harmony to the soul, to the community, and for further study of the four sciences. The liberal arts are divided into what is referred to as the “trivium” and the “quadrivium” (the threefold path and the fourfold path). The trivium consists of the three language arts of grammar, logic, and rhetoric which interpret, assemble, and harmonize language. The quadrivium consists of the four mathematical arts of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy which interpret, assemble, and harmonize number (both multitude and magnitude).
Bodies of Knowledge
The Four Sciences are bodies of knowledge; these bodies contain unifying philosophies and are made up of various branches of study within them (these branches are what most people think of today when describing "subjects"). Natural science is what is commonly referred to as “science” today and contains branches such as biology, chemistry, and physics. Humane science includes study in areas such as ethics, aesthetics, politics, economics, history, and literature. The science of philosophy consists of metaphysics and epistemology (considering the nature of reality and man’s ability to know it). Last is the science of theology, often referred to as, “Queen of the Sciences” due to its importance. Theology informs every part of the curriculum, however as a body of knowledge theology is the study of divine revelation. A K-12 school will certainly involve philosophy and theology especially as they relate to the Great Books/humane science, and Bible classes. However, more in depth mastery of philosophy and theology as sciences will need to be acquired through additional education past the K-12 grade levels.
Great Works of Western Civilization
The final piece of our definition of education, states that students engage the great works of Western civilization. What is meant here is that the curriculum includes art, music, and texts which contribute to the Great Conversation of transcendent ideas. This “Great Conversation” is a dialogue of ideas characterized by a spirit of inquiry and is uniquely Western. No other civilization can compare with the West in the number of great works which have contributed to such a dialogue. At the same time, as this is not simply a Western classical philosophy of education but a Christian one as well, Christ is the logos, the unifying principle of all knowledge. This means that the philosophy and methods in line with the classical Christian tradition are universal principles and therefore may be universally applied. Those outside of the Western World would do well to participate in the classical Christian tradition (many currently are!) and add the use of their best works. For each person is responsible for being the best citizen or member of their particular community and should therefore understand the story of their own community. Yet, in order to receive an education consisting of the greatest works, and especially for Christians needing to know their forefathers of the faith, Western civilization must be emphasized.