Great Teachers and Great Content
Not only does the Classical Christian model of education prioritize both virtue formation and the liberal arts, it brings the two together through skilled teachers who use the best content to enliven the imagination and order the affections of the student.
Virtue formation and training in the liberal arts might seem to be disconnected, compartmentalized aspects of a school’s mission. A school could certainly attempt to train students to be virtuous, while paying little attention to teaching the liberal arts, or vice versa. When we say that the liberal arts and the virtues make up the curriculum, where do they exist? If arts are skills and virtues are habituated actions, they cannot reside in textbooks, three-ring binders, or standardized tests. Skills and virtues can only reside in people. If they are learned through imitation and practice, then to learn an art or a virtue is to imitate a person and practice doing what that person does.
The curriculum, then, is not extrinsic to the teacher; it resides inside the teacher. The teacher is the curriculum. Teachers are practitioners of skills and virtues who know and love their students. They have been shaped by great books and compelling ideas and are able to lead students into the same content with competence and passion.
It is common for schools to talk generically about the “love of learning,” but learning for its own sake can easily turn into the love of one’s own knowing, which leads to pride, selfishness, and vain ambition. We want our students to learn to love reality. We want them to love what is good, what is true, and what is beautiful. This can only happen if they are exposed to what is good, true, and beautiful. Therefore, our students read the Bible and the great books; they know the most important events and people from history; they study nature by observing and drawing it; they ponder the questions and problems that mathematicians and philosophers have been studying for millennia; they contemplate the best paintings and works of architecture; and they sing some of the greatest hymns and choral pieces ever composed.
The content our students learn and absorb helps them to build a robust memory, provides stories and ideas for developing a moral imagination, and surrounds them with beauty that trains them to love what is lovely.