Classical Christian Education: The Antidote to Progressivism

Reflecting on my teaching journey that spanned from the late 1970s to 2020, I can’t help but notice the stark contrast in educational approaches. When I started, education was centered around traditional book learning and assessments, a teacher-led process that continued into the 1990s. However, as I retired from full-time teaching in 2020 and transitioned into training teachers as a college professor, I witnessed a significant shift. The focus had shifted from teacher-centered learning to student-led activism.

By the mid-2010s, there was a notable increase in students entering education careers with the intention of becoming activists in the classroom, aiming to propagate specific ideologies to the next generation of students. I recall one teacher candidate who straightforwardly expressed her goal of advocating for the LGBTQ community and aiding students in embracing their true identities, racial backgrounds, and sexual orientations. It became evident that schools were evolving into platforms for activists to impart their ideological agendas to students.

As we navigate the era of progressive education, it’s crucial to counter it with an educational model that places a premium on foundational values and holistic learning experiences. Classical Christian Education (CCE) stands as a beacon of hope, offering a robust solution that upholds timeless principles of reason, character development, and intellectual freedom.


Classical Christian Education

In CCE, the Bible and the great books of wisdom are not just studied; they are the sources from which truth is defined. This is a stark contrast to the prevailing notion in most government schools, where students are often told that truth is relative and that one’s truth is not necessarily another person’s truth. In fact, common buzz phrases today are “live your truth” and “You do you, and I will do you.”

The Greek term used for truth in John 14:6 is ALETHEIA—something unconcealed, revealed, and a state of not being hidden and evident. This term was explicitly used for the first time in the mid-5th century BC by Parmenides in his poem On Nature, in which he contrasts it with doxa—a “common belief or popular opinion in classical rhetoric.” We derive our great “doxology” from the term “doxa.”

The term also objectively signifies reality. Paul addresses the Christian lifestyle, saying “But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus.”

Francis Schaeffer, in A Christian Manifesto, writes:

The basic problem of the Christians in this country . . . is that they have seen things in bits and pieces instead of totals. They have very gradually become disturbed over permissiveness, pornography, the public schools, the breakdown of the family, and finally abortion. But they have not seen this as a totality—each thing being a part, a symptom, of a much larger problem. They have failed to see that all of this has come about due to a shift in world view — that is, through a fundamental change in the overall way people think and view the world and life as a whole.

Schaeffer adds, “When I say Christianity is true I mean it is true to total reality—the total of what is, beginning with the central reality, the objective existence of the personal-infinite God. Christianity is not just a series of truths but Truth — Truth about all of reality.” That being said, “Truth about all of reality” is the stamp of excellence upon what it means to have a CCE.


The Clashes Between CCE and Progressivism

The clash between secular progressive education and CCE extends beyond the mere interpretation of the word “truth.” This ideological divide influences and challenges fundamental aspects of American culture within families, churches, and schools, as progressive education embraces doctrines that redefine creation order, family structures, marriage, morality, and identity.

Progressivism challenges traditional definitions of marriage and family, advocating for diverse family structures that include cohabiting couples, same-sex marriages, and non-traditional parenting arrangements. Looking at the data, clearly, the progressives are winning the culture war. There is a notable rise in households maintained by cohabiting couples, which numbered around nine million in the U.S., according to a 2021 American Community Survey. Additionally, approximately one-quarter of births from 2017 to 2019 were to women in cohabiting relationships.

In contrast, Christian education upholds the biblical view of marriage as a sacred union between one man and one woman, emphasizing the importance of traditional family values and structures. Christians believe the family unit is the foundation for societal stability and moral upbringing.

Secondly, progressive education’s rejection of church doctrine, specifically its attitudes and beliefs regarding gender and sexuality—particularly among younger generations—is drastically shifting societal norms.

According to a recent Gallup Poll, 7.1 percent of all adults identify as part of the LGBTQ spectrum, with Gen Z showing the highest rate of belief that gender or sex can be changed by choice. The New York Post estimates suggest that around 30 percent of Gen Z adults identify within this spectrum.

Progressive Christians also embrace these changing beliefs, viewing them as compatible with their faith. However, progressive Christians’ beliefs in this regard are antithetical to the biblical worldview—God created humans as male and female (Genesis 1:27) and that one’s gender is intricately linked to biological sex.

Thirdly, the progressive educational worldview, prioritizing students as the focal point of learning, has attained a revered status in contemporary society. This is notably observed in situations where educational institutions sideline parental involvement in decisions concerning their children’s sexuality and gender-related matters.

Progressives aim for young students to increasingly rely on online platforms and schools as primary influencers in shaping their identities and diverge from Biblical teachings and parental guidance. Unlike the objective standard of one man and one woman in Biblical doctrine on marriage, progressives embrace cultural shifts and changing norms. Progressive-run schools even attempt to exclude parents from decisions about students, including decisions about physical alterations to their bodies, addressing same-sex attraction, or defining their gender identity.

The ultimate clash between these two ideologies—CCE and progressivism—comes when adherents of a Biblical Christian worldview face repercussions for holding biblical views towards what progressives consider protected classes, such as the LGBTQ community. Holding Christian beliefs can have serious consequences, including disciplinary actions against students, termination of employment for teachers, or even charges for hate crimes.


