(An excerpt from a discussion we are having on the K-W Classical Education Discussion Board on Facebook regarding Lisa VanDamme’s The False Promise of Classical Education.)
I would agree that history, for instance, should be taught in chronological order, but to teach science in the order of discoveries is, I agree, counter-intuitive.
To her credit, VanDamme does provide a decent analysis of today’s “progressive education,” but she does not truly understand classical education, especially as set out by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer in The Well-Trained Mind.
VanDamme believes that children should not be taught facts that they cannot fully understand. The truth is that there are many complicated concepts that may need to be taught several times, this is precisely why subjects are repeated and studied in more depth in future years.
She is also against learning anything that is not based on perceptual reality. Thus, she says, the Great Flood should not be taught since it’s not based on evidence. (Of course there is evidence of the Great Flood but she is just ignorant to the subject matter.) She is against “indoctrination,” i.e. teaching children to love their country or believe in the Bible since it does not allow them “individualism” or “liberty.” Thus, she does not want children instructed in truth or proper citizenship, she wants them find their own individuality and decide what is true for them. That sounds an awful lot like progressive relativism to me.
In her attacks on classical education, it becomes clear that VanDamme misunderstands the trivium as she refers to it as “reasoning being studied in a vacuum.” She ignores the very point of the grammar stage with her argument, which is the learning of as many facts as possible, since young children’s minds have such a great ability to absorb information.
She claims classical education is not concerned with the truth of a debate, for instance (at the logic stage of the trivium), but she misses the point. Classical education is concerned about independent learning skills, the ability to discern what is and is not relevant to an argument and to be able to promptly detect and expose invalid inferences. This is exactly what is required to find the truth!
Her fundamental belief that the Bible is not just errant but purely untrue is her largest criticism of Christian classical education and it infuriates her that these beliefs are taught as inseparable from the subject matter being studied. To me that is one of the great benefits of Christian classical education. As Douglas Wilson points out, it is not possible to have a religiously neutral classroom, it can be pretended, but it cannot be accomplished.