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Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning

An Interview with Doug Wilson

December 9, 1999: The following discussion with Doug Wilson was conducted live on a chat program by Mary Leggewie.

Doug Wilson has written numerous books. Crossway Books has published his Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning, and Canon Press has published Fruit of the Cross, Persuasions, Easy Chairs/Hard Words, and Finding the Faith, Classical Education and the Home School, and several others. The textbook division of Canon Press has published his Introductory Logic, as well as his most recent text, A Latin Grammar. Doug is the editor of the bi-monthly magazine Credenda/Agenda, which has a print-run of about 25,000. He is one of the founders of Logos School in Moscow, Idaho, and has served as the chairman of that school board. He is a pastor with weekly teaching and preaching responsibilities at Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho. Doug and his wife, Nancy, have been married for twenty-four years. They have three children, Bekah, 23, Nathan, 21, and Rachel, 19.

Mary Leggewie: Let's start with the basics! What is Classical Education?

Doug Wilson: Classical education, as we practice it, is built around the methodology of the Trivium--grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric. With this as the skeletal structure, we emphasize particular subjects which are not usually found in most schools. These would be subjects like Latin, logic, rhetoric, and so forth.

Mary Leggewie: Do you mean grammar in the strict sense of the word? Many folks here might not understand what grammar, dialectic and rhetoric mean.

Doug Wilson: By grammar we mean the constituent facts in each subject -- the basic data.

Mary Leggewie: And the other terms? Dialectic and Rhetoric?

Doug Wilson: Dialectic means basically the same thing as logic. This is the point where we sort out the basic data in each subject. Rhetoric has to do with how that knowledge is presented.

Mary Leggewie: Are those the parts that make up the "Trivium"?

Doug Wilson: Yes. Those three elements, taken together, are the Trivium.

Mary Leggewie: Would you share a bit about what started you on your leadership role in reviving Classical Education?

Doug Wilson The concern began with my responsibilities as a father. Samuel Johnson once said there was one good thing about being hanged in a fortnight. He said that it concentrated the mind wonderfully. The same kind of thing happens when you become a parent. All of sudden your thinking about things like education becomes concentrated.

Doug Wilson: So when our oldest daughter was a toddler, we began thinking about starting a school.

Mary Leggewie: How does Classical Education differ from Classical Christian Education? What are the necessary elements that make up a Classical Christian Education?

Doug Wilson: A Christian education is one in which all subjects are taught in accordance with a rigorous biblical world and life view. The Scriptures are the ultimate authority in every classroom. This authority is a *functioning* authority. We do not just pay lip service to it.

Mary Leggewie: How would you define a Christian worldview with respect to education?

Doug Wilson: A Christian worldview requires a theology of children and generations. Generational thinking is central in the Scriptures; it is central to the idea of covenant. This means education, Christian education, is absolutely necessary.

Mary Leggewie: How will a Classical Christian Education help our young people to be more effective witnesses to the world around them?

Doug Wilson It will help them because it will help them understand the world around them. How can they know what to *say* to someone when they have nothing to say. We do not just "witness" to an experience with God. We have to live faithfully in the world, and Christian education is the process of teaching us to do this.

Mary Leggewie: How does one go about teaching the grammar stage (the basic data needed) from from a Christian worldview presupposition?

Doug Wilson First, we have to understand that there is no neutrality. The facts of each subject are not "neutral" facts. God knows where they go, and how they fit in. Our task is to think God's thoughts after Him, and learn how they fit in. Every piece of information in the grammar stage has to be placed in a right relationship to the other facts in the dialectic stage.

Mary Leggewie: Would you offer some suggestions for parents trying to implement Classical Education at home?

Doug Wilson The task is daunting. But it does not have to be done all at once. Wade in from the shallow end.

Mary Leggewie: How have you had to train the teachers you take on at the Logos School? Have they had to relearn the way they teach?

Doug Wilson Almost all of them have had to be "retooled." An education background is often a problem because in that case there is far more to unlearn.

Mary Leggewie: What's the enrollment, and what grades do you have?

Doug Wilson The school operates K-12, and we have about three hundred students.

Mary Leggewie: Do you have any sort of group, or advice to help Christian schools who want to aim for a superior Christian education, and not just be a humanist curriculum sprinkled with a few scripture verses?

Doug Wilson The key is parents. When you build a school, you must cater to parents who are doing their job or parents who are not. You will get more of what you subsidize and less of what you penalize. If a Christian school operates in a way to take over from poor parents, they will attract more and more poor parents. But on the other hand if they set the curriculum up in such a way as to appeal to parents who are highly motivated in regard to their kids' education, you will get much more of that.