CCE Is the Best Model of Education to Counter Progressive Education

CCE is the most effective model to counter progressive education for several compelling reasons, but here are just four.

Firstly, CCE addresses fundamental identity questions by affirming Biblical truths, particularly regarding human identity as male or female and the establishment of family structures as outlined in Scripture. This approach fosters a holistic education that is centered on God rather than on secular ideologies, offering students a distinct worldview rooted in Christian principles.

Secondly, CCE places a strong emphasis on truth, drawing from Scripture, historical knowledge, and personal experiences to instill critical thinking skills in students. Unlike simply following secular curriculum trends, CCE challenges students to discern between contrasting worldviews, enabling them to develop a deeper understanding of truth and its implications.

Thirdly, CCE cultivates genuine belonging among students by prioritizing meaningful discussions, critical thinking exercises, and moral dialogue. This contrasts with the prevalent trend of excessive social media use among students in public schools, providing a more intellectually and morally enriching environment that encourages the development of faith and character.

Fourthly, empirical data supports the effectiveness of CCE, as evidenced by studies conducted by institutions like Notre Dame University, the Association of Classical Christian Schools, and the Habersham School of Savannah, Georgia. These studies revealed that graduates of CCE schools excel in various life outcomes, including college and career success, Christian commitment, independent thinking, cultural influence, and overall outlook on life. The research also underscores the importance of CCE in equipping students with essential survival skills for the 21st century, such as critical thinking, collaboration, adaptability, communication, information analysis, and curiosity.

Underpinned by its steadfast adherence to Biblical truths, cultivation of critical thinking, promotion of genuine belonging, and substantiated empirical success, CCE is a robust counterforce against progressive education. These facets collectively position CCE as a formidable educational paradigm that not only imparts knowledge but also nurtures character, equipping students with the tools and perspectives necessary for the 21st century.


Four Takeaways for Parents to Consider as They Pursue CCE for Their Children

As parents consider CCE as an educational option for their children, there are four key takeaways to keep in mind.

Firstly, CCE sets itself apart with distinct goals. Unlike traditional education systems that primarily focus on knowledge, CCE aims to inspire depth and wisdom in students. Grounded in a biblical worldview known as Paideia, CCE integrates natural phases of child development, cultivates Christian virtues, employs the Trivium (Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric), and engages students in the historical Great Books dialogue, fostering a holistic approach to education.

Secondly, CCE differs significantly from public education’s objectives. While public education often compartmentalizes learning into separate subjects and periods, CCE endeavors to shape students’ virtues and reasoning to align with God’s will, emphasizing purpose and optimism in all aspects of life. C.S. Lewis’s advocacy for reading “old words,” for example, resonates within CCE’s framework, highlighting the timeless relevance of foundational knowledge.

Thirdly, Curriculum Integration is a vital aspect of CCE. The Latin maxim “multum non multus” underscores the importance of depth over breadth in education. Rather than overwhelming students with an extensive array of subjects, CCE prioritizes critical thinking skills and meaningful content engagement, emphasizing quality learning experiences over mere content coverage.

Fourthly, CCE places a strong emphasis on the Arts of Language. Students actively engage in grammar, logic, and rhetoric, honing their ability to articulate ideas and engage in thoughtful discourse using the Socratic method. This approach fosters intellectual growth and resilience, equipping students to navigate diverse perspectives and challenge ideas constructively—a skill often lacking in contemporary education environments. In essence, CCE offers a comprehensive educational approach that integrates faith, reason, and character development, providing students with a strong foundation for lifelong learning and critical thinking.

There is unity in knowledge and truth. This unity extends outward from the center of CCE and becomes visible across all content areas. The same cannot be said about much of today’s disjointed progressive content. Knowledge may be present, but with its obsession of subjectivity over objectivity, progressivism has no unity to the truth.

Art by Beck & Stone


  • Ernest J. Zarra, III

    Ernest J. Zarra, III, Ph.D. is semi-retired and is now a full-time education researcher and writer. Ernie has worked as a secondary teacher and district professional development leader in California’s largest high school district, presented as keynote speaker for various national educational organizations, and served as assistant professor of teacher education at Lewis-Clark State College.

3 thoughts on “Classical Christian Education: The Antidote to Progressivism

  1. “…don’t know how to spell, have no idea what grammatical rules are, and are incapable of engaging in articulate and intelligent conversation.”

    I honestly wonder how many of their TEACHERS can…

    1. Teachers are learning the life-changing skills of pronoun replacement and the new science that cannot define the terms “woman” and “man.” Activism is the virtue of the progressive and to win at all cost is the perverted ethic.

  2. As the executive officer of a Classical Christian k-12, I get to see directly what progressivism is doing to our nation’s youth, both morally and academically. As I interview and assess students who have come from the government schools, I regularly find children who have received A’s and B’s in all their classes but don’t know how to spell, have no idea what grammatical rules are, and are incapable of engaging in articulate and intelligent conversation. We can’t reform what was never healthy. It’s time to get out.

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