Mary Leggewie: Do you offer any assistance to other Christian schools that want a serious change? Is your school visited often?

Doug Wilson Our school is visited all the time. I think the kids sometimes feel like the polar bear at the zoo. We have started the ACCS, which is the Association of Classical & Christian Schools. We have about one hundred schools around the country pursuing this model for education.

Mary Leggewie: Does your school offer any services to the local homeschool community?

Doug Wilson The ACCS offers all kinds of help, including help to homeschoolers.

Mary Leggewie: Are there part-time students?

Doug Wilson Logos School does not have part-time students, but George Grant does have an association of co-op classical Christian schools.

Mary Leggewie: What materials or books do you recommend for those who would like to know more about Classical Christian Education?

Doug WilsonFor homeschoolers, a place to start is a booklet I have written with a few friends called Classical Education and the Homeschool. The overview of the pedagogy is found in Recovering the Lost Tools of Learnings. Nuts and bolts are shipped separately in a book called Repairing the Ruins.

Questions from the audience

Martha Robinson: Doug, is Classical Education right for every student?

Doug Wilson No, I do not believe so. I think that every community should have a rigorous classical Christian school, but I do not believe it is right for every student. Everyone should have this as an option though.

Audience question: If I understand correctly, the grammar of say math would be knowing one's +/-/x/division facts. What would be the grammar of civics from a Christian worldview?

Doug Wilson The grammar of civics would be memorization of the basic facts -- the branches of government, the office holders, etc.

Audience question: I am so appreciative for your hard work on Credenda Agenda and would like to say thank you for your faithful service to the Christian community. Are there any seminars, magazines, etc., that you do that will assist those homeschoolers?

Doug Wilson The seminars would be the annual conference of ACCS (next summer in Memphis). Tapes from previous conferences are also available from Canon Press. Logos School also has a week-long teaching training conference every summer, which homeschoolers can take advantage of.

Martha Robinson: Doug, Is it possible for a student who has been "traditionally" educated to transition to Classical? When is too late?

Doug Wilson After the concrete is dry, it is harder to do. But we have often said that we are trying to provide the kind of education which none have got. We were not able to do it adequately. But as G.K. Chesterton said, anything worth doing is worth doing badly.

Mary Leggewie: Is there a point at a certain grade level at which you will no longer accept new students to school?

Doug Wilson No. If they can do the work, we accept them. But they will not benefit from that work in the same way that students who have been with us from the beginning will benefit from it.

Audience question: If Classical Christian Education is not for every student, how do you determine who it is for?

Doug Wilson In most cases, this will be determined by the interests, gifts, level of commitment, etc. of the parents. Children overwhelmingly are shaped by the culture of the home. This is not universally the case, but it is generally true.

Martha Robinson: Doug, can you offer encouragement to parents who would like to do Classical but did not begin at the beginning?

Doug Wilson My encouragement would be this. God has a general pattern of picking us up where we are, and not where we should have been. If He only helped us if we were where we should have been, we would all be in a world of hurt. Starting now is better than not starting at all.

Martha Robinson: At what stage do these rhetoric exercises begin?

Doug Wilson They would be part of a formal rhetoric class, which would place it in the rhetoric stage in our school. In the classical world, they came earlier.

Audience question: How can one include an understanding of and heart for the lost in non-Western cultures in a Christian classical education?

Doug Wilson Classical education emphasizes the culture of the West. This does not encourage us to disparage other cultures (those aspects of them which are lawful) any more than my love for my wife encourages me to disparage the love other men have for their wives. Because I love our heritage, I understand how others would love theirs. But this is with the proviso that all ungodly aspects of culture must be removed, including removal from ours.

Audience question: This is somewhat related to my earlier question....have you accepted a student that you later had to tell the parent that a Classical Christian Education was not for them....if so, what did you recommend for that child's education?

Doug Wilson Yes. We have done this, but not often. When there has been good effort, we have tried to make whatever accommodations we can. In other cases, students come to this conclusion themselves (or their parents do), and leave the school.

If you would like more information about Doug Wilson, his books or many accomplishments and activities, please see the following Web sites: GreyFriars.org and CanonPress and Credenda.org.

Many thanks to Doug Wilson for sharing his thoughts with us here at HomeschoolChristian.com!

Related HomeschoolChristian.com Resources

HomeschoolChristian.com's Classical and Charlotte Mason Resource Section
Review of Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning